REI-Vietnam News


by Lily Lauer |

Summer Cultural Exchange Team Thrives
Tyler and Jeff

Dr. Jeff Stebbins, REI-VN’s linguistics consultant, is the program’s coordinator. He briefly trains and prepares the team stateside prior to their departure. In Hanoi, he presents information to the Vietnamese students about U.S. student life—geography, sports, holidays, customs, history, employment, and hobbies—and the American students engage the ULIS students in English language discussions about these elements of U.S. culture. The students at ULIS look forward to practicing their conversational English with the American students and to developing friendships. Several planned and unplanned events, from karaoke to softball, cooking to eating out together, facilitate this desire, and the students from both countries have a blast getting to know each other.

Team Foolery

This years’ team consisted of college and graduate students from Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. With increasing interest on several campuses, it was difficult to keep the team size down to the maximum of eight participants. Tyler Rosas, who participated in last years’ cultural exchange, was selected as the team’s student leader. The team encountered unforeseen challenges this summer, including Jeff becoming ill three times. We were grateful that Tyler could lead each time that Jeff had to take time to recover.

Jeff became ill shortly after his arrival in Vietnam. He developed vertigo for a day, and struggled to push through it while teaching the team Vietnamese phonology and word study. It took all the energy he had, so Tyler, who was familiar with the neighborhood, took over when Jeff “hit the sack” well before the students were ready for bed. He was able to show the team around and take them out to eat.


After a few days, the team traveled to Thai Nguyen University to meet with Will Cole-French’s students (English teachers in training). They had a good day but also encountered challenges that gave Tyler the opportunity to encourage team unity. When the team returned to Hanoi, they transitioned from their hotel to the ULIS campus, and then to the homes of their Vietnamese hosts which provided the students with a wonderful opportunity to better appreciate Vietnamese family life. Tyler led our students through the beginning of their program with the ULIS students. From there, things went more as planned, and the Vietnamese and American students settled into learning from each other. Friendships were established and the students began forging bonds that would last beyond the month’s visit.


The American students took classes in Vietnamese language and culture during the morning hours, and most afternoons Jeff led the ULIS students into discussions of topics in American culture. Some afternoons, though, were devoted to field trips to interesting sites, such as the History Museum and Bat Trang pottery village. After these classes or field trips, our team of American students often shared lunch or supper with their new Vietnamese friends.

Joshua Aguilar

One Vietnamese student named Thang, who has joined this cultural exchange each year since 2011, opened his home to team member, Justin Atchley. Thang enjoyed sharing “low-key moments” with the team on campus, in his neighborhood, or while tooling around the city on his motorbike. Spending time around the dinner table was also conducive to good conversation. Thang relates that sharing stories about one another’s family, upbringing, schooling and friends helped him to better understand that the “Culture of Honor” is “not necessarily something grand, but down-to-earth, even daily gestures, [in] the way these young men and women view the world and treat other people.” He also added that the “culture of [the] American South is fascinating” to him!

Thang’s comments capture the purpose and value of the summer cultural exchange program: “I believe it is those small gestures and personal stories that have made the essence of this program: to encourage mutual understanding and empathy. I hope with the enthusiasm of young Americans and Vietnamese who make this program possible, the program will keep strengthening the bond of friendship between [our] two countries.”

Jessica and Taylor

The 2013 ULIS-REI cultural exchange program was a success in numerous ways: friendship, fluency, fun, and food, to name a few. Students learned about each other’s cultures, and delightful relationships made it difficult for everyone to say goodbye.

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