After his 10-month stay, one soon-to-graduate Ball State student intends to learn and teach about the culture of a region once marked by conflict and war.
Zach Wishart, a history and social studies education major, will be traveling Aug. 1, to Tay Ninh, Vietnam, as part of his Fulbright Assistantship to teach English in the city.
While teaching English to students there, Wishart’s primary responsibility will be acting as a cultural ambassador for the United States.
“One of the reasons I chose Vietnam was … everyone I’ve met, the first thing they think of is the [Vietnam War] which is a major misrepresentation of Vietnam,” he said. “They are a people with unique goals, ideas, culture. They are not defined by 30 years of history.”
Wishart said he wants to learn from his students about Vietnamese culture and come back to teach the same thing in America after taking back “a greater understanding of the country.”
“I want to be a teacher and this gives me the opportunity to incorporate into my classroom, to future generations and future students — to get a more accurate and honest depiction of what life is like in Southeast Asia,” he said.
In Vietnam, Wishart will also learn to speak Vietnamese — the first foreign language he would attempt to learn. He said it was a difficult task, but one he was excited about.
“I don’t think I’d have been chosen for this opportunity if they didn’t believe I had what it takes to learn the language and to adapt,” he said. “I believe myself capable of the work ethic to learn it and pick up stuff.”
Kenneth Hall, history professor with a specialization in Southeast Asian history, advised Wishart to pursue his assistantship in Vietnam. Hall himself has had three Fulbrights, one of which he spent in neighboring Cambodia and has also traveled extensively to Vietnam in the past 15 years.
The Vietnam War, and prior French colonialism, are events Hall describes as “a blip” in the country’s “long history as a society and culture.”
Since the war, however, Hall said U.S.-Vietnam relations have improved, with American investments in the country, a Vietamese American population at home following the post-war arrival of refugees and its younger generation’s desire to “emulate a lot of things that come out of the American experience.”
“They’re proud of [being Vietnamese] and the opportunities that are there, but they look at the United States as sort of a model of what they’d like to be and the opportunities that go with that,” he said.
Some examples Hall said were how Vietnamese students, especially in business learn English as a second language and the interest of the people in learning more about American culture and holidays.
Apart from celebrating American and Vietnamese holidays with students to help incorporate culture, Wishart also wants to start a book club where he reads Vietnamese books and they read American books. He would then use this to show how these books are representative of the way people view their own and each other’s nations.
Hall described Wishart as “a very good example of who we want to send into the community” and “a good representative of Ball State University, above all else.”
“He’s going into a very ideal position for himself,” Hall said. “He’s extremely well prepared for that and he has the personality and intellectual depth to do all of things that you would expect from a Fulbrighter.”