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Name: John Eyres
Graduation year: 1999
Major: Justice Studies Ph.D. Program
What's your current job and what do you do there?
I'm the director of the Health Office for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Vietnam. From our offices in Hanoi I manage a team of 20 Americans and Vietnamese professionals who work hand in hand with the Vietnamese government to address some of the most challenging health issues and to strengthen the health system. As one of five US government agencies that comprise the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Vietnam, the USAID Health Office manages comprehensive HIV prevention, care and treatment programs. We have imported anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to provide HIV treatment for more than 50,000 Vietnamese living with HIV and have supported the introduction of methadone to treat heroin addiction and prevent the spread of HIV. The USAID Health Office also manages a strong Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program that works with the Vietnamese Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats such as Avian Influenza.
How does language and culture help you succeed in your career?
My language skills were especially important in securing my first work experiences in Vietnam, first with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNICEF and then USAID. When I joined the foreign service I was able to test out of Vietnamese language when many colleagues needed to spend six months at language school in Washington D.C. Beyond that, Vietnam is a complex country with regional and cultural differences from the mountainous Northwestern provinces bordering China to Hanoi in the Red River Delta, Hue and the central provinces to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. Speaking Vietnamese is a tremendous benefit when meeting with local leaders and understanding the particular needs of a province, city or village. Being able to carry out a conversation with a provincial department of health colleague or commune health worker builds trust and it often allows me insights into situations not readily understood by foreign colleagues who need to rely on interpretation.
Did you study abroad? If so, can you speak about your experience?
After studying Vietnamese language with Co Le Pham Thuy-Kim for three years at ASU I received a scholarship to attend the Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute (VASI) in Hanoi in the summer of 1998. For a group of American college students the contrast between American and Vietnamese educational institutions was intense. Used to chilled ASU classrooms, we spent our time studying in an old French colonial building on Pham Ngu Lao street that was formerly the Ecole Française d’Extreme-Orient. The teachers were very dedicated and stressed not just the language, but the importance of history and culture to the development of the language. I still remember one instructor, Mr. Khoi, explaining that the Vietnamese term for country (dat nuoc) was composed of "land" and "water" and the importance of the land and water to the Vietnamese. And culture was equally important to our lessons, with incredible opportunities to learn about Hanoi, local food, Vietnamese opera, and to visit Vietnamese cultural heritage sites like Hue and Ha Long Bay. Based on these experiences at ASU and in Hanoi I received a Fulbright fellowship to research my dissertation in Hanoi throughout 1998 and 1999.
How did ASU and the language program at SILC prepare you for your future?
I wouldn't say that studying Vietnamese prepared me for my future as much as it was one step in a series of decisions that dramatically shaped what I am doing today. In 1994 I started my doctoral program at ASU with every intention of becoming a college professor. Looking through the course catalog one day I saw that ASU offered Vietnamese language and I thought it would be interesting to audit a semester. But the class was so interesting and Co Kim clearly cared about her teaching, so I continued for three years. If I hadn't elected to try Vietnamese; if the course hadn't been interesting; if I hadn't been introduced to Hanoi through VASI, I wouldn't be in Hanoi managing the USAID Vietnam Health Office today.
What was your favorite thing about learning a language?
The reason that I studied Vietnamese at ASU for three years was because we had an interesting group of students and a dedicated professor who spared no effort to make sure the class was enjoyable as well as educational. Lessons covered many aspects of Vietnamese society, culture, history and situations. In my perspective the experiences Co Kim organized in the Vietnamese community were equally as instructive as those in the classroom. From visits to Lee Lee Asian grocery store in Mesa to learn about cooking, to invitations to participate in local Tet festivals in the Vietnamese community, to the end of semester exams which Co Kim hosted in her home (followed by Vietnamese food) the cultural aspects were my favorite.