Building bridges between Portland State and Vietnam

Exchange program brings Vietnamese business professionals to PSU

Written by | May 8, 2013

Shpresa Halimi is director of the exchange program. Photo by Jinyi Qi.

Shpresa Halimi is director of the exchange program. Photo by Jinyi Qi.

How far will Portland State reach to promote the value of diversity?

PSU recently teamed up with the U.S. State Department to bring Vietnamese and American business professionals together. The two-year initiative, called the Professional Fellows Program, helps make the roughly 7,500 miles between Portland and Vietnam seem a little shorter.

“The goal is to promote mutual understanding and beneficial partnerships here and in Vietnam,” said Shpresa Halimi, director of the exchange program, which is part of PSU’s Center for Public Service.

“Participants come here to learn about economic empowerment in the context of business and government partnerships,” she added.

What most people may not know is that PSU has a long history of doing work in Vietnam. Since about 2003, the CPS has been working with Vietnamese universities, government officials and community groups on topics such as leadership development and sustainability.

“We see Vietnam [as] highly relevant to Oregon interest, where partnerships can be enhanced and developed through cross-cultural learning opportunities,” Halimi said.

PSU is one of 16 organizations across the U.S. involved in the exchange program, working with midlevel professionals from different countries around the world. PSU’s Vietnamese participants were selected in October through a competitive process, with help from Vietnam’s embassy. A $400,000 grant helps to fund the project.

In total, 16 Vietnamese professionals (in two separate groups of eight) were chosen to spend four weeks gaining real-world experience in the Portland business community. The first group finished their fellowship on May 6, and the second is set to arrive in the fall.

“This is not a typical in-classroom type of program, where they come here and just sit in classes,” Halimi said. “What’s unique about this program is we place the participants with host organizations in the Portland area to learn about economic empowerment.”

Host organizations were selected based on participants’ needs and backgrounds, which Halimi referred to as “matchmaking.” For example, a participant who came from the Ho Chi Minh City Chamber of Commerce was placed with the Portland Business Alliance. Another, a tourism expert at a private university, was placed with the Oregon Tourism Commission.

“When they’re finished, they do presentations to share insights of what they learned and how they will apply their experience to their jobs back home,” Halimi said. “Our hope is that this will help them contribute to the betterment of Vietnam.”

Before going back to Vietnam, participants will be in Washington, D.C., this week to attend a three-day convention called the Professional Fellows Congress. It is an opportunity for them to meet with others from similar exchange programs and interact, network and share lessons learned.

Halimi explained that the program is a two-way exchange, providing Americans the opportunity to go to Vietnam in August. Priority will be given to interested parties from the aforementioned host organizations, but consideration for selection will also be open to other local business professionals who are interested in working in Vietnam.

“This program aims to build long-term partnerships here and in Vietnam,” Halimi said. “The hope is to eventually do exchange programs for faculty and students between PSU and universities in Vietnam.”

According to Halimi, the goal is to not only continue the exchange program into the future but to expand it. She has submitted a proposal for exchange program partnerships with additional countries, such as Turkey, and expects to hear back from the State Department this summer.

“The goal of these exchange programs is not to just visit and say bye-bye,” Halimi said. “These are opportunities for people to have transformative experiences, for the benefit of individuals and organizations.”

More information about the exchange program and the participants can be found at pdx.edu/professional-fellows.

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