UCLA Vietnamese instructor Quyen Di Chuc Bui is a teacher with a mission: to ensure the transmission of the Vietnamese language to the next generation of Vietnamese Americans. That makes him a very busy man.
What I most enjoy about teaching is seeing Vietnamese-American students gain the ability to read and write Vietnamese fluently.
International Institute, September 24, 2013 — Quyen Di Chuc Bui doesn’t just teach Vietnamese, his life is teaching Vietnamese.
During the academic year, Chuc Bui is a lecturer in Vietnamese at both UCLA (Department of Asian Languages and Cultures) and California State University at Long Beach (CSULB, Asian and Asian American Studies).
In the summers, he teaches intensive Vietnamese courses at both universities: a nine-week course at UCLA (co-taught with a colleague) and a five-week extension course at CSULB. The latter session takes place in Long Beach and Vietnam, as part of a summer study abroad program that takes students to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for three weeks.
But that’s not all. Every August, he teaches a weekend workshop for The Association of the Vietnamese Language and Culture Schools (TAVIET-LCS), which prepares immigrant volunteers to teach Vietnamese in local community language schools.
This summer, 250 people from across the United States, Canada and even Japan participated in the training program, which was co-taught by Professor Tri Tran of UC Irvine and other Vietnamese scholars. In addition to pedagogical skills, the workshop also helps participants develop their own curricula and teaching materials.
Chuc Bui himself has written a set of textbooks for Vietnamese-American students that have been published by Tuoihoa Publishing of Garden Grove, California.
In fact, he is so talented at training Vietnamese-Americans how to teach their own language that communities around the United States regularly invite him to lead training workshops. He teaches roughly 12 such programs every year in states as varied as California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Massachusetts and Virginia. And that isn’t even the full list!
From classroom teacher to teacher of pedagogy
Born in Hanoi and raised in Saigon, Chuc Bui originally wanted to enter the Catholic priesthood. “Just as I was going to enter the seminary, however, my father died,” he says. As a result, his priest advised him to stay home and help his mother raise his younger siblings.
He began his professional life as a teacher a Catholic high school in Saigon. The year was 1967 and Chuc Bui had no teaching credential or training, so he learned on the job while simultaneously attending the University of Saigon.
Soon, he recounts, the school board recognized his strong suit was Vietnamese language and literature (his major at university), which he began to teach exclusively. Eventually, the Catholic Board of Education invited him to teach intensive pedagogy courses for other high school teachers in many dioceses.
In 1974, he was invited to become vice president of textbooks and curricula committee at the University of Da Lat, where he also worked in the department of Vietnamese language and linguistics.
Migration interrupts a teaching career
Following the withdrawal of U.S. from Vietnam (1973) and the invasion of the South by the North Vietnamese Army (1975), the tumultuous reunification of Vietnam ensued. Many residents of the south were sent to re-education camps by the communist regime. By 1977, Chuc Bui’s family resolved to leave the country.
He departed from Vietnam with his wife and two siblings on a small boat with 64 passengers, among the one to two million people “boat people” who fled the regime by water. “After the boat’s engine died for the third time, the boat floated at sea for an entire week,” he says. “Luck brought us into the territorial waters of a coastal province of Malaysia.” After living in a refugee camp there for four months, the family departed for New Orleans, Louisiana.
In a classic immigrant experience, he worked a series of different jobs for a decade: newspaper delivery person, drafter, printer, journalist, writer, publisher and print shop owner. Eventually he made his way to California. By 1995, he had returned to teaching at the university level, joining CSULB as an instructor in Vietnamese culture and literature.
In 2000, he began teaching a course on the pedagogy of teaching bilingual students at California State University, Fullerton. And in 2003, he joined the teaching staff of UCLA, where he now heads the Vietnamese program.
The joy of teaching
“I love my mother language,” remarks Chuc Bui. “What I most enjoy about teaching is seeing Vietnamese-American students gain the ability to read and write Vietnamese fluently.”
He points out that students in the summer study abroad program learn to recognize the different Vietnamese accents spoken in the northern, central and southern parts of the country. They also have a chance to gain a greater understanding of Vietnam’s culture and traditions. Not to mention tasting its delicious fruits, which are evidently very popular among the students!
Chuc Bui particularly enjoys teaching Vietnamese culture alongside the language and literature of his home country. “Vietnamese culture has many good points,” he says, “among them, family values, honoring one’s ancestors, and respect for parents, elders and teachers.”