The four students in the graduate-level Public Management Economics class fit right in. They’re dressed casually, take notes and blend into the hallway throng when the lecture is over. These students, though, are anything but ordinary faces in the crowd. And they are far from home, very far.
Home is Vietnam. The students are visiting scholars from Vietnam’s National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). They are spending the fall semester at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). Their mission is to learn how SPEA teaches public policy and then take those lessons home to the classrooms they lead in Hanoi.
“In Vietnam, the study of public policy is not as well developed as it is in the U.S. and we want to develop a program like SPEA’s,” says Dr. Bui ThiThuyNhi, Vice Head of the Economic Principles Division at NAPA.
While they are learning specialized teaching techniques, the four scholars are also learning a bit about life at a large American university. “The students are very active here during the class and the classes are smaller than those that we teach,” says Dr. Nguyen Hoang Hien, a lecturer in the Economic Principles Division.
His colleague and fellow lecturer, Le Hang My Hanh, wishes the American students were more curious about their lives and experiences but acknowledges the language gap. “We’re learning English through our church in Bloomington and trying to make friends,” she says.
NAPA Lecturer Nguyen ThacThanhThao says the group visits Bloomington’s bustling city market, its shopping malls and its parks. What do you think of Bloomington? “It is beautiful, very peaceful.” Do you miss home? A long pause, and then she says: “A lot, yes.”
Vietnam was Anh Tran’s home, as well, but he now lives in Bloomington and has been at SPEA as an assistant professor since 2009. Not only does he teach the Public Management Economics course, he’s also worked tirelessly to strengthen the ties between IU, SPEA and NAPA. The culmination of that work came in 2012 when NAPA President Nguyen Dang Thanh signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SPEA Executive Associate Dean David Reingold. The two schools agreed to exchange research opportunities and welcome visiting students and faculty.
“NAPA wants to use our curriculum as a model for their Masters in Public Affairs program,” Tran says. “But having their scholars here also helps our students. They can learn more about that part of the world.”
The SPEA-NAPA collaboration is one of several for the Bloomington school, a list that now includes universities in South Korea, Thailand, and India. “We cherish these relationships,” Reingold says. “We want our students to have a global outlook, whether they’re chatting with a visiting scholar in the next seat or actually visiting a distant city for an internship or to take a class.”
While the four visiting scholars fit right into Dr. Tran’s class, their special status and their advanced degrees do give them one advantage. They don’t have to take the quizzes.