About Country

Vietnam occupies the eastern and southern part of the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia, with the South China Sea along its entire coast. China is to the north and Laos and Cambodia are to the west. Long and narrow on a north-south axis, Vietnam is about twice the size of Arizona. The Mekong River delta lies in the south.

The Vietnamese are descendants of nomadic Mongols from China and migrants from Indonesia. According to mythology, the first ruler of Vietnam was Hung Vuong, who founded the nation in 2879 B.C. China ruled the nation then known as Nam Viet as a vassal state from 111 B.C. until the 15th century, an era of nationalistic expansion, when Cambodians were pushed out of the southern area of what is now Vietnam.

A century later, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to enter the area. France established its influence early in the 19th century, and within 80 years it conquered the three regions into which the country was then divided-Cochin-China in the south, Annam in the central region, and Tonkin in the north.

France first unified Vietnam in 1887, when a single governor-generalship was created, followed by the first physical links between north and south-a rail and road system. Even at the beginning of World War II, however, there were internal differences among the three regions. Japan took over military bases in Vietnam in 1940, and a pro-Vichy French administration remained until 1945. Veteran Communist leader Ho Chi Minh organized an independence movement known as the Vietminh to exploit the confusion surrounding France's weakened influence in the region. At the end of the war, Ho's followers seized Hanoi and declared a short-lived republic, which ended with the arrival of French forces in 1946.

Why Study in Vietnam

After emerging from decades of war and isolation, Vietnam today is experiencing tremendous growth and, over the last decade, has boasted one of the strongest economies in Asia. Concurrent with this growth, the country has been wrestling with critical issues such as sustainable resource management, intense urbanization, changing family and marriage patterns, and integration with global networks and institutions.

Students in the Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development program examine these trends firsthand. Through interdisciplinary coursework, field study, and complementary educational excursions led by academic and community experts, students learn about Vietnam's history, social characteristics, and recent economic development trends. Intensive language study, learning activities with Vietnamese peers, and a meaningful homestay further facilitate deep cultural immersion and cross-cultural learning.

Field study outside the program base is an essential component of this program. In most semesters, program participants are able to examine Vietnam's different cultural contexts and development processes in three distinct regions: Southern, Central, and Northern Vietnam. Topics for inquiry in a field-study context include:

  • Exploring a host of pressing issues caused by rapid urbanization within the context of the Doi Moi "Renovation" economic reform
  • Examining the challenges of sustainable development and current strategies for new rural development in the Mekong Delta
  • Exploring the effects of war, development, and tourism on Vietnam's rich but increasingly fragile heritage through travel to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, the ancient streets of Hoi An, and the old imperial citadel of Hue
  • Learning about the lives of Hmong and Red Dao ethnic minority groups in the Sapa mountains
  • Studying key social issues, including internal migration, domestic violence, and community outreach toward Vietnamese living with HIV/AIDS in An Giang (Mekong Delta region), Ho Chi Minh City, or Hanoi