Truong Thi Hong Phuc of HCMC’s District 3 is determined to provide her son, currently a 11th grader at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai High School, with the opportunity to pursue higher education outside of Vietnam.
"I want him to get an overseas degree so that he can have better opportunities in future," she says, adding she no longer worries about Covid and studying abroad is also her son's dream.
Her son, Pham Hoang Nhat Minh, says more than 15 of his 45 classmates plan to study abroad after graduating, and nearly half have decided the country and even the school in some cases they will study in.
Interest among Vietnamese students in going overseas is peaking again amid a post-pandemic mindset many countries’ efforts to woo back international students.
Study abroad programs came to a halt at the height of the pandemic, forcing students to either defer their admission, take a break from studying or attend online courses while waiting for schools to reopen.
Now that many aspects of life prior to the outbreak are returning to normal, Vietnamese students are keen to leave behind the lost years and venture out again to make their study dreams come true.
Data published by the U.S., a popular destination for Vietnamese students, shows that the number of Vietnamese applying for non-immigrant student visas (F1) has gradually recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
There were 9,370 applications in the first seven months of this year, up 111.3% and 72% from the same period in 2020 and 2021.
In 2019, the year before Covid began, 11,609 students had applied.
The country ranked sixth globally with 21,631 students enrolling in American colleges and universities in the 2020-21 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education.
The number of Vietnamese students going to universities in Australia is also recovering. The country’s Department of Home Affairs said in a report last December that 3,580 Vietnamese students had applied for visas in the first half of the 2021-22 school year, up 6.2 percent year-on-year.
People wait outside Hanoi's Consular Department to complete immigration procedures, primarily for studying and working abroad, Sept. 7, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Strong pent-up demand is pushing up numbers.
Truong Gia Khoi of HCMC’s District 5 has always wanted studying abroad to be a part of his college experience. But when the pandemic broke out, he feared he would have to give up that dream for good and thought it just "was not meant to be."
The 11th grader at Nguyen Du High School did not abandon that dream and insisted on convincing his parents to let him go when Covid subsided. After months of persuading he was thrilled when his parents agreed to let him study in the U.S. next year.
Though Khoi is still looking into schools that offer scholarships and have excellent computer science curriculums, he says he is "excited" and "cannot wait to get an immersive experience in another culture."
Truong Trong Nhan, his father, admits sending his son abroad to study will put some strain on the family's finances, but says he is willing to make the sacrifice for Khoi to get a quality education abroad since it will improve his prospects.
Meanwhile, his son is fully vaccinated, and the threat of infection no longer influences his decision-making.
Le Thai Hoang's parents always planned to send their children to the U.S. to study because they had relatives in California.
They did not hesitate to let Hoang leave for the U.S. after seeing that the Covid situation was under control.
He has just started the fall semester at California State University Fullerton and says he is delighted to get a life-changing experience as well as the cultural benefits that come with studying in another country.
Many Vietnamese students who took the high school national exam did not register for enrollment at universities this year.
Data from the education ministry shows around 316,000 of the nearly 942,000 graduates did not apply, a 20% decline from last year.
Deputy Minister of Education and Training Hoang Minh Son said at a conference earlier this month that one of the reasons for this steep fall is that many students decided to study abroad post-Covid.
Students sit on the stairs as they return to the University of Pennsylvania amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 24, 2021. Photo by Reuters
Meanwhile, many countries are rolling out incentives to hasten the return of international students.
Australian Education Minister Jason Clare said earlier this month that international students would be given an extra two years to stay and work in Australia, a move that will encourage more international students to pursue permanent migration options.
But it will be offered only in areas where there is a shortage of trained labor such as nursing, teaching, information technology, and engineering.
Bachelor's degree holders can stay for four years instead of two, post-study work visas for master's degree holders has been extended to five years, and PhD graduates can stay for six years.
In May the Western Australian government launched an AU$41.2-million scholarship and financial aid package to attract foreign students.
After Vietnam and other countries eased travel restrictions, the gloom has lifted and the demand to study abroad is spiking, and overseas education consulting agencies have begun to see a rapid increase in the number of interested people.
Nguyen Thi Tram Anh, an agent at one such agency in HCMC’s District 10, estimates that she gets 35-40 calls and walk-in customers every week.
After a lull due to the outbreak, she is "relieved" to see that things are picking up again.
"I am glad to see that things are gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels."
Phuc has enrolled her son in IELTS prep courses, while he spends his after-school hours researching destinations and organizations.
Program offerings, financial aid opportunities, and career prospects after graduation are the three most important factors to consider, Minh says.
"I am elated to think that within a year this long-awaited goal will become a reality."
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