Studying abroad for young Vietnamese designers

This question was brought up during my Ask Me Anything session. The full inquiry was: “Is studying Graphic Design abroad in Germany/Japan/Korea/U.K./U.S./etc. good?”

Having received this question, I was delighted. Delighted because Vietnamese young generation has adopted a serious attitude towards Graphic Design, viewing it as a specialized profession that requires systematic training. In all honesty, I have never studied abroad, but many of my friends have. So I can’t answer definitively regarding every single nation that you have asked. However, no matter which country, it is ourselves who study. Imagine it this way, I studied in RMIT, and to me it is a decent school, but not all who study in RMIT can succeed in their chosen field. It’s the same with overseas study, being of the same major, in the same school and same nation doesn’t make the same output. The problem is not the place, but the learner. In this post, I’m not digging into each nation, but focusing on clarifying people-related matters instead, helping you maximizing gains from studying abroad.

To begin with, I’d like to speak of “learning”. What is learning Graphic Design? As the “What is Graphic Design” answer mentioned, Graphic Design is a form of language (visual language). Thus learning design is similar to learning a language. Everyone has learned at least a language – their mother tongue. A child’s process of learning to speak is marked by these stages:

- Listening (Input): no newborn human can speak instantly, he/she must listen first;

- Imitation: he/she copies people around, but can’t understand

- Matching words: there are barely any defined word order and grammar

- Speaking (Output): fluency, learning language capability, distinct accent

Learning Graphic Design must involve those steps as well, in which the first one, “listening”, is intimately related to studying abroad. Having studied in a distant country, we will come back a baby, seeing things anew. We will then take in information more at ease. For example, in learning our mother tongue, there isn’t much of a struggle. But what about learning a second language, like English? It then becomes more difficult. Going abroad to study is to refresh this input gateway, helping us absorbing new things faster. This “input” involves not simply school-offered academic knowledge, but everything happening around us as well: from graffiti on walls, pizza boxes, flyers, flip-flops, to outdoor air, people’s temperaments, tree branches and leaves, etc. One who knows how to learn is to know how to expose him-/herself to the unknown and never stop ingesting it as does a child. My teacher once said, the most important thing of your early 20s is to act like a sponge, absorbing everything around to expand, to be filled with water.

Another matter of note is Networking. A child needs friends to interact with, either for pure fun, or to find him-/herself in the fun. Overseas study is a good chance to make brand new friends – new people, new culture, new lifestyle, etc. – a wealth of totally novel input to absorb. Therefore, when studying abroad, be the first to make friends, and nourish those relationships. Make yourself a project for fun, or to strengthen ties.

Lastly, input sharing. After your study, you can stay overseas to work, or return to Vietnam. Most of us tend to think the former is better, and some set it as the target for studying abroad. But, according to me, with the current state of affairs, going back to Vietnam would be better? Why? Back to the child-learns-to-speak story – upon coming back from studying abroad we have a wealth of input. I suppose it’d be intriguing if you put all that input to use in the Vietnamese market, where few have the chance to experience what you have experienced. Recently, the number of expatriates in Vietnam has risen considerably (look at district 2); also a quite plentiful number of European/U.S. design studios or agencies have moved to Vietnam for business – a wise move as Vietnam’s art scene is still young.

Stated above is but my personal opinion. I hope it can at least shed light in part on the question you asked regarding the study-abroad path.

Huy Ta