I recently had the opportunity to visit Vietnam as part of our school’s international effort to support and foster best practices in dental education around the globe.
The experience in Ho Chi Minh City was fantastic. The people were gracious, going out of their way to make sure everything was in place for my visit. Their hospitality impressed me and so did the immense traffic and the people on motor scooters going in all different directions. Yet despite what appears to be total chaos, everybody is well behaved, no aggressiveness, and everyone seems to get along in the very crowded, hot and humid streets.
I got to visit a renowned noodle shop called Pho 2000. President Clinton ate there along with his daughter Chelsea, making the place very famous. Three of us had dinner, which was a large bowl of soup and soft drinks. The bill was less than $10. It was an incredible meal.
I visited Independence Palace and it brought back a lot of thoughts about what happened during the Vietnam War, a time when I was coming of age. While I did not serve in the military, I engaged in the huge political debate in our country about withdrawing from Vietnam. I found it ironic that we went to war, lost more than 50,000 American lives, then withdrew in defeat, all because we were fighting against communism. While there are some elements of communism in Vietnam to this day, the country has become very capitalistic in nature.
While in Ho Chi Minh City, I had the pleasure to visit the Faculty of Odonto-Stomatology at University of Medical Sciences in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The school hosted a conference, “New Orientation of Dental Education in Vietnam” where I gave three presentations to the deans of the eight dental schools in Vietnam, plus major faculty members. I discussed challenges in global dental education, presented an overview of dental education in the United States and gave an update on endodontics.
I was impressed with the faculty's desire to tackle curriculum reform. Hopefully they found what I had to say useful. They are very interested in ensuring that their dental education is contemporary, even though the facilities are far from that. I listened to scientific presentations over the next two days and again was impressed with the quality of the presentations and the discovery of research. The schools have sent some faculty members abroad to develop their skills, but they have mainly been directed toward research and are now looking toward developing their teaching skills. Participants mentioned many times during the conference that they need to be focusing on the students as they are the important ones. I have not seen that sort of enthusiasm for the students in visits to many other parts of the world. The presentation from Thailand by the Chulalongkorn dental school, whose 7th anniversary event I attended, was impressive in showcasing how they are doing curriculum reform. However, it was noted that it has taken them seven years to get to where they are now, and they have a ways to go yet.
The journey back was sobering. I had to change flights in Tokyo on the way out and the way home. While waiting for my flight to Ho Chi Minh City, I experienced an aftershock at the terminal. It was a little bit eerie sitting in the lounge and listening to the windows vibrate and feeling the movement. People got up and moved away from the windows; staff was very proper and direct. It is sad to see how empty the airport is. On my return, it was pretty much what I would call a ghost town compared to what Narita normally is. Stores were empty and nobody was around. The flights too were fairly empty.
The people of Japan are very stoic. They still provide tremendous service despite what are obviously some serious difficulties. Watching TV while sitting in the lounge showed clearly the devastation. While we are focused almost exclusively on the nuclear issue here in the States, the devastation in the countryside is immense and the task of rebuilding is daunting.
It is easy to forget how fragile we all are and how quickly things can change after all, we live in earthquake country here in San Francisco as well. But we are also a truly global community, able to reach out across the oceans to seek help and give assistance as well. My trip only reinforced this belief and my determination to continue to forge stronger ties with the dental community around the world.