Thoughts from a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, Nov. 4
October 22, 2015   //   By:   //   Research and Academics, Service


“Vietnam’s population is aging faster than any country in the world,” according to Peggy McFarland, professor of social work and Director of Field Instruction at Elizabethtown College.  Involved in elderly care, practicing geriatric social work since 1990 and a recent Fulbright Scholar in the Southeast Asian country, she  intimately understands the situation.

With her social work experiences as cofounder of Senior Management Services, a firm that provides eldercare management; her research on Alzheimer’s; and her scholarly work at E-town, McFarland was honored as a 2014 U.S. Fulbright Scholar. As a Fulbrighter, she traveled to Vietnam to help the country’s government examine the problems of a rapidly increasing elderly population. It was one of several trips she’s experienced in the Far East country.

At noon, Wednesday, Nov. 4, in the College’s Susquehanna Room of Myers Hall, McFarland illustrates the beauty and the culture of the country that was her home away from home for a year and discusses her insights of the country and its challenges, 40 years after the Vietnam War. The lecture, part of E-town’s Presidential Community Enrichment Series (PCES), focuses on the professor’s experience while teaching at the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City and her role in Vietnam’s pursuit to change the country’s aging services.

“The problem is, the culture is changing,” said McFarland as she pointed to a picture in her office of Vietnam’s elderly eating dinner on the ground. “[Vietnam’s government] had to create new services to help all the older people.”

You’re representing America. Building relationships is people to people.”

The need for help in Vietnam pushed McFarland to venture there as a Fulbright, but her past travels to the country with Elizabethtown College students made her want to return even more. As a partnership between the College and Brittany’s Hope Foundation, E-town students travel with McFarland and other staff members every two years to assist in orphanages throughout Vietnam. But as a Fulbright Scholar, McFarland had a new role in Vietnam and much greater responsibilities.

“When they look for a Scholar they want someone to be a cultural ambassador,” said McFarland. “You’re representing America. Building relationships is people to people. It’s worth spending money on these programs to make a cultural connection and form a relationship between countries.”

During McFarland’s tenure in Vietnam, the country celebrated the 40-year anniversary of the Vietnam War. With massive celebrations aimed at remembering their victory, “it was strange as Americans to be there,” she said. Adjusting from the quaint alleys of Elizabethtown to the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City was intense. “The difference between going (for) a semester abroad compared to yearlong trip is night and day,” she said.

As part of the PCES lecture, McFarland explains her responsibilities in Vietnam and her experiences in participating with the Vietnam government, the U.S. Embassy and the Vietnam National University. She’ll illusratate how it felt to be submerged into an entirely new way of life.

As McFarland taught in the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, her husband taught English to students at the University and to doctors in local hospitals.

“I definitely missed my American students,” the professor said, as she explained the cultural differences of teaching in Vietnam. “I thought I was adjusted but, when you live somewhere, it’s so different.” The professor said she still communicates with her Vietnamese friends and, from her office here at E-town, works on the projects she started while abroad.

Cost of the lecture and lunch is $15; register by contacting or Tina Zarfoss at 717-361-6410.

About the Author :

Ashley Reeb is a business administration major in the class of 2018. She has experience in journalism since high school, having a role as News section editor for her school’s newspaper. And since becoming a Blue Jay, she has been a Feature and News writer for the College's newspaper, The Etownian.

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