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A Conversation with Fulbright Scholar Van Pham

Van Pham is an associate professor of economics. She spent the fall of 2015 as a US Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam.

What was your Fulbright for, where did you go, and what specific research and/or teaching did you do?

My Fulbright was for teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Vietnam in the fall 2015 semester. I was teaching for the master's program of public policy at Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City, south of Vietnam. The program is a partnership of the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City and the Harvard Kennedy School to help foster sound economic policy and reform in Vietnam by improving the quality of public policy understanding and analysis. In addition to teaching, I also gave guest lectures and presentations in various cities and universities in Vietnam, advised on curriculum and program development, participated in study abroad fairs and consulate/embassy events as a representative from Salem State University.

What was your experience like? What lessons did you learn from it?

I had an amazing experience while working with wonderful students and colleagues at the Fulbright Program, living in a transitional economy undergoing vast changes every day, sharing American societal and educational values to the young Vietnamese who are open-minded and willing to learn about the world outside Vietnam, tasting delicious local food, interacting with friendly heart-warming local people, and discovering the hidden charm of Vietnam's sightseeing places from north to south. 

I learned about the persistence of the people there going through all the challenges during and after the war to bring the country out of poverty and hardship, the happiness that comes from a very simple life style that people enjoy without much to have but so much to give, the fast pace of development that brings with it all economic negative externalities, and the hope among the old and young generations for a better future for their country and themselves. I also learned I could survive tropical mosquito bites in hot humid weather, crazy rush hour traffic on a motor scooter, cook and clean without a real kitchen in a simple rental apartment. 

How will you use your Fulbright experience to help shape your teaching?

The time teaching and living in Vietnam provided me with more facts and stories than anything I could read or get information from books, articles, or Internet sources. When I think of what I used to teach the students in class, I realize teaching theories are good but not enough. Theories only help when students can apply them to the real life experience. I'd love to encourage Salem State students to venture out to the developing world to learn about how people live, how the economy is managed, how you adapt and adjust in an unfamiliar environment, and they can teach themselves from their own experience. 

Why should someone consider pursuing a degree in economics at Salem State? What do you find exciting about this discipline?

Economics is about everyday life. Given limited amount of time and resources, people are constantly faced with choices to make economic decisions for themselves, their family, their organization, and their country. Studying economics is learning how to apply rationality to understand the world, to solve problems, and to have wise choices to make everyone's life better. 

At Salem State University, we have a group of diverse, dedicated, diligent faculty in the economics department who are always there to help students learn, experiment, challenge themselves, develop self-learning skills to adapt to the changing world and prepare them for the career path ahead. 

What book are you reading now? Is there a book that has made a particular difference in your life that you would recommend to others?

I am reading Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. One of my favorite books that I read from childhood and still has influence on me up to this day is Le Petit Prince by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. 

Debra Longo
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