In summer 2009, a group of friends and I from VietAbroader, a network for Vietnamese students living abroad, organized a conference on U.S. higher education. Our aim is to make Vietnamese students more aware of educational opportunities in the U.S. as great alternatives to Vietnamese colleges, which focus on rote learning and restrict students’ intellectual freedom. We also aimed to introduce them to free and reliable sources of information on U.S. education, helping them avoid unethical education agencies in Vietnam. We fundraised more than $20,000 to organize the conference in the two biggest cities in Vietnam, and funded poor students and parents in rural areas to attend our conference.
At that time, I was only a high school graduate. Yet, in the role of the conference director, I had to contact executives from top companies in Vietnam, and sometimes meet them face to face to negotiate and sign sponsorship contracts, some of which are worth thousands of dollars. I had to organize a press conference and talk to many journalists. I was terrified. I usually had to arrive 15 minutes ahead of the meeting time to allow myself some time to calm down. The only thing that kept me going was the conviction that what I was doing would be beneficial for future generations of Vietnamese students, and that I should not quit and abandon my teammates. I learned how to pretend that I was brave when I was not, and gradually that pretension became true (or I simply became more thick-skinned, either way it worked out). The conference also gave me opportunities to interact with many students from many parts of Vietnam and opened my eyes to the problems they were facing, which has given me ideas and inspiration for future projects.
Here is the link to an article written on our conference: http://www.vnciem.gov.vn/en/detail.php?iCat=40&module=news&iData=3436&page=38.