I am back in Hanoi, one year later. This time with Professor Jesse Markham and six students who eagerly await their placement in law offices and NGOs – three in Hanoi and three in Ho Chi Minh City (all wonderfully organized by Jesse). My most immediate impressions are twofold. First, our programs have grown and matured in the fifteen years since we first came here, knocking on doors to see how USF might assist Vietnam 20 years after the war had ended. Those initial efforts ended up in a conversation with the Vice Minister of Justice, and led to a decade and a half of involvement training judges, developing relationships with University (Hanoi Law University and the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law), exchanging faculty, and presenting seminars on myriad topics ranging from administrative law to decision making in the courts to labor law to legal education; and, the impact that student work in developing countries can have on their lives.
Today, the students, myself and Jesse sat around a dark wood table bedecked with flowers, microphones, fruit, hot tea and iced coffee in a nicely appointed conference room sheltering us in the comfort of air conditioning from the sweltering heat outside. We visited the Supreme Peoples Procuracy at the invitation of the Deputy Procurator General, Dr. Nga, where the topic was judicial reform and ways that USF might assist – including professors coming to Vietnam to lecture on topics related to court reform and Vietnamese officials coming to San Francisco to observe judicial administrative processes and to receive training with an eye to adopting what might work for Vietnam. As we sat around the table, Dr. Nga flanked by four other officials of the SPP, it struck how deep our roots go in Vietnam and the access we have been able to attain because of our past work and relatively new contacts with programs in Vietnam like STAR, funded by USAID and engaged in multiple law reform projects with many Ministries. (Indeed, for the next three days, I’ll be working with the Ministry of Labor, discussing various labor-related dispute resolution issues.)
But the most salient impression since being here is the opportunity that these programs provide for our students. It is a serious chance to engage in Vietnamese culture, to learn the ways of folks with a completely different system of government, to make new friendships and contacts, and to gain a perspective that would be impossible working in the United States. And what’s most exciting is that the students get it, evidenced by their thoughtful conversation and excitement at meetings with Vietnamese officials and dinners introducing them to the ways of Vietnam.
More thoughts about our work and students to follow: To be continued.