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February 24, 2005

UW-Eau Claire Program Continues Efforts to Improve Life in Vietnam

EAU CLAIRE — Several faculty members from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire visited Vietnam in January as part of a program aimed at improving the economy of that country by adding to its knowledge of international economic models.

UWEC faculty membersUWEC faculty members

This was the third year that Dr. Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education at UW-Eau Claire, led a delegation of faculty members to Hanoi over the winter break to deliver a series of lectures at Vietnam National University-Hanoi through the Education for Reconciliation and Economic Opportunity Program.

The program is a UW-Eau Claire-initiated faculty exchange which exposes economics students and professors in Vietnam to western styles of learning and information technology as they relate to developing world economics, business administration, management, marketing and entrepreneurship. In turn, this program brings information about Vietnamese culture and business practices to UW-Eau Claire students and faculty.

Markgraf lectured on U. S. higher education in general, while Dr. Rose-Marie Avin and Dr. Edward Young, professors of economics, and Dr. Rama Yelkur, associate professor of management and marketing, talked on a variety of topics.

"This was an amazing experience for me given that I'm a development economist and this was my first trip to Asia," said Avin, who had previously focused her research and travels in Latin America. "The students I had in Vietnam were wonderful," Avin said. "They showed great interest in the topic and asked excellent questions.

"Avin lectured on "Globalization and the Third World: A Force for Good or Exploitation?" and "Globalization and Women in the Third World." She said one Vietnamese student even wrote to thank her for opening her eyes to the outside world and the concept of globalization.

"They were very interested in the topic because Vietnam has opened up its economy to foreign capital and has become an important player in the world economy," Avin said, noting that her students in Eau Claire also will benefit from the knowledge she gained and the many pictures and slides she brought back. According to Avin, they not only will be able to better understand the culture and process of economic development taking place in Vietnam, they also will be able to compare and contrast them to the cultures of Latin American and to similar development processes taking place there.

For Young, the visit to Vietnam involved more mixed emotions. He was a soldier in the late 1960s, and although he didn't go to Vietnam, many of his friends did.

"I could go on and on about the emotions stirred by the contrast between how the Vietnamese treat us today and how we treated them 35 years ago," Young said.

Young lectured on the history of the American labor movement, the role of the labor unions in a free labor market, and the anti-labor policies of the Bush administration.

"Our economic/political system is a great mystery to the Vietnamese," said Young, noting that the Vietnamese students got to hear about a subject unfamiliar to their professors, as well as Young's own perspective on American political and economic issues. He believes that hearing a diversity of views is beneficial to students, both here and in Vietnam.

"The reality of Vietnam reminds me of how important it is to encourage my students to pursue knowledge — not to just accept the information you are given.

"Young also said he brought back many useful examples of different economic systems and the way labor markets work in different contexts to share with his students at home.

"The contrast in these examples will help students understand the cultural background in economic institutions," Young said.

Yelkur, who teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in international marketing at UW-Eau Claire, spoke on emerging markets, multi-national marketing groups and marketing in the developing world. She said she typically spoke to about 60 students, and she agreed with Avin that they were extremely bright and asked insightful questions.

"There was lots of excitement among these students," said Yelkur. "The rate of development in Vietnam has been really fast, with many European countries investing. These students are all thinking in terms of where Vietnam can go from here," Yelkur said. "Investment in technology there is recent, but it is really accelerating the development of Vietnam." She noted that a technology park recently opened in Hanoi and that the Vietnamese are starting joint ventures, for example, in the cellular phone industry.

This was Yelkur's first trip to Vietnam, and she took the opportunity to learn as much as she could about the culture, going to museums and traveling by train into the mountains near the Chinese border to Sa Pa where some of Vietnam's many ethnic groups live, including the Black Hmong. She also enjoyed contrasting those groups with the Vietnamese she met in urban areas.

"There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in Vietnam," Yelkur said. "Especially in Sa Pa, the locals could speak some English or French, not because they learn it in school, but because they are interested in doing business with the tourists from around the world.

"Like the other professors, Yelkur was excited about the many specific examples she could now bring back to the classes at UW-Eau Claire

"I began using my experiences in Vietnam in my undergraduate and graduate classes right away. A trip like this brings so much excitement to everything we do in the classroom," she said.

The Education for Reconciliation and Economic Opportunity program is made possible by a grant that the Center for International Education wrote in conjunction with the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The grant of more than $80,000 was funded by the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation, an organization "dedicated to enhancing the quality of life on earth through support of wildlands conservation, disabled recreation and mobility, international microenterprise, and global understanding." Arthur B. Schultz is an American businessman.

"The training that our faculty have been able to provide through this exchange is helping rewrite economics education in Vietnam," said Markgraf, noting that most of VNU-Hanoi's 68 economics professors had received their training in the former Soviet Union, and that economic model and training have proven irrelevant to the current transitional economics Vietnam is undergoing.

"This project has enabled us to directly impact the quality of instruction, the curricular development, and the development of human knowledge and skills at a partner institution in Vietnam," Markgraf said. "It's a truly outstanding program."

For more information, contact Markgraf at UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education, (715) 836-4411.

- UW-Eau Claire News Bureau