Mr. Odon Vallet

Wearing a backpack and a simple sweater, it would be difficult to spot Mr. Odon Vallet in a crowd of people. There is nothing exceptional about his appearance or demeanor that sets him apart. He is quiet, modest and looks like what you would expect of a typical university professor. However, there is certainly more to Mr. Vallet than meets the eye.

I met this exceptional man on an evening in early April. He invited Anh Tuc Nguyen, a Dong Hanh member, and I to dinner at a small Italian restaurant on Paris’ busy Montparnasse Boulevard. We got to the restaurant before him so we sat down and awaited his arrival. I did not know what to expect. Tuc had met him before but I had no familiarity with Mr. Vallet, aside from the few articles that I had read about his work. After some minutes of waiting, Tuc stood up to greet our host – a man of about 60 who slowly ambled over to where we were sitting. He gently placed his backpack and baseball cap down on the table, took a seat and ran a hand through his ruffled grey hair. He gave us both a warm smile before rather loudly and purposefully saying, “So, why have you asked me here tonight?”

Odon Vallet has been one of Dong Hanh’s main donors since its creation in 2001. He has used his family inheritance to support thousands of Vietnamese students to reach their goals, students who otherwise would not have had the chance to complete their secondary or tertiary education. We were intrigued to discover why he chose to support Vietnam in particular, to which he responded: “Vietnam is one of the only countries in the developing world with the best student results in the sciences. For example I  have given over 400 scholarships to students from Hanoi-Amsterdam, one of the best high schools of the country”. This staggering number immediately enabled me to get a feel for the scope and depth of his support for Vietnamese students.

More importantly, Mr. Vallet went on to explain, “Vietnamese have a strong solidarity with their country and family. They are extremely patriotic and so they are likely to return home after their education to give back to their country. Vietnam is also one of the only countries in the world that gives such a big importance to education.” It is obvious that Mr. Vallet is very taken with the country of Vietnam and its people. He had nothing but praise for his students and clearly cares very deeply about them, even taking the time to have regular dinners with them at the very restaurant where we were sitting. Having no children of his own, I got the sense that Mr. Vallet views the students as his extended family.

Mr. Vallet has an impressive working knowledge of Vietnam, which is likely due to the fact that he travels to the country once a year to give many scholarships to worthy candidates. During my time in Vietnam, I had the chance to work for Koto, an association that supports disadvantaged Vietnamese youth in obtaining an education in the hospitality industry. Mr. Vallet was very familiar with Koto, having eaten at its restaurant multiple times himself, and even knew more up-to-date statistics and specific information about the association than I did. This, to me, was a clear indicator that Mr. Vallet is not only passionate about his own students but also about the state of Vietnam in terms of development and education. He speaks no Vietnamese and lives on the other side of the world, yet has managed to become so highly involved in the country and is so passionate about the well being of its people. This kind of dedication is to me a rare and very special trait, of which Mr. Vallet certainly possesses.

One of Mr. Vallet’s most treasured memories from his time in Vietnam, he tells us, was when he had the chance to meet General Vo Nguyen Giap in 2004. This was a very symbolic occurrence considering all that the General represents and how much he was loved by the Vietnamese people. He told us that the meeting was in French and that he presented to General Giap six of his scholarship recipients, all were of ethnic minority from Dien Bien and Cao Bang and all were in their traditional costumes. The fact that Mr. Vallet had the honor of meeting this historic figure speaks to the level of respect that he has earned in Vietnam.

In fact, Vietnam is not the only place to which Mr. Vallet has allocated his time and funds. He also supports several students from the Francophone country of Benin due to the fact that it is “a pacified and democratic African country.” As with his Vietnamese students, Mr. Vallet meets his “Beninois” once a week for dinner to check on their well being. He very proudly tells us that one of his scholarship recipients was accepted to Harvard – a feat that he clearly holds very close to his heart.

I easily felt Mr. Vallet’s generosity from my brief encounter with him at the restaurant. At the end of dinner he insisted that both Tuc and I order our own dessert, even after we had agreed to share one between the two of us. He took great pleasure in ensuring our happiness, a very small representation of the concern that he has for others. His selflessness as well as his passion and extensive working knowledge of Vietnam truly struck me as remarkable. Mr. Odon Vallet is someone that I will never forget. The Dong Hanh Association is so grateful for his generosity and tireless support of those who wish to make their dreams come true through education.

Murphy McAnulty

*Note from the editor: We met Odon Vallet on 3rd April 2014. Exactly 60 years ago, the battle of Dien Bien Phu was in full action, there was an on-going war between France and Vietnam. France had sent many of their young ones to fight in Vietnam, and many of them lost their lives in this faraway land. 50 years later, Mr. Odon Vallet, a French university professor, met with General Vo Nguyen Giap, the very man that led the Vietnamese army to victory in Dien Bien Phu. Mr. Vallet presented to General Giap some of the students who had been awarded scholarships from his foundation. It was no coincidence that some of the presented students were ethnic minorities from the mountainous regions of Dien Bien. Today, many Vietnamese youths are coming to France to study. Some stay after their studies to work and contribute, as scientists and engineers, to the French economy. Some leave for Vietnam and become university professors, researchers, businessmen. It is a completely different kind of exchange between France and Vietnam now, and our meeting with Mr. Vallet 60 years after Dien Bien Phu shows just how the relation between the two countries has changed, for the better.

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Duc Anh Vo – scholarship holder in school year 2012 – 2013

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Name: Duc Anh Vo

Profile: Duc Anh grew up in poverty. As a high school student, while others enjoyed their school time, he juggled his studying and part-time jobs to support his family, yet he still excelled at school. He succeeded in a really selective entrance university’s exam, but that was not the end of the story. Moving to a big city, along with tuition fees, he needed money for just anything, Duc Anh was again confronted by the financial hurdle which has been impeding his family for generations. Thankfully with the support of DongHanh scholarship and of course his personal efforts, he was able to finish his first year with excellent result ,he then earned a full time study at Ukrainian National Technical University of Oil and Gas. Unfortunately his family couldn’t shell out for one-year preparation class. Realizing this is an important stepping stone, DongHanh granted him the second scholarship that helped afford his tuitions. Now with nothing bogging him down, he’s chasing his dream of becoming a leader of his fields and eventually coming back to his motherland, Vietnam, to stand among new young generation that could walk Vietnam through this crisis and bring a new visage that matches its curtailed potentials.

Education:

Polytechnic University of Da Nang, Vietnam, specialized in oil process (2012-2013)

Preparation class for his study in Ukraine (2013-2014)

Ukrainian national technical university of oil and gas (From 2014)

Granted years: 2012 and 2013 (two times)

Uses of scholarship: the first scholarship was to pay his first two years tuitions at University of Danang, the second grant was to partially cover the tuition fees of his preparation class.

Future plan: Finishing his master degree at Ukrainian National Technical University of Oil and Gas and comeback to Vietnam.

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Luong Vang Le – scholarship holder in 2011

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Van Vang Luong

Name: Luong Vang LE

Age: 22

Fourth year student in Polytechnic university of Ho Chi Minh city.

Year of scholarship: 2011.

Education & distinctions:

High school Luong Van Chanh (Phu Yen ) : result of the entrance exam for Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City : 25/30 .

Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam :

In the training of excellent engineer in Viet Nam (PFIEV)

First and second prize of National Olympic contest in physics, third prize of National Olympic contest in mechanical fluid, fourth prize of National Olympic contest in mechanics. Recipient of INSA-Lyon scholarship for two years of study.

Future plans: he hopes to have the chances of studying in the developing countries, in particular in civil Engineering, in order to be able to contribute to the development of Vietnam.

 

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Le Hong Thai – scholarship holder in 2012

Le Hong Thai nancy 22Name : LÊ Hồng Thái

Age : 25

Academics: Francophone University Association (AUF – Agence universitaire de la Francophonie), Advanced Material

Mines Nancy (ENSMN – École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Nancy), Materials Science and Engineering

Year of scholarship: 2012, the scholarship is used to obtain DELF B2 certificate as well as to cover a part of tuition fee. Besides, Dong Hanh also accompanies him in many others activities such as how to choose and how to apply for postgraduate study, etc.

Future plans: Complete the program in Mines Nancy and do research about material structure, especially new material like Nano material.

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Trong Hieu Nguyen – scholarship holder in 2006, 2007

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Trong Hieu Nguyen

Name: Trong Hieu Nguyen

Age: 25

Academics:

Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Electrical Engineering (2006 – 2009).

University of Oregon, United States (2009 – 2012) – Degree in Electrical Engineering, Summa Cum Laude (uppermost honors).

Australia National University, Australia – Currently completing a doctoral thesis in semiconductor materials/solar cells (since 2013).

Year of scholarship: 2006 and 2007 (received two scholarships from Dong Hanh).

Uses of the scholarship: The first scholarship was used to study English in order to study abroad in America. The second scholarship was used for his studies at the Polytechnic University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Future plans: In 3 years he hopes to have completed his doctorate at ANU. In the long term, Trong Hieu dreams of becoming a professor or researcher at a well-known university or research institute. After this, he hopes to return to Vietnam to give back to his country.

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Huynh Nam Khoa – schorlarship holder in 2009

Huỳnh Nam Khoa
Huỳnh Nam Khoa

Huynh Nam Khoa

Name: HUYNH Nam Khoa

Age: 23

Education:

2009 – 2013: polytechnic university of Ho Chi Minh City. Graduated with honor.

From 2013: PhD student at Nangyang technological university, Singapore.

Year of scholarship: 2009

Use of scholarship: A part of the scholarship is used to help his family who survived in a tropical hurricane. The rest is paid for an English course.

Future plan: Finish his PhD program with the subject of “Energy Efficiency in Smart Building”. Widen a branch of Dong Hanh in Singapore as its president.

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Trong Hieu Nguyen, who dared to dream!

One day in early December, after a long flight from Paris to Australia en route to the Australian National University (ANU, the biggest University in Australia), we received a letter from Mr. Trong Hieu Nguyen, a student who received two Dong Hanh Scholarships and was an active DH member in Ho Chi Minh City. In this letter, he happily told us his good news of getting a full scholarship from ANU to continue with a PhD. I had the opportunity to meet him several times. On behalf of the Fund’s Board of Dong Hanh studies, I would like to share a very interesting conversation with Mr. Trong Hieu Nguyen and his professional progress.

Hello, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Trong Hieu Nguyen, born in 1989. I was an student at the Polytechnic School of Ho Chi Minh City, in the honours class for Electrical Engineering. I received a Dong Hanh Scholarship twice and was a member of the Dong Hanh Scholarship Fund in Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Mr. Trong Hieu Nguyen’s most impressive academic results:

 

  •  First prize in the Olympiad competitive exam at the provincial level and the third prize at the national level in mathematics.
  • A score of 29.5/30 in the entrance exam to the Polytechnic University in Ho Chi Minh City in 2006, and again for the University of Medecine and Pharmacy in Can Tho.
  • Was among the top 3 students in electrical engineering at the Polytechnic University in HCM and obtained a scholarship to spend his last two years of study in Oregon, USA.
  • Graduated with an American diploma title of “Summa Cum Laude” (uppermost honors) with a GPA of 3.97/4.00.
  • Obtained a full scholarship to complete a doctoral thesis at the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Sydney. He will continue with his thesis at the beginning of 2013.

When did you receive the scholarship to study? Were you happy and surprised when you did? How did you find out about this scholarship? Were you concerned when sending the application and did you think that you had a chance of receiving it?

 

I received it for the first time in 2006 and for the second time in 2007. When the good news arrived, I was really surprised and happy since it was the first time that I had received a donation from an association. At the beginning of my entry to the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City, there was an ad for this award displayed on the door of the education center that attracted me to the scholarship. As a new student, I was a little unsure of how to prepare a scholarship application due to my lack of experience. So, I did it without thinking that I would be selected and was surprised when I was given the scholarship during my first year.

How have you used the Dong Hanh scholarship?

 

As a student at the Polytechnic University in HCM, I was attracted by many other study-abroad scholarships available to excellent students, which offer study opportunities in England, the U.S, Australia, etc. I thought I could win one of these comprehensive scholarships so I decided to go abroad. However, my English level was not good enough to study plus during my third year in high school I learned mathematics, physics and chemistry to enter university. It was for this reason that I used my money from this scholarship to learn English.

The total amount of the scholarship was used for taking 3 English courses (the tuition fees at the language university aren’t too expensive). After about half a year I learned English at the A level and three months later at the B level. At that moment my English was pretty good so I started to learn the TOEFL to pursue my dreams.

It was the first scholarship that I received, and even if it wasn’t a large amount, in a way it has really encouraged me to effectively follow my chosen direction in life. Thanks to the hope that I received during the scholarship award ceremony, as well as letters of encouragement from Dong Hanh, I had the impression that I was never alone since my family was always next to me.

Are you in regular contact with members of Dong Hanh? Before receiving the scholarship, what did you think of it? Was there a big difference between what you originally thought and what you encountered during the scholarship experience?

 

Yes. During my time in the United States, because I was concentrating on studying, I had little time to exchange information. After I returned to Vietnam, I had the chance to meet with other members and to regularly talk about work and life with them.

 

Can you share your memories of Ho Chi Minh City with Dong Hanh?

 

During free time, we drank coffee, we chatted about heaven and earth, education, social development and politics. I was very happy!

Do you have more difficulties in life now?

 

Now my life is very good and I have a stable job. In two months, ANU will help me financially, with papers and everything, except that I find myself with a lot of academic work. I need to concentrate on my studies to continue working towards my diploma.

What is your desire now? And in 5 years? Could you share with us your long-term plan for the future?

 

In three years, I hope to complete the semiconductor materials doctorate in solar cells that I am working towards at ANU. Then I’ll try to obtain a post-doctoral research scholarship. Thus, I have two goals for the next 5 years. In the long term, I will continue my scientific dream of becoming a professor or researcher at a well-known university or research institute. After achieving my dream (I could be very old at that point…), I hope to have the opportunity to return to Vietnam, and to use all the knowledge and experiences acquired in my life to serve our country.

In your opinion, are there many students who are still experiencing very difficult conditions but with excellent capabilities to study abroad like you? Do you have any advice for them?

 

Yes, a lot. A majority of them are not lucky like me. I hope that they will obtain the financial support to achieve their dreams. I would like to send a message to these students: never abandon your dreams! A dream is the starting point for everything. If you really want something, be ready to do it! Prepare carefully and go step by step to make your dreams come true.

I know that you are an active member of Dong Hanh in Ho Chi Minh City, so in your opinion how can the association become stronger?

 

The members of Dong Hanh are only students at the National University. I think that it’s necessary to recruit members from other universities (technical, medicine, education, etc) in order to promote the Dong Hanh Scholarship program.

Since you are doing a doctorate at ANU, do you think that there’s a place for Dong Hanh in Australia?

 

Yes, more branches will enhance the image and effectiveness of Dong Hanh in order to spread and become better known. For the first time, in Australia, I will concentrate on just the idea of creating a branch if possible. I then hope to have the time to promote and develop the image of Dong Hanh in Australia.

In addition to your ongoing university responsibilities, if you were president of the university this term what other activities would you organize?

 

Since a majority of the Dong Hanh members are undergraduate and graduate students, they’re busy with studying and research. To be president of this organization is a big challenge for every member. It requires a lot of dedication, time and experience, so I don’t have a very clear idea of what else a president should do, but there is an idea that I find quite feasible: the expansion of the scholarship program to other universities in Ho Chi Minh City (human sciences, education, medicine, etc). I think that a majority of my school friends aren’t familiar with the Dong Hanh scholarship.

 

Would you like to send a message to our friends at Dong Hanh?

 

Thank you. I’m delighted to have met and worked with you. I hope that I have the chance to see you, my Dong Hanh brothers and sisters in France. In Vietnam, we have already met.

In short, the Dong Hanh committee once again thanks Mr. Trong Hieu Nguyen. The committee wishes you good health, much happiness and hopes that all of your dreams come true. Mr. Trong Hieu Nguyen’s history gives us confidence that our program is achieving its goal. We hope that Dong Hanh can continue to receive support from organizations, individuals and friends in the world to develop strongly, help more students and to have more and more success stories like Trong Hieu Nguyen.

Tran van Xuan

Translation: Murphy McAnulty

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