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Vietnam After The War: Globalization and Youth Identity

This week’s #GLOVicariously webinar featured a panel organized and moderated by the site team of the Northwestern program GESI Vietnam. The discussion centered around trends in young people in Vietnam as the country continues to globalize.

The panelists were Nancy Napier and Dau Thuy Ha, the authors of “The Bridge Generation of Viet Nam: Spanning Wartime to Boomtime,” and the documentary creators of “We To Me,” a documentary exploration of the book. Ngan Pham, the Program Relations Manager for GESI Vietnam, moderated the discussion. 

Vietnam has gone through significant changes from a war-torn and hunger-stricken state to a period of socialist subsidy in the 1980s and current day’s development miracle as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Rapid economic growth and the opening up of Vietnam to the outside world, on the other hand, brought along abrupt changes in society’s sociocultural fabrics. Nowadays, in the era of smartphones and internet, young Vietnamese struggle to connect with their parents and grandparents’ generations.

Following the War was an era known as Thoi Bao Cap, the Subsidy Period, characterized by famine, shortage, and rations. This era of austerity was a fundamental influence on young Vietnamese who are now parents and grandparents of a newer generation that did not live this era firsthand. Napier and Ha explore the phenomena of the “Bridge Generation,” referring to those in Vietnam born during the war in the 1970s, referred to as the Vietnam War by Americans, and the American War by Vietnamese.

“Ha and I did a series of interviews, profiles, of people in her generation who were born during wartime, lived through this very series famine period, and now are leading the country in so many ways. In business, education, non-profits. We wanted to find out about their lives and what they experienced for several reasons: to build bridges between Vietnam and the United States, to build bridges between generations within Vietnam, and maybe even to build bridges within families in Vietnam who have split and live in the North or the South and have very different experiences,” explain Napier.

The documentary “We to Me” continues the work of this book through featuring young people in Vietnam, and the nostalgic feelings associated with Thoi Bao Cap, a time period they did not experience. “For young generations today, I see it almost as a shift from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from basic needs to now self-actualization. I don’t have to worry about finding food…maybe I can go become an artist,” shares Jade Chase, the director of “We to Me.” “There’s this almost ironic fascination with Bao Cap, a look into vintage fashion or Cong Cafes, both modeled after this time period but baring no realistic reflection of it.”

Ngan reflected on how these tensions show up in the non-profit space.  Working with young people for Ngan involves a lot of creativity, innovation, and fresh perspectives. As non-profits grow, about 60% of volunteers are under the age of 40. There’s also a rise of children of Vietnamese immigrants who left Vietnam to seek out their roots and want to experience Vietnam for the first time. “We love when young Vietnamese want to learn more about the country, we love having heritage seekers come back,” says Mo Nguyen, the GESI site director.

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About #GLOVicariously Webinar Series: 

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing anti-racism protests, global engagement across difference and development of intercultural skills are critically needed to build a more just and peaceful world. We want to continue fostering global learning opportunities for students throughout this summer 2020 through our virtual webinar series, #GLOVicariously. #GLOVicariously webinars feature speakers involved in GLO programs who have expertise on a variety of critical global issues. View upcoming #GLOVicariously webinars.