July 31, 2009
John’s University graduate student Kristy Horning will always
remember Vietnam as a truly amazing experience.
“There are some things in life that you can prepare for, like the
intense heat and humidity. However, there are certain aspects of
the trip that I could have never prepared myself for, such as the
homeless children who lined the streets selling bracelets or
postcards, the faces of patients at the Mai Hoa Aids Clinic, the
children of Ha Long Bay balancing on the thin ledge of our boat
with their hands full with trinkets and food.”
Kristy is one of 10 students in the Department of Psychology who
recently returned from a compelling two-week study abroad
experience in Vietnam, where they studied the country’s educational
system, explored its architecture, engaged in service and
experienced the rich culture of the capital city of Hanoi.
During their stay, they were even honored by Buddhist monks!
Betsy Juarez, a Psy. D. student spoke energetically about this
life-altering journey across time zones:
“My summer abroad experience in Vietnam was absolutely
unforgettable,” she reflects. “I feel privileged to walk away with
the memories and friends I have gained during my studies in
Vietnam. The impact was so strong that I have selected my
dissertation project based on a topic I'm passionate about while
studying in this foreign country.”
A Valuable Education
Prior to departure, the seven graduate and three undergraduate
psychology students attended seminars taught by Professors
Marlene Sotelo-Dynega, Psy.D. and
Samuel Ortiz, Ph.D., on the cultural diversity of the region.
In Vietnam, the students took courses on Cultural Diversity and
Cognitive Psychology taught by the St. John’s professors at the
National University of Education (HNUE).
When not in the classroom, the students were able to tour some of
the area. They observed a program called KOTO (Know One, Teach One)
that teaches English to street children and trains them as busboys
and waitresses, placing them in a local restaurant to “learn the
ropes” of the business and eventually support themselves. Impressed
by the effort to raise the children out of poverty, the St. John’s
group purchased a brick in the organization’s wall to support their
efforts on behalf of the children.
They also visited children in an HIV/AIDS clinic in Ho Chi Minh
City, where they donated money by purchasing items the children had
made. The group also helped to rehabilitate a Buddhist
“It’s important for everyone, especially our students, to get
outside of their comfort zones,” explains Dr. Sotelo-Dynega. “It’s
great to read about different cultures, but nothing can surpass
being immersed in a culture very different than the one to which
you are accustomed.”
“The Vietnam study abroad program is relevant to the Psychology
Department as well as to other, if not all, disciplines across the
academic spectrum,” says Cathy Lancellotti, Director of Vietnamese
Initiatives and Assistant
Director of St. John’s Center for Psychological Services.
“Our students experience psychology in another culture that is far
different than theoretical learning at home,” she adds. “They
witness first-hand the engagement of the Vietnamese students during
their class time.”