College gets grant for study in Vietnam

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Assistant Professor of Economics Diep Phan has visited Vietnam multiple times in the past. The latest trip inspired an idea that led to a $24,595 grant from ASIANetwork. As a result, her next visit will be with four Beloit College students as they study community tourism in and around the village of Mai Chau.

Beloit College will be sending four students and one professor to a few rural Vietnam villages this summer.

The trip is made possible by a $24,595 grant awarded to the quintet by ASIANetwork, a covenant of over 170 North American colleges that makes efforts to increase the involvement of Asian studies within liberal arts education.

“We found out the week before last,” Assistant Professor of Economics Diep Phan said. “We're excited.”

Joining Phan on the five-week expedition overseas will be four members of Beloit College's Class of 2015. Hilary Walker, from Westerville, Ohio, is one of three international political economy majors who will be joining Phan. Also coming along will be Margaret Cress, who is double-majoring in sociology and hails from Gunnison Colo., and Janesville native Jon Hammon. Rounding out the fab four is Wenxin Xu, an education and economics major from Beijing, China.

“We have a very strong group of students who applied. They are all excellent and I think the topic and the site we chose may have been in our favor,” Phan said.

Phan’s group was one of two at Beloit College to apply for an ASIANetwork grant, but was the only recipient of good news.

The topic that will be explored by the group will be the community tourism in Mai Chau as well as a few other neighboring villages that has led to substantial development in recent years.

“I have been there a few times. In the early 1990s, (Mai Chau) wasn't popular and wasn't very successful. Last year I went back and I was surprised to see how different it had become,” Phan said. “The village has become much richer and I'm very curious as to what caused this success.”

The four students will each take up a different focus while applying skills learned in the classroom and analyzing the community tourism success in Mai Chau.

“I've never done something like this. I'm learning about how to conduct research this way,” Walker said. “I'm excited because this is my first time going into the field.”

Throughout the five-week stay in Vietnam, Cress will focus on the effects that community tourism has on inequality and poverty, Hammon will focus on environmental effects of the industry, Xu will focus on the educational system, and Walker will focus on components of all three components.

“I'm going to be looking at institutions within the tourism. How it's set up and where the money actually goes,” Walker said.

Phan notes that while Mai Chau has certainly boomed between her early 90s and 2013 visits, what her students find may not be a fairy tale story of success.

“If we go and investigate we may start to find that the impact of community tourism hasn't helped reduce poverty. It may actually increase inequality because maybe only the wealthiest families benefit,” Phan said. “These are the things that we have to find out.”

When considering the topic, Phan selected the quartet of students specifically to apply for the grant with her.

“I picked the students because I know it's very competitive,” Phan said. “I want them to apply whatever they learned in the classrooms into the field; into the real world. I want them to really get the liberal arts experience.”

The four students also all have experience being overseas and Walker doubts that there will be much of a culture shock for the group.

“I'm actually the only one that's on campus right now. The other three are all (studying) abroad right now,” Walker said. “I'm not that nervous because I have family that lives in Haiti so that was kind of a shock, but I think Vietnam might be a bit more developed. It will be interesting.”

Upon completing their research and returning over the Pacific, the students will then apply their findings will then become their senior thesis.

“Each student is going to write a research paper of their own and that will turn into their thesis,” Phan said.

Students will also be given opportunities to present their work at dates yet to be announced during the 2014-15 academic year.

The researchers will depart the states in early-July and return in mid-August.

“It should be really fun,” Walker said. “Hopefully, it will be a very interpersonal experience and not just academic.”

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