This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Ashwill first American to receive Fulbright specialist grant to Vietnam

Published: March 27, 2003

Reporter Editor

Mark Ashwill, director of the World Languages Institute and Fulbright Program adviser at UB, is the first American scholar to be awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialist Grant to Vietnam.


Mark Ashwill

Ashwill spent January as a visiting scholar at the Department of Applied Linguistics in the Institute of Linguistics at the National Center for Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi. During that time, he made a series of presentations to researchers, faculty and students on post-Sept. 11 U.S. language policy, post-secondary foreign-language instruction, the uses of technology in American higher education and language-use programs, such as Languages Across the Curriculum.

He consulted with Institute of Linguistics colleagues on the development and application of national standards in relevant subjects, the local adaptation of the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) levels used by the U.S. government to train and assess the proficiency of foreign-language specialists and the development and measurement of intercultural competence.

He also worked on several projects with institute colleagues, including an inventory of Vietnamese behavioral culture (i.e., customs and manners) and a bilingual book to be published in Vietnam that consists of essay-length responses to questions asked by Vietnamese about various aspects of American culture and society.

Ashwill says his time in Hanoi "was filled with meaningful and productive work, new and renewed friendships and time for reflection."

"Every presentation and discussion was a stimulating exchange of information and ideas," he says. "In the spirit of the Fulbright program, I learned a lot—from a Vietnamese perspective—about many of the topics."

Ashwill says that in addition to his project work, he had the opportunity to meet with Lam Quang Thiep, chair of the Department of Higher Education at Vietnam National University who was a visiting Fulbright scholar at UB last year. He says he also met with Tran Xuan Thao, director of the Fulbright program in Vietnam, as well as U.S. embassy colleagues and students and faculty from local universities.

"I also ventured into the countryside, a very different world where 80 percent of all Vietnamese live," he says. "One weekend excursion took me to Sapa, a picturesque town in the mountains near the Chinese border known for its ethnic minorities."

A recent study of the U.S. scholar component of the Fulbright exchange program by SRI International, a leading independent research institute, found that the program is achieving its mandate of promoting mutual understanding and cooperation between the U.S. and other nations. Ashwill points out that although he visited Vietnam under the auspices of the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program, which offers two-to-six-week grants to leading U.S. academics and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at academic institutions abroad, the results of the scholars' study could be applied to his experience as well, albeit on a smaller scale because of the shorter period of time spent abroad.

The visit to Vietnam provided "a deeper understanding of the host country, heightened awareness of social and cultural diversity and has had a lasting impact, both personally and professionally,"notes Ashwill, who, in addition to his UB duties, serves as executive director of the U.S.-Indochina Educational Foundation, Inc. (USIEF), a non-profit organization he founded in 2000. USIEF's mission is to contribute to the development of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam by offering some of those countries' most promising students the opportunity to pursue advanced education and training in the U.S., as well as to educate Americans about conditions in these countries.

And like the Fulbright scholars, who usually spend a semester to a full year abroad, Ashwill also left behind material for his hosts.

"I left behind books, reports, articles, software and sets of proficiency guidelines—something that the (Vietnamese) government is interested in developing," he adds.