Professor Daniel Ruelle, Program Director: English and Communications

How Saying Yes to Uncertainty and Challenges Changed a Life

“I never thought I would be a language teacher back then. Not in a million years did I consider becoming a teacher when growing up. I just open myself up to opportunities. What will come, come!” honestly shared Professor Dan Ruelle.

In May 2005, Professor Ruelle graduated from Acadia University in Canada with a promise to his parents to travel the world before entering the workforce. They decided to travel to Hanoi because his older brother was working in Vietnam. Although he only intended to stay for 2 weeks, he bought an open-ended ticket, which meant he could travel back to Canada whenever he wanted within one year. However, the hustle and bustle of Vietnam turned out to be very captivating. Therefore, Professor Ruelle made up his mind and stayed for long after his parents had left Vietnam. He just thought: “Well, whenever I am ready for adult life, I will go home.”

  • “What attracted you most about Vietnam that you decided to spend more time here?” 
  • “To be honest, it is hard to answer because the longer you live in a place, the more you forget about things you initially noticed. Vietnam is now part and parcel of my daily life after 16 years. But if I have to tell you exactly, what excites me the most is the experience of living in a progressively rising country in terms of innovation and technology. I can easily notice Vietnam has changed dramatically, especially since 2005 when I first came. In Asian countries like Vietnam, there is always new technology invented to make human lives more convenient. Look around! QR codes and 4G make me feel like Vietnam is on a forward trajectory. To a youthful graduate like me, it was great to become part of this megatrend. Also, these changes were partly the result of a vibrant young population which I deeply relate to.”

During his journey, he was able to meet and talk to a lot of Vietnamese people, many of whom became his close friends. After months of exploring different aspects of Vietnam, from the culture and food to the history and people, he ended up with a job at Vietnamnews as an English proofreader. After that, he then became an English teacher as a part-time job.

After one year, the expiration date of the flight ticket came. As time passed since Dan, as a college graduate, first came to Hanoi, he now had an enjoyable job, many great friends, and a comfortable life. “I was not ready to go back. I did not want to throw everything away. I love the fascinating work I am doing. Canada is a bit boring to a youngster so I do want to go back yet.” shared Professor Ruelle. Despite a great dilemma over whether to go back and start an ‘official’ job in Canada, he intentionally just let the ticket expire and forgot about it.

Continuing teaching English part-time in the afternoon, Professor Ruelle thought he should do something more productive in the morning. He also wanted to learn something new and get engaged with the country. He started to learn Vietnamese, which is notorious for being difficult to learn. He spent 9 hours a week in the morning for the next 3 years to master the language.

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However, the dilemma of returning to his home country still lingered in his mind. He moved back and forth between moving back to work seriously at a corporation in Canada and enjoying the freedom of living in Vietnam as an English teacher. The more he learned Vietnamese, the more he felt connected to the people, and the more he did not want to come back home. Only then did he firmly decide to call Vietnam home and stop wondering about whether to go back. “I will stay here for the long-term, not just the short-term, ” said Professor Ruelle.

During this time, teaching was the main activity that engaged Dan with the local people and culture. Through teaching, he could observe a positive change in the skill and awareness of his learners. Their improvement was reflected in their confidence and the smiles on their face. The instant feedback made delivering knowledge to students a rewarding journey. Moreover, most students study a language because of a goal in their mind, whether it is to study abroad, travel the world, or advance in their career. Helping other people to realize their purpose was his happiness in life.

At college, Professor Ruelle learned a vast range of topics, such as sociology, history, Spanish, and physics. Among them, music technology impressed him the most because it is the intersection between art and science, which Dan has always paid attention to. The subject studies different devices and mechanisms used by a musician or composer to make or perform music.

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However, at the same time, language learning has always been a topic that he could spend days talking about purely because of his curiosity for language. Then, there was a tutoring program at his university and some German students. Coincidentally, Professor Ruelle was also learning German at the time and would be more than willing to volunteer for tutoring. That experience grew in him the very first seeds of interest in teaching and transferring knowledge to other people. “I never thought I would be a language teacher back then. Not in a million years did I consider becoming a teacher when growing up. However, when I do the volunteer work, I can see how my tutees applied what was taught and improved day by day. Then I started to think about what kind of qualification I needed to get to advance in the career of language teaching. So you can see that you never know what will happen if you take a chance. Always open up to opportunities!” Professor Ruelle shared enthusiastically. 

His openness to challenges once again brought Dan to another life-changing opportunity. He used to be very nervous when speaking in front of the public. But then he received an invitation to give some comments on a celebrity speaking English in a broadcast. “There was an opportunity that I had never taken before. I had never been on TV because I did not want to be in the spotlight,” said Professor Ruelle.. “But what was the worst that could happen? Maybe they will not invite me back the next time. Let’s give it a try. It is something new and exciting to tell my friends that I am on TV in Vietnam.” That was how Dan showed up at the IELTS Face-off show on VTV7. Fortunately, he was invited back to the show which he happily accepted. Not in a million years would he have thought that he would show up on TV in a foreign country. However, saying yes opens up many doors.

Then Professor Ruelle received the invitation to be part of the VinUniversity project, building a university of excellence. This time, he, as usual, did not say no.