Engaging in Foreigner Friendships: Learning English and More Outside the Classroom in Rural Vietnam

Georgina Alonso | PhD Candidate, University of Ottawa; Nguyen Hieu Thao, School of Foreign Languages, Tra Vinh University


Community, Education, and Democracy


In recent decades, Vietnam has structured itself to be more open to international integration, which has encouraged increasing numbers of foreigners from the Global North and elsewhere to spend time working, volunteering, or researching in Vietnam. Vietnam has also been developing a national strategy for encouraging English-language learning in line with economic growth plans that aim to move the country into upper middle-income status by 2035. This paper seeks to understand how friendships between English-speaking Global North foreigners on temporary placements abroad (volunteers, workers, and researchers) and Vietnamese students studying English become entangled with national policy goals, personal and professional development goals, and the social status of English-language learners in rural Vietnam. Through a case study at Tra Vinh University in the Mekong Delta involving a survey and qualitative interviews with Vietnamese students, we unpack how Vietnamese students who are motivated to improve their English-language skills perceive the presence of English-speaking foreigners in their community and how the dynamics of friendship seeking unfold. While much has been written about intercultural interactions based on temporary placements of Global North participants in Global South communities around the world, many studies have centred on the Global North participant’s identity, motivations, privilege, ethics, and/or impact. We chose to add to this literature by focusing principally on the underexplored agency of the recipient community in pursuing or engaging in intercultural friendships, even when these community members are not directly involved in the work or projects of the foreigners in their communities. We also seek to understand how the presence of Global North foreigners is perceived more broadly, the degrees of genuineness of friendship, and what benefits (and consequences) are gained by members of the recipient community through these friendships, especially in terms of English-language skill development.

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