Student Exchange Ambassadors Connect Hawaiʻi and Vietnam

May 01, 2021

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

PAAC and Smart Tutoring English Center (STEC) Dien Ban, an extra-curricular English school in central Vietnam, have much in common. Both promote cross-cultural exchange and understanding, and help young people to expand their horizons through authentic learning experiences. Though the pandemic resulted in the cancelation of PAAC’s summer study tour to Vietnam, it also provided a unique opportunity to collaborate in new ways with a trusted partner.

From January to May 2021, 10 PAAC students paired with 10 STEC Dien Ban students and met online as Student Exchange Ambassadors for language practice and cultural interchanges. Students exchanged emails and met in small groups online for monthly face-to-face conversations. Adult monitors from STEC Dien Ban and Glocal Literacy Foundation – a Hawaii NGO – were also present. In their groups, students talked about and compared daily teenage life, holidays, cultural events and traditions, and life during the pandemic. The experience was win-win: STEC Dien Ban students practiced their English and PAAC students learned about Vietnam, even picking up a few Vietnamese greetings and phrases.

Dinh Thi Thanh Nga, a 15-year-old student at STEC Dien Ban, said, “I can improve my speaking and get information or knowledge about American holidays and many things of Hawaii. My partner was very friendly and they tried to listen to me, although my speaking had mistake. We also share about our life for each other and it is really exciting…I hope that we can do this project again in the future.”

PAAC students also valued the experience. “It was very important to have this [experience]…In order to learn about cultures and each other appropriately, it really needs to be done in these "normal" ways, meaning not emphasizing our differences and divisions and just coming to get together to learn,” said one student from St. Andrew’s Priory.

PAAC’s relationship with STEC Dien Ban is deeply rooted. For over a decade, students traveling with PAAC to Vietnam have visited STEC Dien Ban to interact with their peers in central Vietnam and engage in cross-cultural exchange. Since 2012, STEC Dien Ban has invited students on PAAC’s Service-Learning Study Tour to Vietnam to develop and teach their own English lessons to Vietnamese students enrolled at their school. This newest collaboration, while new in format, is a continuation of the long-established and flourishing relationship between two organizations dedicated to international learning and cross-cultural exchange.

“To me the conversation I had with the PAAC students in Hawaii helped me to be more confident in talking with foreigners,” said Nguyen Khanh Toan, a 13-year-old STEC Dien Ban student. “Besides that, I also known more about the American culture and American teenagers’ lifestyle. I think having conversation with foreigners will help us improve more in speaking and also check our grammar skills.”

“These kinds of programs go to the heart of what PAAC is about,” said PAAC High School Program Director Jason Shon. “Students not only make friends and broaden their worlds, they also develop the skills and values they will need to build a more peaceful and understanding global community.”