Even after spending 10 months in Vietnam, Jay Hartwell can speak barely a word of the country’s language. But the one thing he can say is that, while abroad, he conducted workshops and lectures in journalism for more than 1,400 students and professionals.
“It’s a regret,” he admits of not learning Vietnamese, “but the focus was to teach.”
Last August, MidWeek featured Hartwell, University of Hawaii at Manoa’s student media adviser for student newspaper Ka Leo O Hawaii, on the cover. At the time, he was preparing to travel to Vietnam with a grant through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.
In June, he returned. “It was an exceptional experience to be able to focus on teaching journalism to students and professionals in a country that I knew little about,” he says, “and with people who wanted to know more about journalism and also about the United States.”
While there, Hartwell was based at Hue University of Sciences, though he also educated many others in cities throughout Vietnam and Myanmar, with the help of an “exceptional” translator. Students completed workshops on topics ranging from design and photography to video journalism, each showing a dedication to honing their craft.
“Their desire to learn and their enthusiasm was just like the best students here,” he says. “It was just a lot of fun to work with them.”
After an almost yearlong stay, Hartwell can best describe the cultural experience as “very different.”
“I was told by somebody who had been working in Vietnam for decades that the country would remain a mystery no matter how many years we would spend there, and I can see that being true,” he says.
Back at Ka Leo, Hartwell says the student newspaper will be working to adjust from a paper that formerly printed three times a week to a weekly publication. In a time when news is easily accessible on mobile devices, Hartwell says Ka Leo, like many other publications, will direct its focus to addressing its readers’ digital needs.
“When you ask (students) where they get their news, they pull out their laptops or their smartphones, and the traditional ways of getting information are no longer working for students in Hawaii or students in Vietnam,” he says.
In the future, Hartwell hopes to facilitate work opportunities with contacts established in Vietnam for students locally and abroad.
“There’s so much work related to education in journalism that could not be accomplished in the 10 months I was there,” he says.
“I would like to go back and continue to develop those, but right now my focus is here and on my students in Manoa.”