A government invested in startups, American Council fellow talks about entrepreneurship in Vietnam

Mai Thi Thao Chi’s first thought of St. Michael’s was whimsical. “The college is very lovely with old buildings like castles in stories and also this is the first time I see the color of the fall.”

A lecturer at Vietnam’s Danang University of Architecture in business administration, marketing, and entrepreneurship, Chi, 32, is here as a fellow from the American Council for International Education. At home in her free time, she goes to the beach, watches movies, and goes to coffee shops with her husband and 5-year-old son. On-campus she has worked with the Business Administration Department since October 18 and will be here until November 19.

You are a trainer at an incubator for startup teams in your home city. What’s an incubator?

It’s a business incubator. Teams want to start their project, but they don’t know how. So, they can go there, and we provide training courses and we help them to build [a] network. We have an incubation journey and an acceleration journey. After the incubation journey, you will have a model that you apply. We will help them connect with partners or with investors. Startups is something that our government is investing very much at the moment.

What do you hope to accomplish at St. Michael’s?

I have three goals here. The first one is to observe the teaching practice, so that’s why I go to different classes. The second one is that I want to learn more about entrepreneurship here. We went to The MakerSpace and The Generator in Burlington. We also went to Entrepreneurship Club in University of Vermont. In my university, we haven’t had an entrepreneurship club yet, because we don’t know to do it. So, I want to learn more about it so I can come back to my university to create something like that. The third one is because I have a social project, which is called “a better Vietnam”, where I connect the volunteer native English speakers with English learners. So I also want to recruit new teachers and broaden my network so when I come back home I can keep in touch with them and find new teachers for the project.

How does the Vietnamese media portray the U.S.?

Before I came here I never heard about Vermont. I just know about America from movies. Recently I watched some vlog on YouTube. Some people make a video on their daily life. I know a little bit more, not only about New York but Las Vegas.

How different is the weather from Vietnam to here?

Vietnam is a tropical country, so it is very different from here…We have the dry season and the raining season. Usually, the temperature in summer is 33-35 C. [91-95 F]. In winter, the lowest temperature is maybe 15 C. [59 F]. Right now, in my city, the temperature is 30 C. [86 F]. Because of the humidity, I sweat all day.

What do you want people to know about Vietnam?

In Vietnam you can see motorbikes everywhere, you can see a whole family on a motorbike, a husband and wife and two small children. We also live in a community that we help each other, and we are friendly to people around us a lot.

What do you like about Vermont and St. Michael’s? 

I like the environment and the architecture. It’s really historic and beautiful and peaceful. We don’t have autumn in Vietnam and I like it very much. Also because St. Mike’s is quite small and the size of the classes are also very small, just 18 or maximum maybe 25 it is very like a close community, that really knows each other. The professor can pay attention on each student. In my university, the average number of students in a class is 50 so it’s very crowded. Because I am staying in a townhouse, it is very convenient.

When I knew about my placement, Vermont, and St. Mike’s, it is a little bit not what I expected. I thought about [a] fancy city, New York. But when I came here, I am very pleased with this placement because I love nature. It is a very normal side of American life, it is not something you can see on television on social media very frequently. It is a chance for me to explore more about America. I really love this placement.

What do you think about American students? Do you find the classroom climate very different?

Students everywhere are quite similar, some are very good, some are lazy, some pay attention on other stuff but not on studying. Therefore, for me, the classroom climate is not very different. However, there are some minor differences that I can think of.

In Vietnam, students show a little bit more respect to the teachers. For example in greetings, students enter classroom usually have to say hello to teacher; or stand up when teachers enter the room.

American students seem to be more mature and be given more responsibility. They wear suit when having presentation or they drive school’s van to take other students to volunteer activities, to hiking mountains which makes me quite surprised.