Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development

Key Features

Students in the Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development program examine Vietnam's traditional culture and value systems as well as the country's more recent economic, social, and environmental changes. Through close engagement with an outstanding array of academic and community experts, students experience how global, regional, and local forces are dynamically interacting to shape Vietnam today. 

Ho Chi Minh City
Students spend six weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, the program's base, while studying at the University of Economics, the program's in-country host institution. Students enjoy thought-provoking lectures and discussions on Vietnam's economic development and social transformation, learning from esteemed lecturers and guest speakers including scholars from the Fulbright Program Center.* During this portion of the program, students examine Vietnam's recent membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO); its regional development through ASEAN and APEC; and its post-embargo relationship with the United States, especially in regards to the two nations' recently ratified bilateral trade agreement.

*The Fulbright Economics Teaching Program was founded in 1994 as a partnership between the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Community service project in Hmong community

Community Volunteering Project
During the program's educational excursion in the Mekong Delta, students engage in a community volunteering project, an integral part of the program. The project's hands-on learning approach is an outstanding example of the experiential learning model; additionally, projects are specifically designed to assist a local community. Although they vary each semester, past community volunteering projects have included:

  • Developing a bio-digester in My Khanh village to serve as a local energy source
  • Participating in organic farming in Hoa An village in Hau Giang province with the help of local farmers
  • Helping at an elementary school for Hmong children in Sapa with sanitary facilities
  • Installing clean water pipes for a Hmong community in Lao Chai village in the Sapa mountains

Future projects are expected to focus on the use of organic farming methods or, alternatively, social issues, including working with Vietnamese orphans or patients living with HIV/AIDS. Students may also have the opportunity to help build a library or sanitation facilities for an elementary school in Sapa for a Hmong community in northern Vietnam.

The community volunteering project runs from between two days to one week, depending on the particular project and the local context.

Field Methods and Ethics
The Field Methods and Ethics course focuses on concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. The course emphasizes:

  • Cross-cultural adaptation and skills building
  • Appropriate methodologies
  • Field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy
  • Developing skills in observation and interviewing
  • Gathering, organizing, and communicating data

Assigned papers provide an opportunity for students to test the tools introduced in the course while providing occasions for discussions on ethics and intercultural readings. Throughout the course, students work to develop their research topics for their Independent Study Projects. Students significantly advance their initial ideas, assumptions, and drafts, in close consultation with the academic director.

Independent Study Project
In the final month of the program, students complete an Independent Study Project (ISP), which provides each student with an opportunity to pursue original research on a situation or topic of particular interest to them. The ISP is conducted in Ho Chi Minh City, or, with program approval, in another location appropriate to the student's project. Each student selects an ISP advisor from among the outstanding array of researchers and professionals affiliated with the program. 

Sample topics for the ISP include:

  • The role of women in Vietnamese society
  • The impact of migration on urban life
  • Colonial architecture
  • Heritage site management and conservation
  • Microcredit projects and the informal economy
  • Memory of the French and American wars
  • Tourism and development
  • Challenges to rural sustainable development
  • Aquaculture: shrimp and catfish farming
  • Social entrepreneurs and integration into the global economy
  • Issues of HIV/AIDS and public health
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Music and performance arts
  • Spirituality and religious practices
  • Fortune tellers, magic, and mysticism in a modern socialist society

Following the program's termination, students are encouraged to continue studying some aspect of their ISP, and ISPs have frequently served as the basis for senior theses, successful grant proposals, graduate-level research, and fellowships.

Learning alongside Vietnamese Students
Throughout the semester, SIT students interact with Vietnamese university students in meaningful ways. Vietnamese students — often members of English-learning clubs — are invited to attend SIT lectures. This allows SIT students to have discussions on the lecture topic with their Vietnamese peers, and it gives the Vietnamese students an opportunity to hear lectures and conduct discussions in English.

Vietnamese students tutor SIT students on Vietnamese language and help them experience and understand Vietnamese culture and social life outside the classroom. Both groups participate in cultural exchange activities (for instance, teaching each other traditional games, songs, and dances).

In preparation for their Independent Study Projects (ISPs), SIT students are paired up with Vietnamese students to interview households in the Mekong Delta and NGOs in Ho Chi Minh City. During the ISP period, SIT students receive help with translation from their Vietnamese peers. The peer interaction supports student learning and aligns with the program’s philosophy that learning is not just about attaining knowledge, but experiencing life.


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Ho Chi Minh City

Language Study: Vietnamese

Prerequisites: None

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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802.258.3212

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