Mary Dinh Phuong Thao spends all her spare time seeking advice about studying abroad and urging relatives in the United States to find schools and colleges suitable for her two children. The Catholic woman, who works for a construction company, plans to sell her house in central Ho Chi Minh City and use money offered by her father-in-law to cover their school fees. "It is good for them to study in schools with academically acceptable standards in the U.S. because we cannot afford to send them to prestigious schools," she says. Thao plans to help her children have faith education in the U.S., where she is told that many people are too busy working to go to church. "We plan to have our children stay at the house of my uncle, who will guide them in faith practice," she says. "My son will attend catechism classes and my daughter will join a choir."
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Her uncle, who works for an electronics company, sings in a choir and regularly attends church services. His children serve as catechists. They still have evening prayers as they did when they lived in Vietnam. Thao, 50, says Catholics in Vietnam have time to attend daily or weekly services at church and do other faith practices, although many have meager incomes. Francis Pham Nhat Tien, who plans to study in South Korea at the end of this year, says his parents are encouraging him to take a copy of the Bible and say daily prayers when he lives abroad. Tien has made friends with Korean Catholics who work in Ho Chi Minh City and attend a weekly Mass in their language. "I will keep living out my faith in South Korea by living near a Catholic church and seeking spiritual support from Catholic communities when I study there," he says. The Catholic student says young people can drift away from faith practice when they live away from their families. UNESCO statistics
show that 70,328 Vietnamese are studying at overseas universities and colleges this year. Their most popular destinations are the U.S. with 19,336 students, Australia with 14,491 and Japan with 10,614. Education and Training Minister Phung Xuan Nha told the National Assembly in June that Vietnamese students spend US$3-4 billion every year on studying at secondary schools and institutions abroad. In 2016, the ministry recorded 130,000 students studying abroad at secondary schools and universities, an increase of 15 percent from the previous year's figure of 110,000. About 90 percent of students were self-funded and many were children of government officials. Only 10 percent were granted government or foreign NGO scholarships. Thao says her son, 16, who will enter a Vietnamese public high school next month, is a victim of an education system centered on pressure, rote learning, cheating and running after achievements. "He daily has to carry a heavy bag of books, notebooks and other stationery to school. After school, he has to take five extra classes conducted privately by his teachers. If not, he can be treated unfairly by them," she says. Many teachers have to pay large sums to teach at public schools but get low salaries, so they try to make students take their tuition classes for extra income. Thao says her son comes home late, is regularly weary and goes to sleep without having dinner. He gets up at 5 a.m. to start his grueling daily routine. Her daughter, who graduated in international relations from a local university seven months ago, cannot get a job because companies demand at least one year of work experience. "We want our children to have a better education and escape from such bad situations in the country, where rampant corruption, environmental pollution
, social injustice and human rights abuses
prevail," Thao says. Nguyen Thi Ha Thu, a psychologist who works for a hospital, says her daughter recently finished a psychology course at an American university, while her son studies information technology there. "We spend US$120,000 per year for their school fees and expenses," says Thu, adding that she and her husband sold a villa inherited from her husband's family and moved to a flat to save money for their children's education. She and her husband, who teaches mathematics at a local university, both studied abroad and returned home to work hard for years. Students at Vietnamese universities learn more about theory than practice and lack professional skills, she says. Graduates struggle to find jobs and many work as motorbike taxi drivers for a living. "It is unreasonable to pay hundreds of millions of dong to get low-paid jobs from government agencies, public hospitals and schools," Thu says. Thu, 52, and her husband plan to move to the U.S. after they retire. They have already bought a house there and her daughter has married. She will retire when she is 55 by law. Thao says it will take one year to complete the procedure for her children to study in the United States. "I hope in the future my children will reside in the U.S. and we will be reunited there. Studying abroad is a way to seek a better life in foreign countries," she says.