PHAM THUY TIEN (Vietnam), YSEALI Professional Fellow in Civic Engagement
YSEALI Professional Fellows Program is designed for those who have been working for several years and strongly proved their leadership potential. As such, the fellows are expected to participate in various activities relating to their professional backgrounds, as well as exchange their expertise with American professionals working in the same fields. However, if that is all about YSEALI, this program might not become so special. Apart from meetings and lectures, we also have opportunities to experience American culture from which we can learn new knowledge and practices. I personally have gained more understandings in different aspects during my first two weeks in Missoula.
How are Missoulans close to nature?
Art Held, Vice President of the University of Montana Foundation, took me, Huong (another YSEALI fellow) and his wife for a hiking to Pattee Canyon on a weekend morning. He goes hiking every weekend, even alone. His wife, due to her knee problems, sometimes joins; otherwise she stays at home doing garden. During the way, we talked about differences between Ho Chi Minh City – the biggest city in Vietnam where people don’t have land for houses and Missoula – a city with a population of only 70,000 where forests and mountains surround the town. We sometimes stopped to look at a yellow pine among the green ones and saw how beautiful it was; or to listen to a bird nonstop pecking in a tree. Up to the top, we sat down having our lunch and enjoying the cool breezes of a sunny day. In our view down the mountain, there was the Missoula devided by the Clark Fork River, peaceful and quiet. Right at that moment, I recognized how important it was to create a close relationship of human beings and nature. Only when we know how beautiful our nature is that we could do our best to save it for ourselves and for the next generations. I can see Missoulans are in a good path to protect their environment while we still have a long way to go in Vietnam.
How to make education more lively?
There are many activities of outdoor education in Missoula, so the kids can study outside instead of sitting all day in the classrooms. They go trekking in Glacier Park in summers to learn about the nature and the trees in that area. They can go to a river and get information about fishes and how the river flows. They are taken to camping for several days to gain knowledge about wildlife and why we need to protect it. By this way, the students can have vivid experience and can remember their “outdoor lessons” in a longer time rather that just reading books and papers.
How to integrate in the American life?
American culture sometimes is said as a “hotpot”, where diverse cultures live in harmony and create a unique culture for the United States. Within a same day, my host family and I had opportunities to join two activities representing two different cultures. In the afternoon, we came to Tuyen Pham and ShuShu’s house for a lunch as they invited us. We cooked Phở, a traditional famous food of Vietnam. During the lunch, we talked about customs in Vietnam and how they have changed over the time. We had great time as we ate, talked and laughed a lot! In the evening, I came to the host family of another YSEALI fellow for pumpkin craving. As Halloween is coming to town, people have been preparing their costumes and decorating their houses (maybe for weeks). Pumpkins craved in various faces is obviously one of the activities to celebrate Halloween. While “transforming” our pumpkins, we discussed about big holidays in Vietnam and in The US, as well as how people celebrated them. It is always great to bring your country closer to international friends by stories and friendly conversations.