California State University, Long Beach
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Vietnam Psychology Conference a Success; 2011 Plans Under Way

Published: December 15, 2009

When Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling’s Kristin Powers and Kristi Hagans and a U.S. contingent traveled to Vietnam in August to hold a conference focused on school psychology as a profession, they didn’t know quite what to expect. By their own admission, they got a late start on planning and ran into a few cultural hurdles. Still, they were pleased with the results.

“I was surprised at how well the conference was attended, especially given the short timeline,” said Powers, noting that the process began in earnest in January. “I think we got more out of the conference than we thought we would. It was a quick turnaround. One of our first to-dos was figuring out who on the U.S. side would be involved. We didn’t want it to be just faculty, but practitioners as well, so in the end we had faculty from here and Chapman University as well as four practitioners from the community. That was our delegation.”

After an initial conference call with Vietnamese faculty from five universities they received feedback that they were approaching things in a culturally incongruent way, according to Powers.

“Kristi and I were all about getting down to business and had prepared a number of questions but the more appropriate way would have been to spend more time getting to know one another,” she said. “Phuong Le served as a conduit for the effectual communication between the U.S. and Vietnamese faculty during the planning stage, and during the conference, which covered both content and logistics of developing school psychology as a profession in Vietnam.”

They leaned heavily on Le, a one-time master’s student of theirs, who was born in Vietnam, came to the United States in 1990 and is now a school psychologist in the Long Beach Unified School District. Initially, he made connections with various universities to measure the interest. Soon he joined forces with Andrew Tran of the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Together they were able to help the Vietnam partners finalize the conference program and even secured funding from a non-governmental agency to cover some of the costs of the conference.

“Certainly, overcoming the language and cultural differences presented a cumbersome task that the event organizers did not only need to solve but also to be aware of,” said Le. “Information and ideas exchanged consumed more time than normal both during the planning stages and at the actual event. Some communication styles can be considered interrogative and intrusive in one culture but not in another culture. And some topics of discussion can be considered politically sensitive due to the specific political ideology and system of the host country.”

“I think until you go there, you can’t really form a picture of what this partnership may look like,” said Powers.

Leading up to the conference, the U.S. delegation, which included assistant vice president of International Education and Global Engagement at CSULB Ken Curtis, met with faculty from education and psychology in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to discuss curriculum and institutional resources. The two-day conference began with a big opening event, which included comments delivered by U.S. Ambassador Michalak, followed by breakout sessions, and concluded with a closed meeting that included faculty from the universities discussing next steps.

“You came up with this plan, and the idea of holding this conference, in response to needs you observed in the education system and in the lives of its students,” acknowledged Michalak at the conference. “It is not something that you have been told to do, but rather, you want to do, to improve the quality of life of students in Vietnam. I commend you for being innovative and proactive, for these are the actions of a modern society that values and cares for each other, and I support your efforts. You are doing an important work here and I will encourage other U.S. institutions, in addition to the California State University system and Chapman University, to help you move beyond this conference to reach your educational goals.”

Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Presenting work of the collaborative and plans for future projects in a September meeting held at the College of Education were (l-r) Phuong Le, Kristi Hagans, Kristin Powers and Vietnam colleagues Huong Phan and Vu Dung.

“The conference in terms of attendance was overwhelmingly a success,” said Powers. “Part of doing cross cultural work is that you have to set aside your expectations and thoughts on how conferences work. There is no formal registration or anything like that. They just come and conferences are free and, in fact, lunch is provided. The expense of traveling to the conference is the attendees’ contribution and we were thrilled to attract participants from all over Vietnam. We had 200 people attend the conference, but even more importantly, 100 came back the second day. We had a wide variety of practitioners and faculty represented.”

“The conference attracted mostly leaders in the fields of education and psychology in Vietnam, which included administrators, faculty, researchers and practitioners,” said Le. “The common themes of attendees’ feedback after the conference were their aspirations to pursue the profession of school psychology, their optimism in the development of the field in Vietnam, and the useful knowledge they gained during the conference. Although organization and publicity of the event can be improved, the event has laid an important milestone in the development of the discipline and profession of school psychology in Vietnam.”

According to Le, the conference was a component of a program to help Vietnam establish the field of school psychology, specifically the development of an exemplary education and training program, and service delivery model in schools.

“At the end of our conference, members of the co-organizing team that comprised representatives from participating U.S. and Vietnamese academic institutions agreed to form a consortium to advance the field in Vietnam,” said Le. “Future, preferably annually, conferences are envisioned and even tentatively planned to create an opportunity for members of the consortium to convene in order to evaluate the development of the program, discuss and strategize next steps, and provide professional development workshops for Vietnamese practitioners.”

“The next step is to form a consortium that would function to seek funding and to develop and improve curriculum for training and develop training programs and trainers,” said Powers. “And to help the universities in Vietnam pool their resources instead of working in isolation to get a school psychology training program started. The conference was a way of announcing the group’s intention and getting people interested in forming the training programs together.”

The next conference is being planned around a January 2011 date, but not just because the weather will be much cooler than the August heat they experienced.

“We found out that the U.S. Embassy hosts an annual conference on education in January, so it would be nice to piggyback onto that and be a part of their conference,” said Hagans, “so there are a number of reasons why we selected January 2011 as a target.”

The 2011 trip will have a bit of a different focus, according to Hagans, noting that it won’t necessarily be an entire conference on school psychology, but also an opportunity to work with faculty there on developing curriculum, and also asking CSULB students to see how different support systems work in other countries.

“It was hard for us to get our head around the organization of education because it’s very government-directed and there are universities that answer directly to the minister of education, which is the government overseer of everything educational,” added Hagans. “We had to work with flow charts for a long time to figure out who we were talking about and the hierarchy of decision-makers. Next time we will have a much better idea of how things work.”