An expat who dared giving up for the better

While many Vietnamese, most of those with superb intellects and skill sets are desperate to leave the nation for a better life, there is an American who spent 12 of his 15 working years contributing to Vietnam. What has had a grip on his mind?

Jonathan Lankford is the current Associate Registrar and a teacher of the School of Humanities and Languages of Tan Tao University and although he, at first, may seem so stern from what he described as the “tough love” he has for his students, and even his Vietnamese wife, the warm, gentle and kind demeanour well-known for Nashvillians is right there in the air when you really get to know him.

After graduated from the degree of Theology Study, he spent three years working a nine-to-five desk-job that’s not at all interesting. One day, his mentor said: “Jon, why are you still here?”

Just by that, he got a plain ticket to Vietnam where his career rebuild on shoestring began.

He said that during that time, he was still on student loan of about a thousand bucks a month. To save up, John chose to take three buses to go to work instead of an easy, but expensive xe om — a common haggling motorbike taxi service in Vietnam. His daily food allowance was only 50 thousand Vietnam Dongs, equivalent to about two dollars.

Despite all that, Jon said that the transition did feel good after all the time in three years he went through in the job back in his home country.


Mr. Jonathan Lankford and his students at Tan Tao University

“Can’t” and “can”

Jonathan always liked education, so he took a foundation course from that major as an elective for his Theology Bachelor Degree. The classmates in his elective course “turned in their chair and said to me, You’ll never be a teacher; why are you here?” said Jonathan,

“And from that day, I decided I’m gonna be a teacher.”

It has been 12 years since he started his first teaching job as an ESL teacher. He went on to take a master degree in education and started the career of tertiary lecturer at Tan Tao University in 2015.

He’s tough, or really his “love” is tough?

One of the best benefit of teaching at TTU is that you get the summer off during which you can use for self-improvement, according to Jonathan. He also used his summer off to take a variety of courses and “oddly enough, I started on marketing.”

It is a lifelong learning to be a good teacher, “or I’ll question his commitment as a teacher,” said Jonathan. Furthermore, if you don’t apply what studied, you’ll forget it in just about a year. It, fortunately is also the undertaking that The Acting Provost of Tan Tao University, Professor, Dr. Thach Nguyen is promoting throughout the institution. Specifically, Dr. Thach Nguyen is working hard to bring more and more students to the US for internship as well as to bring experienced lecturers on visiting professorship from US institutions to Tan Tao University.

A class of Mr. Jonathan Lankford at TTU

“The link is as important as the immersion and application,” said Jonathan.

The students’ impression about Jonathan may revolve only about one word: “stern.” That was more or less my own first impression when I had a chance studying with him. Jon said that stringent requirements he has for his students, and his Vietnamese wife as well, is part of his so-called “tough-love” strategy he applies throughout. He reminds me once again of the story how he decided to become a teacher, and admittedly there may be different motivations but he said that it doesn’t change his teaching approach being a lecturer in classes of mostly Vietnamese students.

“You really think you can do it? You can’t do it,” Jon talks about his tough-love,

“An the reaction I was hoping for is that ‘don’t tell me I can’t do it. I’m gonna do it,’” He continued, “but instead, the reaction was that ‘it’s so hurtful. Why you’re saying it!’”

Jonathan believes that by such an approach, his students will know what to expect in the world so tough out there. With an exclusively “practical relationship” he’s establishing with his students, he hopes to enable his students to take their first steps in becoming the best version of themselves in the future.

12 of 15 working years in Vietnam, why?

Jonathan said that aside from the off-summers he has to learn something new, he also likes the curriculum of his School of Humanities and Languages and the work TTU is putting into developing the local human force.

Jonathan said that it’s very respectable that TTU is diverting a lot of its funds into helping students from rural areas to come on to the world stage.

TTU locates at a best place so its students would have a “clear mind, focussed mind, and devote [themselves] to [their] study,” said Jon.

“The location may seem like a detractor for students who like the city,” Jonathan added, “but what’s the purpose of being a student, is it to have nights out on the town during the week?”

When asked if there’s something he wishes to change for the better of TTU, he thought and said that it’s the bureaucracy of its governing system.

Jonathan said, “Vietnam has a very proud traditional culture with a long history and they have the right to be proud of some of these traditions they have.” But he continued to explain that we need to be more willing to embrace changes if it gets in the way in that it impede our competitive edge. It’s always hard for institutions to change, and the bigger they are, the harder it is as well, so as that young and dynamic, TTU has great potential for change that other cumbrous institutions yearn for.

Mr. Jonathan Lankford talked to new students in Orientation Week 2018

His knowledge of culture differences helps a lot in that it prepares himself to expect, literally, anything to happen — whether the work culture of having to proceed and escalate any proposal and issue via direct connections rather than the well-rounded, pure work-efficiency based relationship that he’s so familiar with and has come to love.

With a flicker of a quick smile, Jon said that it however didn’t help in the feeling, “You still feel isolated; you still feel the culture shock; you still feel that everyone is against you even though they’re not.”

After the “honeymoon period” of typically two years for expats coming to live in Vietnam, they tend to pack up and leave.

“I didn’t, and 12 years later, I’m still here,” said Jon.

“I didn’t want to just make a habit of giving up on life.”

Talking about the future, Jonathan said that he plans to go back to his hometown Nashville in summer next year. His parents need him by their side in the autumn of their lives.

He finished his story by saying, “I wouldn’t necessarily come back to VN for anything but TTU and to visit my in-laws in Da Lat.”

I really hope all the best for his incoming years and whatever his vision he has for his family, and especially for his students will manifest itself. I hope one day, his students will have realised that the tough-love of Jonathan was what helped in the sweet fruits in life they’re reaping, just like the way unyielding soil makes excellent wine, and surely, Tan Tao University has a very important position in his heart or he wouldn’t have put it cheek by jowl with Da Lat, the hometown of his dear wife.