Coming to Boone from bustling Ho Chi Minh City with a population of almost nine million people, freshman Chau Nguyen experienced nothing short of culture shock.
Nguyen lived in Vietnam her entire life before coming to Asheboro, North Carolina to finish her senior year as an exchange student in high school.
“Where I lived in Ho Chi Minh City is like the New York of America,” Nguyen said. “The culture shock can hit you hard if you aren’t prepared for it.”
Nguyen said a lot of Americans don’t value Vietnam’s landscape, food or culture and base their opinions about the country on the Vietnam War.
Nguyen is a hospitality and tourism major and a cultural ambassador for the Office of International Education and Development.
“When I came to App and saw the cultural ambassadors, I was really excited and thought it would be a cool opportunity to introduce Vietnam to students, professors and the people,” Nguyen said.
Cultural ambassadors are international students, international visiting scholars, multicultural students and returning graduate students, said international student and scholar services and outreach assistant director Lindsay Pepper.
Pepper said cultural ambassadors represent a variety of countries including Vietnam, the Netherlands, Japan, Egypt, Ireland and Zambia.
“Moving here from Oregon, I thought that people would not be interested in learning about other parts of the world, but I’ve been so wrong about that,” Peppers said. “There’s a real curiosity and openness to both sides that is really special. You don’t find that everywhere.”
Ambassadors participate in presentations and panels for classes, clubs and local school events.
Presentations are often small group discussions on a variety of cultural topics, such as food, home life, family dynamics and business etiquette.
“The students and scholars try to deliver presentations that promote an understanding of their culture,” Pepper said. “They don’t have set presentations. We try to cater to every single presentation to whatever the need of that class or group.”
Graduate student Jonnathan Penduka has presented 12 times as a cultural ambassador representing Zimbabwe. His favorite presentation was a discussion about the relationship between music and spirituality.
“Music is really a part of the whole culture,” Penduka said. “With music, you are one person leading the song, and then everyone else begins to answer what they’re saying. It’s how people cope with things. We sing Christian songs for weddings, or when someone passes away; even when we have a joyous moments, like a newborn.”
Penduka said he learns a lot about himself and other cultures while presenting.
“I listen, as well, when (other cultural ambassadors) are speaking, and I’m part of the audience. I’ve learned a lot about their cultures and all from different continents and cultures. I will learn that I didn’t know about these similarities or these differences we share,” Penduka said.
In the future, Nguyen said she would like more professors, clubs and organizations to utilize the cultural ambassadors, so she can talk about topics like women’s roles and LGBT rights in Vietnam.
“This program needs to be more advertised. I really hope the campus will be more interested in it. It’s always great to have a class to invite over and just talk,” Nguyen said. “I hope my professors will get to know it and use it. It’s always great to learn about the countries that aren’t just America.”