by Vuong Bach Lien
For the past one week, the public in Viet Nam has been discussing the sad story of Dr Doan Minh Dang, a talented teacher at Can Tho University of Technology.
The young lecturer was punished by his school after he frankly criticised negative aspects about his school on Facebook. He was dismissed from his post of vice-head of the Faculty of Electrical Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering, and had to work as an employee in the administrative department of the school.
According to reports circulating in the media, he had some disagreement with the rector of the university after he refused the university's suggestion of promoting him in the waiting list for the post of vice-rector of the university because he wanted to spend time on only doing research and not in a management job. He was then criticised by the rector as being "crazy".
Dang also remained absent from his university for several days in order to attend an international scientific conference in Ha Noi, without asking the rector's permission.
Being a brilliant student, Dang had studied abroad thanks to government scholarships. In 2012, after obtaining his PhD in the Netherlands, he returned to his native region and worked at Can Tho University, as part of the agreement when he was awarded the scholarship.
He was highly appreciated for his abilities. But he was fed up with his work environment and wrote on Facebook that such an unprofessional work environment could not attract anyone who had studied abroad.
His story also raised a burning contemporary issue in Viet Nam, of many Vietnamese students refusing to return home after studying abroad.
A question, "Should students stay abroad or go home" raised debate.
Last month, Da Nang City announced that it would continue to take legal action against scholarship winners who refused to return home after studying overseas on city's budget.
The Da Nang Centre for Promotion of Human Resources Development said 42 of the 625 awardees of its scholarship programme, which was launched in 2004 to create a high-quality talent pool for the city, had opted out.
By the end of March last year, the programme had granted VND558 billion (US$24.45 million) in scholarships, which covered living costs and tuition fees for undergraduate and graduate programmes in Viet Nam and countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.
One of the contractual obligations of the programme is that the awardees, after finishing their studies, have to accept a position in one of the city's government agencies, such as education and urban management sectors.
Many students are ready to pay back the scholarship amounts to the city in order to be able to stay abroad.
Some internationally administered scholarship programmes such as the US Fulbright or the AusAID scholarships also demanded the time frame when a scholarship winner must spend before going back to the host country for another programme.
This question of many Vietnamese students not wanting to return home after study abroad was again raised during a recent session of the Vietnamese National Assembly.
Deputies explained the reasons why young people did not want to come back home.
Deputy Nguyen Ngoc Hoa from HCM City gave the example of Viet Nam failing to use its talents, repeating the story that only one of the 13 winners of the past "Road to Mt Olympia's Peak" quiz shows has returned to work in the country after graduating from an Australian university.
They studied in Australia with the help of scholarships granted by the sponsor of the annual show, which was first held in 1999.
Last year, a heated debate also erupted among many Vietnamese people over the winners' decision to stay on in Australia, instead of returning to Viet Nam after finishing their studies.
Nguyen Thanh Vinh, one of the Olympia winners, explained his decision.
"As a research fellow, I choose to stay in Australia because it's a really professional environment. Moreover, I can get enough money to live and do not have to think about doing extra jobs to earn my living.
In Viet Nam, students have very few opportunities to do in-depth research due to lack of resources and attention from the government," he said.
"Dang's sad story is one of the reasons making students who have studied abroad feel that they can make a different choice, rather than return to work at home."
Luong Phuong Thao is the only Olympia winner who decided to come back and work in Viet Nam, saying that she wants to be close to her family.
With my own experiences, During my stay and study over more than three years in Europe (in Belgium and France), I met many young Vietnamese people who either want or do not want to return home.
Many of those staying in Europe have found good jobs. But many others have to do small jobs such as washing dishes in restaurants, and work as waiters and babysitters, even though some of them have completed higher studies.
Those who do not want to return home say that living conditions and public services in Europe are much better than in Viet Nam. Even though they do manual jobs, they get money that can help them rent houses, support themselves and travel a little. Meanwhile, a salary that they will get from working for a state-owned company in Viet Nam is too modest and they can hardly rent a house and save money for travelling.
Moreover, many are afraid of the crazy traffic, pollution and unsafe food in the market.
The social environment too has problems such as nepotism, lack of transparency in the workplace and recruiting system or wages not being in line with living costs, resulting in people not putting their heart into their jobs.
Many are also afraid of an unqualified education, which can impact on the future of their children.
Some people who are influenced by western culture find it hard to accept the traditional Vietnamese mentality that do not offer much freedom to women.
Many say as the concept of global citizenship has become more popular, it does not mean Vietnamese overseas students cannot contribute to Vietnamese society, even if they refuse to return home.
As long as these students find their opportunities for higher education and research, build their own reputation as Vietnamese people, or send money back for their families, there are many ways of contributing to the development of their homeland.
I think each person has his or her own reasons for staying abroad or returning home. I respect their choices.
Personally, I chose to come back home twice after studying in two different countries in Europe. I, too, wanted to find a good job in Europe, but after my studies, when I found it difficult to find a suitable job, I decided to return. This is different from those who accepted the difficult working conditions in restaurants or factories in order to stay on in Europe. I always wanted to find a job in the sector that I am trained in. And for me Viet Nam has an opportunity-rich working environment.
My family is also an important reason for my return. My parents, who are old, need me to look after when they don't feel well.
Spending time with the people who love me and whom I love is very important for me. I have some good friends in Europe, but they cannot replace my family. Having to speak a foreign language all day and all year round with those who do not know much about my culture sometimes made me feel bored. Many a time, while walking alone in the cold winter street, I dreamed of a warm family meal.
But I miss Europe a lot. Many a time, while riding my motorbike through cold winter rain on the 12km route from home to work, and while waiting on the street because of heavy traffic jams, I wish to be back in a Paris metro. On seeing families bring their children to supermarkets for entertainment because of the lack of playgrounds in Ha Noi, I wish to return to the prairies, spacious parks and green spaces in France.
People are greedy. They want everything. I think it is very difficult to have all we want. We will be happy if we know how to enjoy the current life that we live, as there may be no 'perfect' place.
To conclude, I want to say that staying abroad after studies or coming back home is a personal choice of each person. Those who went on budgeted scholarship need to respect what they had signed.
If one decides to stay abroad after finding good work and living opportunities there, then why not? If one decides to return, feeling that it's really "home", then why not?
It is life and all decisions can be changed each day.
If I keep missing Europe, and find good reason to go back there, I'll go. — VNS