Foreign Fulbright

Volunteer One Day, Come Back with a Basket Full of Understanding: A Vietnamese Fulbrighter Learns About Civic Engagement in the United States

November 12, 2015
Phong Nguyen

Phuong Nguyen, 2014-2016, Vietnam (third from right), with her students in New York City as a One to World Global Guide teaching about sustainability in Vietnam

I am Phuong Nguyen, a Vietnamese Fulbrighter. I have been studying for my MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, a very beautiful school in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Besides studying, I volunteer as a Global Guide Volunteer with One To World, whose mission is to create global citizens and inspire a peaceful world through one-of-a-kind programs in classrooms and communities. I am also an Emerging International Journalist Volunteer with Global Philadelphia Association (GPA), created to assist and encourage greater interaction between the many international organizations and internationally-minded people in the Greater Philadelphia Region.

The volunteering experiences have unexpectedly helped my academic performance. As a Global Guide, I had an opportunity to hone my presentation skills by giving lectures to various audiences, from elementary students, to high school students. To make a lesson on complex issues simple and engaging for my students was difficult, but it helped me to get to know the core issues and prepare for tests, presentations and papers for my college classes.

As a volunteer for the GPA, I engaged in social media and wrote articles related to international aspects of Philadelphia. I had the great privilege of interviewing George de Lama, the new President of the Eisenhower Fellowship. Through social media and writing for magazines, I had a chance to apply some of the skills and knowledge I’ve gained from my classes. The constant use of these skills for my volunteering jobs has also helped me to earn As in Marketing and Writing, and across all of my Publishing classes. Moreover, being involved with my host community has helped to minimize the culture gap I initially felt between my home country and the United States. This, in my opinion, has played a crucial role in me achieving the best academic performance possible, and has given me the confidence to more actively participate in class activities.

Far beyond the personal level of impact I’ve experienced, volunteering at two organizations has also been a transformational experience for me. As a One to World Global Guide, while preparing to teach classes, I was reminded of how I had previously been ignorant of such issues before this experience. More importantly, interacting with different groups of kids from NYC’s various boroughs has helped me to better understand, in a deeper sense, the city’s many different walks of life.

I learned about civic engagement in the United States while volunteering. Although both One To World and GPA are small organizations, they are able to navigate community resources and manage many students from different universities and organizations, all devoted to causes they believe in. From these small organizations, I now have a better sense of how to run a not-for-profit organization by encouraging and working with a community’s ability to create a difference.

These volunteering experiences have not only been beneficial to my academic performance, but have also empowered me to become more a globally minded, locally engaged, confident and competitive student in an international working environment. When I return to Vietnam, I will definitely bring back the skills and knowledge that I gained in the United States to inspire young people to be more engaged in their communities.

In Vietnam, we have saying: “Go out one day and come back with a basket full of wisdom.” I would adapt this to: “Volunteer one day and come back with a basket full of understanding.”

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