Fulbright Scholar returns to IU East with new understanding of Vietnam

Fulbright Scholar returns to IU East with new understanding of Vietnam

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Read Passet’s blog at

Joanne Passet went to Vietnam this year on scholarship to learn about the nation while teaching American culture and literature at Nha Trang University.

But Passet, now Indiana University East’s dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, took on a far-bigger role. She essentially, at the university’s request, provided the expertise to teach them how to operate more like an American university.

“I always joke that some things were lost in translation,” said Passet, of her role at the university on Vietnam’s southeastern coast.

“They are shifting to an American model,” she said. “They had me doing workshops on curriculum design. They had me do a big workshop for 450 faculty at the university on how an American university works — everything from how you recruit, how you admit, how you teach, how you keep records and how you graduate. They wanted the whole thing.”

The scholarship was funded through the Fulbright Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Government and promotes international exchange opportunities in 155 countries. About 800 applicants receive scholarships annually.

“The program includes faculty who go to do their own research, it includes people who are lecturers, which is what I was, and it also includes graduate students who are working on dissertation research,” she said.

Passet spent five months at the university and lived in a dormitory, which she called a “Mini U.N.” because students living there represented so many different countries. She participated in the Tet holiday and International Women’s Day.

“For all women, they get flowers, the students cook food for the teachers,” Passet said of the holiday. “It’s for all women, not just mothers. My room was filled with flowers and fruit that evening.”

She also visited other Vietnamese cities. “They flew me to give guest lectures,” Passet said.

Now, back at IU East, Passet is leading a new class called “Understanding Vietnam,” drawing from her experiences. Along with the professor’s first-hand knowledge of the nation, her students also can read a blog that she kept during her trip.

“It really has changed my view of the Vietnamese,” said senior Cassie Oaks on the class and blog. “They are not war-torn people that history has portrayed them to be.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience already,” she said.

Passet said that is the goal of the class.

“The average age of the Vietnamese is in the 30s,” Passet said. “They don’t look back. They are in the present and looking toward the future. We seem very hung up on the war. We’re focused on the war. That’s how we define Vietnam. That’s been one of my goals to see it as much more.”

Rhonda Jones, a junior at IU East, said the class has also provided a direct link to the country.

“I e-mailed one of her former (Vietnamese) students,” Jones said. “It was really interesting to not only talk to someone from Vietnam but to get their perspective on the modern day.”

Mary Fell, an English professor at IU East, said she enjoyed reading about Vietnam on Passet’s blog, which also included pictures from her trip. Fell said she kept in touch with her via e-mail, too.

“Between the photographs and the text, it gave you such a flavor of her personal experience,” Fell said. “She has created this amazing career,” she said. “She’s a pretty adventurous person. She’s a wonderful scholar as well. So she’s kind of the whole package.”

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