When Prof. Michael Hoffman, executive director for the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, visited Vietnam for the first time in 47 years last March, little did he know that he would become a part of a service-learning interdisciplinary course and inspire 10 students to develop an interest in Vietnamese culture and climate change in the Mekong Delta.
The course was taught by Hoffman and Prof. Thuy Tranviet, Asian studies, an expert on the region who came up with the idea for the course.
“Thanks to [Tranviet’s] incredibly hard work, the course and especially the trip to the Mekong, became a reality,” Hoffman said.
Tranviet pursued a travel grant and, by working through the “Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum” program, she created the course that she and Hoffman would eventually lead.
Hoffman and Tranviet chose to focus their service-learning course on Vietnam — and particularly the Mekong Delta — because of its rich culture and the fact that “it is in the bullseye of climate change,” according to Hoffman.
The course was separated into three parts, spanning over the fall, winter and spring semester of this year.
For seven weeks in the fall semester, students met with Hoffman and Tranviet to learn about Vietnamese culture and the detriments of climate change in the Mekong Delta. Then, the class traveled to Vietnam and participated in service learning for two weeks over winter break.
In the seven week spring course, students reflected on their time abroad and developed plans to advocate for climate change action in Washington D.C., where they plan to use their experiences in Vietnam to advocate for climate justice. The students will be travelling to D.C. this weekend to meet local representatives to recount their experiences in Vietnam and to also see how President Donald Trump’s policies may impact climate change policy.
For Jeff Fralick ’18, the Vietnam experience not only armed them with evidence for climate change, but also gave them an invaluable cultural experience.
“[Vietnam] was a perfect opportunity to explore a new culture and a new area of the world,” Fralick said.
Becky Cardinali ’19 agreed, saying that she went on the trip for the educational experience.
“I wanted to have a meaningful, culturally immersive experience abroad where I could learn about real issues firsthand,” she said.
According to Fralick, his appreciation for Vietnamese culture and interest in climate change developed over the trip.
“[Climate change] is very much a real problem that has already had dire impacts on a country that does not have the resources to defend itself — it is time to start taking it seriously,” Fralick said.
This interdisciplinary goal of students immersing themselves in the culture while learning about climate change was important to both Hoffman and Tranviet.
“To me, that is the true service-learning component of the course. They have the opportunity to not only serve the Vietnamese people by telling their stories, but also, by telling their stories, they may in some small way affect the policy makers in this country,” said Hoffman.
Tranviet explained that incorporating an “international piece in the courses that we teach” is invaluable for students.
“My hope is to inspire them, to give them an international experience,” she added
Reflecting on what was most meaningful during the trip, Fralick said, “It is hard to capture in words just how meaningful the trip was without being incredibly cliché, but the trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”