This was the first Vietnamese teaching course at the university after a 15-year hiatus. The girl, named Ton Nu Tuong Vy, has traveled to 36 countries and territories worldwide to learn about the education, culture, and daily life of local residents.


Ton Nu Tuong Vy (L) and her students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the U.S. pose for a photo with their final-term reports. Photo: Supplied


Different reasons to love Vietnamese

The Vietnamese language course at UNC was organized in the framework of the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program, which lasts for nine months. As it was an optional subject, students channeled great effort into their studies. In Vy’s class, there were mainly Vietnamese Americans, together with two native students with various reasons to learn Vietnamese. One of them had a Vietnamese friend and wanted to understand her friend better. 

Another student’s grandmother is Vietnamese but she could not understand what her grandmother said. Due to her love for her late grandmother, she wanted to learn Vietnamese as a way to connect with her origin. “Although she is a unique student [in my class] who has had no opportunity to speak or write Vietnamese in her family like other students, she tries harder to learn Vietnamese than anyone,” Vy said. 

Vy recalled that 15 years ago, an American teacher, after a trip to Vietnam, decided to open a class to teach Vietnamese to help Americans understand the Southeast Asian country better. After the professor retired, no one took over his class and the Vietnamese course was put on hold. Until 2021, when the number of UNC students who had a demand for learning Vietnamese increased, the university resumed the Vietnamese class. Vy came to the U.S. and got the job in early August.

Teaching a special curriculum, Vy had to find books and documents to prepare her lesson plans. She visited many bookstores, searched on the Internet, and asked her acquaintances to summarize and materials for her lessons. Vy also organized extracurricular activities, let her students watch and discuss movies, such as Mat Biec (Dreamy Eyes) and Da Co Hoai Lang (Missing Husband at Nightfall), and held activities centered around Tet and Valentine’s Day.

In addition, Vy invited students from Fulbright University Vietnam to share Vietnam’s folklore online. During these activities, Vy’s students in the U.S. asked many questions. For example, after watching Mat Biec, they asked about the Hue University of Education and wondered why Vy’s ao dai (a Vietnamese traditional outfit) was colorful, while schoolgirls in Thua Thien Hue Province, central Vietnam wore only white ao dai to school.

This was an exchange and pronunciation practice opportunity for students. Vy was always willing to give private tuition to students who failed to keep pace with their classmates. A formal class lasts for 50 minutes, while private classes take two hours each. “I voluntarily help and hope my Vietnamese knowledge and understanding as well as pedagogical approaches improve to help my students,” Vy shared.

Fruitful results

In a final-term project encouraging creativity, Vy said she was surprised and impressed at her students’ ideas and stories. A student who was born into a Vietnamese, Chinese, and Khmer family and had great passion for languages made a representation on comparing the three languages. Another student shared his mother’s pho (Vietnam's national noodle dish served with hot broth cooked from beef or chicken) recipe by drawing materials, including star anise, cardamom, and beef. 

Meanwhile, a student painted a picture and made a video about her family history. After the course, the students’ reading and writing skills improved significantly. Vy was satisfied the most with her students’ connectivity with their families and Vietnamese characters. Some said they would definitely come to Vietnam with their families one day.

In her nine months working at UNC, Vy received considerable support from her colleagues and students as they knew that it was her first year teaching at the university and it is not easy for everyone to adapt to life in the U.S.. During her time in the U.S., Vy also studied education, linguistics, religion history, American studies, and music. She attended an Asian study seminar in Hawaii to improve her pedagogical skills and understanding of American culture.

Moreover, Vy spent time visiting local high schools to talk about Vietnam.

Introduction of Vietnam

Elizabeth Hunter, a teacher at Lakewood Montessori School, said Vy’s sharing helped her students garner a better understanding of Vietnam and changes in the Vietnamese society.

The teacher said videos screened by Vy helped them see wonderful images of Vietnam and know stories about unyielding Vietnamese people, who ceaselessly strive to improve themselves and their culture and nation.

“We feel like our horizons miraculously widened about that special land. We are grateful for the opportunity to talk with her,” Hunter added.