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An Exchange - A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

by William C Cole-French, Ed.M., REI Volunteer


This past December, I welcomed Long Tuan Do to Boston for a professional exchange – one language educator to another. Long has his PhD in English Linguistics and serves as vice dean of the Faculty of Language Education at the University of Languages and International Studies (ULIS) in Hanoi, Vietnam.


Long at Boston Common - "The Embrace," created from a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace

During our time together, I was most impacted by Long’s concern for students struggling within his language programs. As we discussed this group, which perhaps numbers 100 or so, he said he always remembers that behind each student there are concerned and invested family members – he never only thinks about individual students but also the community supporting them.  This resonates deeply with REI’s mission of building people; it’s also distinctive from a cultural movement in the U.S. that limits the consideration and influence of family members in a student’s education through various policies.


Long was also interested to learn about the reporting system used at my university to alert administrative leaders and staff to students who are struggling so they can be offered academic support through our different university offices. Long was clearly thinking about ways to bolster tutoring and academic help for his students.


Long in Harvard Square - Boston, Massachusetts

Observing classes at my university was one of Long’s biggest priorities during his visit to Boston. Even though classes were on break until the day before his return flight home to Vietnam, in the end we were able to give Long a brief but meaningful time on campus. He was impressed by the office the university provided to me as a faculty member as well as the ways I make myself available to the students. He also took note of the different audio/visual technologies available in our classroom and the complimentary learning management systems that extend learning after class through the internet. Both seemed to inspire his own thoughts about how he could request increased investment in student learning and success as he returned to Vietnam.


Long on the campus at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

The days we spent together on my family’s rural 34-acre property in Western Massachusetts were clearly the highlight of our time together. There, I taught him words and phrases such as “blue collar scholar,” meaning a teacher/researcher who still takes time to harvest firewood and renovate rundown living spaces, and “hangry,” which results when you get caught up in such tasks and become so hungry that you are simultaneously angry!  In addition to this word play, I escorted him through the woods and across the river – literally – in our Polaris Ranger. Long called this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 


Long with Will enjoying rural Massachusetts

It was a true privilege to re-engage with a Vietnamese colleague in this way and to make a new friend in the process.  It’s clear to me that the vision and capacity of university educators and leaders continues to mature, and I feel like I received as much as I shared during this brief but wonderful exchange.

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