By Chris Bavender
For the next 10 months, 2015 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate Zach Wishart will will teach English in Vietnam at the Hoang Le Kha High School for the Gifted as part of his Fulbright Assistantship. Wishart begins his trip Aug. 1.
The Ball State graduate said the trip almost didn’t happen.
“One of my professors, Josh Vandiver, initially forwarded an email about the Fulbright call-out meeting and I expressed hesitation because at the time I was already very busy with class and other extracurricular activities,” Wishart said. “Plus, to be completely honest, I thought it was something of a pipe dream. However, at his persistence I decided to go.”
After the meeting, Wishart wasn’t sure what nation to apply for. Another professor, Ken Hall, a three-time Fulbright winner with a specialty in Southeast Asia, recommended Vietnam.
“At the time, I really had no preference. I just wanted to travel to somewhere I hadn’t been before,” he said. “As a history major with an interest in the 1950s (through) 70s, Vietnam seemed like a great opportunity.”
In addition to teaching English, Wishart will be a cultural ambassador.
“While the war is still deeply ingrained in the minds of Americans everywhere, perhaps because of the controversy it caused domestically, much of Vietnam has moved on. They are focused on the future, not the past,” Wishart said of Amercia’s military involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s. “Over the last 20 years, they have emerged as a global power economically with a highly motivated youth population. As a cultural ambassador, I, of course, want to help demonstrate the best aspects of America to the Vietnamese. However, my personal interest resides in learning as much about Vietnam as possible and upon my return using what I have learned to combat Vietnamese stereotypes to my peers and future students.”
One of Wishart’s biggest challenges is he doesn’ speak Vietnamese. But he said the immediate immersion into Vietnamese life will aid learning.
“Similarly, most people in Vietnam have at least a moderate understanding of the English language,” Wishart said. “Learning a new language is one of the things I am looking most forward to about this experience. I believe it is one of the purest and most authentic forms of cultural exchange.”
Wishart regardst the trip as a “life-changing opportunity.”
“I believe travel is the greatest educator,” he said. “At worst, you develop a gratitude for people and ideas different then your own. At best, you have an incredible experience. From this, I hope to develop a greater appreciation and understanding for Vietnamese culture, comething that is not well-represented in central Indiana.”