Whether he is reviewing materials on ESP for Security with colleagues, drinking a strong cup of Vietnamese coffee, or answering questions about his height, Michael Alpaugh is relishing his experience as an English Language Fellow in Hanoi, Vietnam. He started as a Virtual Fellow in 2021 and is currently in Vietnam for the 2022-2023 academic year. At his host institution, the People’s Security Academy, Alpaugh works with his local colleagues to improve the Vietnamese Standardized Test of English Proficiency. His duties will soon include creating materials and leading workshops for the Ministry of Public Security.
Alpaugh finds himself working at the American Center in Hanoi often, which allows him to be creative and host many types of events and programs for local participants. Alpaugh stated, “When I first started my fellowship, I was doing a new, unique workshop almost every day!” As IELTS is very popular in Vietnam, presentations and mock-interview sessions were the focus of several events.
As a Virtual Fellow, Alpaugh led online programs with the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City. There, he had a pronunciation workshop series on Facebook Live that was extremely popular and kept him busy. One event that started online and is now in person is the World Café. Alpaugh hosts a discussion with a local expert on various themes, such as Black History Month, Asian-American History Month, Pride Month, Volunteerism, and other topics.
“Why are you so tall?”
A memorable experience for Alpaugh was visiting the Son La province in northern Vietnam with the Regional English Language Officer from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi for the opening ceremony of the English Access Microscholarship Program. In this region, most of the students are from Vietnamese ethnic minority groups. As many of these students had never seen a foreigner before, Alpaugh’s height was of interest – “Why are you so tall?” was his favorite question of the day. He was able to do a pronunciation lesson and had a great time doing activities with them. Alpaugh also explored the beautiful countryside and met so many people. As the area is famous for farm-raised salmon, Alpaugh exclaimed, “I think I gained ten pounds on the trip from the delicious food. I can’t wait to go back in a few years and see how these students have progressed!”
The Impact of English Education
As Alpaugh’s fellowship duties primarily focus on standardized tests, specifically IELTS, and working with the Vietnamese government English programs, he has seen the impact and practical benefits these programs have had on Vietnamese students. Students who attended Alpaugh’s career presentation at the American Center often email and message him after having passed the IELTS exam or succeeding in university or job applications. “Vietnamese people are hard-working and ambitious,” said Alpaugh. “I love showing them how learning English and real-world skills can help them to succeed in the future.”
A Constant Coffee and a Friendly Face
Although Alpaugh’s daily routine is often different and flexible, there is one constant: Vietnamese coffee in the morning. This extremely strong and delicious cup of coffee keeps him energized for his busy day ahead. When at the People’s Security Academy, Alpaugh always eats lunch with his colleagues, ever curious and eager to learn about Hanoian dishes and snacks. In his free time, Alpaugh enjoys exploring all the distinct areas of Hanoi as well as taking the chance to travel to all that Vietnam has to offer. He recently went to Sa Pa, a mountain area with rice terraces and cooler weather.
Through other cultural exchange opportunities in Vietnam over the past few years and now his fellowship, Alpaugh feels at home, rather than a visitor. Whether he is trying new foods, learning some of the language, or meeting new people, Alpaugh said he is continually surprised by the kindness of people in Vietnam. “I am not just here to teach students but also to learn from them and the society as a whole,” explained Alpaugh. “As a Fellow I am not only representing myself but also promoting the values of the United States…I remind myself that this is an exchange program and that I need to be respectful and understanding of the cultural norms in my host country.”
Michael Alpaugh has been working, teaching, and living abroad since 2007. He taught young learners and elementary school students in Seoul, South Korea, until 2016 when he moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In Vietnam, he has taught adults and at various local universities. Furthermore, he is an IELTS examiner and workshop presenter with the British Council. He was the East Asia Recruitment Manager for INTO University partnerships, recruiting students to study abroad in the United States. Prior to doing his fellowship, he was the Dean of English for Academic Purposes for Broward College Vietnam. His areas of professional interest include IELTS/testing, EAP, ELT management, higher education, study abroad, and student recruitment.