Notes from the Field

From Vietnam: Generation 8X

June 25, 2008

In a country of 83 million, one third of Vietnam’s population is between the ages of 10 to 24. It is popular now in Vietnam to refer to the young generation as “Generation 8X” for those who were born in the 1980s, which means that they grew up in a country that was fully unified and at peace, enjoying strong economic growth and widening regional and international interactions. Their Vietnam is far different from that of their parents, who grew up in a time of war and when life was tightly organized. “Generation 8X” is really the first generation to benefit fully from 1986′s doi moi policy, although the hardship and privation endured by their parents’ generation is barely in the past.

With GDP growing at an average of 8% this past decade, the rapid pace of change is transforming the country. Visitors, particularly those from the West, are often surprised at the dynamism they see. A closer examination reveals Vietnam’s steadfast effort to develop a market-based economy and broaden relations in the region and the world, having successfully repositioned itself as a competitive place to do business and as a responsible member of the global community. The country’s desire to catch up with neighboring countries and to modernize is palpable, and young Vietnamese are eager to learn English, access the global information network, know the latest technology, and take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Clearly Vietnam’s younger generations will play a critical role in pushing the country forward.

To foster a better understanding of Vietnamese youth and bring their views to a wider audience in the U.S., The Asia Foundation collaborated with the National Library of Vietnam in a nation-wide English essay contest for Vietnamese youth between the ages of 18-22. In 1,000 words or less, the “Search for Cultural Ambassadors” contestants summarized their hopes for Vietnam’s future. Regional selection committees in Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City identified three grand prize winners, one from each region of Vietnam, who arrive today in San Francisco to begin a 10-day trip to meet with American university students in the Bay Area, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

Ms. Nguyen Do Thuy Anh, Ms. Than Nguyen Thuy Linh, and Ms. Pham Thuy Tien wrote essays that evoke intense curiosity of the globalized, modern world, but also a commitment to traditional and cultural values. One senses the level of confidence with which they see themselves and their role within the new Vietnam and by extension, Vietnam’s place within the international community. I am particularly struck by the insistence of hope that permeates not only these three essays, but also most of the essays in the competition.

The Asia Foundation sees this program as part of a larger effort to continue to support productive US-Vietnam relations. There is no better way to do this than through the eyes of three vibrant and confident young Vietnamese showcasing this dynamic country emerging out of a painful history of warfare and a long period of isolation. This trip to the U.S. is the first for these young women and they will remember it for many years to come, and we appreciate your help in making their American experience a truly memorable adventure.

A brief excerpt from one essayist is below. You can read the winning essays in their original unedited form by clicking here: Generation 8X – Winning Essays

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Ms. Pham Thuy Tien is a 21-year old student at Ho Chi Minh City National University and one of three winning essayists in The Asia Foundation’s Search for Cultural Ambassadors contest. Her submission, “What Do I Believe In A Future-Vietnam?” is excerpted here.

Listening to my foreign friends from many countries, I found that they knew almost nothing about Vietnam. Some even asked me if Vietnam had televisions or Internet. Maybe in their mind, Vietnam is just a poor country as it was decades ago. Vietnam is changing vigorously. It is not by chance that we achieve these successes.

Youth is a very important source of our country, they are Vietnam’s owners. Each of us has different roles and doing well is an expression of patriotism. In wartime, patriotism means fighting against enemies, while now, it means building up the country, making it stronger and stronger.

I, myself, think that I have contributed some small things for our country. I always try to be an excellent student, I take part in volunteer activities, I am acquainted with foreign friends and tell them about modern Vietnam. I will keep on doing what is good for myself; I believe it is good for our country too.

Kim N. B. Ninh, Country Representative for The Asia Foundation in Vietnam. She can be reached at kninh@asiafound.org.

View all posts by Kim N. B. Ninh | Bio

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