UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Winter 2000
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A Farewell to Arms

Helen Phung


Some of my most vivid and lasting memories of UB have to do with war, upheaval, rebirth—and with the kind of people who made up the UB staff and student body, and the Buffalo community.

In September of 1975, I returned to UB for my senior year. Later that same month, there was an article in the Spectrum about Vietnamese refugees who had been resettled in Buffalo after Saigon had fallen in April. It turned out that many of them had no way to learn English. Stephen Dunnett, now vice provost for international education, offered to help the Vietnamese Student Association at UB implement a volunteer tutoring program, with the assistance of the Intensive English Language Institute, which he headed. My roommate Ann and I volunteered to help.

We started by trying to group the refugees into beginners, intermediates or advanced, based on their knowledge of English. They had been given questionnaires in Vietnamese, in which they were asked to rate themselves on their ability to speak, read or write English. The natural modesty of the Vietnamese sometimes got in the way of self-analysis. One young man had written “bad” in every space. We assumed he was a beginner. When he met his American tutor, she asked him if he knew how to read any English. “Yes,” he replied. “I have just finished a book.” What was it? she wanted to know. “A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway—do you know of it?”

Helen Phung received her B.A. in history in 1976 from UB.

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