The ‘person-in-between’ role of young graduates at INGOs in Vietnam

Mai Thi Quynh Lan


In Vietnam today one of the consequences of globalisation has been a proliferation of international non-government organisations (INGOs). These are intercultural work environments where individuals must seek to understand the culture of others and try to share and find common ground as they strive to fulfil the goals of the organisations. These individuals need high levels of intercultural competence, particularly cultural mediation, important for the role of cultural intermediaries. Drawing on theories of cultural mediation and cultural intermediaries, this research explores the intersection of different cultural worlds in the context of development projects at INGOs in Vietnam. The new graduates in the study reflected on their resources and skills to adapt development models to the local context, thus demonstrating important employability skills. This was particularly challenging given that in organisations such as universities, where the culture was described as rigidly hierarchical, skill training was restricted to following procedures to execute a particular task. However, in organisations like INGOs with high degrees of employee autonomy, decision making is left to the discretion of staff who are required to demonstrate their own means of developing the skills. Based on the findings of the qualitative research into young Vietnamese graduates’ experiences of working at INGOs, this paper argues that young graduates play a significant role in disseminating information, and at the same time promoting mutual understanding, forming culturally relativistic attitudes, and demonstrating cross-cultural empathy. They were not just gaining employment, but adding value to an enterprise. Given increasing globalisation, this research makes an interesting argument for the inclusion of cultural literacy as a necessary employability skill for successful engagement in today’s world of work.


Graduates employability, INGOs, cultural mediation, cultural intermediary, intercultural competency

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