Found on the website https://harrycguo.wordpress.com/ ! Thanks!
I haven’t done these in a while. Not since we were in Saigon, actually. So, I haven’t really reflected on anything that we’ve done here in Quang Tri but I’ll let some of it out. Hint: it’s a lot (s/o to Diane for trademarking this line!).
It’s halfway through our time here, and the clock counter has been reversed. Instead of “we’ve been here for 3 weeks”, it’s “we’ve only got 3 weeks left”. As a group of 24, we’ve really grown to be much more than just roommates, but family. We work together, teach together, joke around each other, sing karaoke together, and care for each other. It’s quite a blessing to wake up and tackle each day with 23 of my best friends, 25 if you count Vu and Hien. I’m already getting the feels about saying our goodbyes.
The cross-cultural exchange is as real as it gets. Me and Bao often grab smoothies or sugarcane juice and just end up talking about cultural and lifestyle differences between the US and Vietnam. We talk about some simple things like college life here vs. there and what we do to hang out on the weekends, but we also talk about society as a whole too. A hot topic that all roommate pairs have struck conversations about is the independent vs. dependent culture with America being the former and Vietnam the latter. In America, we are almost drilled from a young age to become independent. College is a big nurturing ground for this concept. We learn to take care for ourselves, maintain our own schedules, and make decisions independently. In Vietnam, everyone is very open to lending out a helping hand or receiving one. They don’t feel the need to do everything on their own, but rather know that there will be people to help them out. The Vietnamese treat everyone with such kindness, no matter if it’s a family member or a complete stranger. I recall the when the lady at the bookstore offered me and Bao English textbooks because we were volunteers, even though she just met us. It seems that the principles underlying family relationships is extended to the relationships between members of wider social groups; a concept we could all take away.
Something I find myself asking a lot of Vietnamese roommates and my students is “Would you like to live in America?”. I don’t know why I ask the question, because I already know the answer. Of course, I immediately respond with ways to help them get there or words of encouragement, but I know it’s nothing short of false hope. It’s extremely difficult to get from Vietnam to the US and there are many huge obstacles blocking the way. Being proficient at English is one thing, but immigration is on a whole different level. It was a huge privilege check, knowing that in just a few weeks I’ll be flying across the ocean to the land where so many of these roommates or students dream of being and that they’ll just be staying in Vietnam. I’m sure they would do anything just to switch places with me, living with all the “burdens” I complain about on a regular basis. I can’t take any of them along with me, but I can take away all the lessons, friendships, and experiences I’ve had here and to help shape myself and the world around me to be a better.
In class the other day, we talked about dreams. Dreams for the future about what job we want, where we want to live, our family lives etc. There was a twinkle in every student’s eyes as they presented. Even if their English wasn’t spot on, you could see the passion in their eyes about their future. They want to be doctors, artists, teachers, translators, policewomen, and much more. They wanted to live in America, Korea, Spain, Germany and many other places around the globe. They wanted boys, girls, dogs, cats, fish, and even pigs to be a part of their family. After they presented, I always asked, “How do you plan on achieving your dream?”. With the exception of one girl (I’m looking at you Tiffany) who responded, “marrying a rich and handsome husband”; All 20 of them replied, “by studying and working hard”. When it was my turn to present and answer the question, it was the same. But, it made me think about my answer and how I study at school, and if there was something I could do to study and work harder to achieve my dream. I gave them some parting advice from an old geezer like me (to them I’m an old geezer) about not only studying and working hard, but to also enjoy the people, places, and moments you’ll experience along their journey. I tell them that because even though it’s the summertime, it seems whenever I ask them about their past weekend on Monday’s a good majority says “studying” or homework. That’s why me and Bao have a no homework policy! The advice was for them, but at the same time, it was also advice for myself. Although I’m totally okay in the people, places, and moments part, I slacked a bit on the working and studying hard portion this past semester at school.
It’s been a lot, and there’s still a lot to come.
Hello everyone! Thanks for rolling by. It’s been about two weeks since I’ve last posted. I titled this post H because a lot of events/places/person I’ve been around begin with the letter H. Hue, Halong Bay, halfway (done with the project), HIIIEEEEEENNNNNN (to be explained), and of course, Harry!
Hue is the main city in the Central Region of Vietnam, and all our Vietnamese roommates are from Hue University. The weekend of the 9th-10th of July was when we visited Hue as a big group. We saw the Imperial City, walked along some of it’s gorgeous bridges and also visited the Tịnh Trúc Gia Center. The Center is home to the Eurasia Foundation and Association for Special Education in Vietnam; a place where children and youths living with mental and physical disabilities take part in “curative education”. These children learn to function in society by learning in simple works such as lacquer painting, jam/jelly making, incense production, etc. It truly is a wonderful place with a wonderful mission. If you would like to read more about it, their website is http://www.eurasia.org.vn/index.html. Our fearless leader, Vu, said he would like to take a gap year and volunteer there after he is done with CET/DukeEngage Vietnam. After that, we were given the rest of the weekend off and I decided to chill the Bao and some of the other roommates. We visited Hue University, drank some Nu’oc Mia (sugarcane juice, I’m pretty much hooked rn), and went to an elevated area where you can see the whole city. After that, we rode into the mountains on his motorbike and spent the night at another roommate’s house, An, along with Grant, Eva, and Eva’s roommate Money. Her Vietnamese name is Ngan, but she prefers to be called Money which is dope. In the morning, me, Grant, An, and Money woke up at 5 am and attended Vietnamese Church. *Insert 22 Jump Street quote about Vietnamese Jesus*. We didn’t understand anything, but it was still a cool experience. After that, we went to Elephant Springs, a nearby hangout area and our crew met up with Jason, Thinh, Katrina, and Trinh. The place was gorgeous and so much fun. Basically, little huts were set up all along the springs for at least a mile, and they catered food right to your hut! (America, take notes). So we were just chillin’, swimmin’, and also sat in on a college reunion in the hut across from ours. We left in the late afternoon and Bao took me to some other places. Coffee and dinner with one of his good friends and a boat tour of the Huong River wrapped up our time there before heading back. Great weekend.
This past weekend, we were given the whole weekend free. It was our only free weekend besides the one before the soccer tournament/culture show, but a lot of planning needs to be done then so this was our only opportunity to do some big independent travel trip. A small group of us wanted to go to Halong Bay and so we made it happen! It all started Friday evening when we hopped on an overnight sleeper bus from Quang Tri to Hanoi. I would describe it as “quite an experience”. It was very cramped with both backpackers and locals alike and the “super reclining seat beds” were definitely made to fit the smaller Vietnamese frame. Luckily, I didn’t have too much trouble as I popped some sleeping pills and just passed out until the morning. We arrived in Hanoi at 6am and got some coffee and breakfast to kick start our day. Of course, we must take another 4-hour bus ride to the Bay so we do that. On first sight off the mainland, we see the hundreds of islands lined up all around and we are mesmerized. It gets better. We hop aboard our cruise ship and are served lunch as we sail around the area. After that, we stop by a little water village and kayak between some islands. Then the cruise takes us to Paradise Cave, one of the hundreds of caves (but one of few that are open to tourism) and see the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites that line the walls of the cave. Our cruise ended with a bit more weaving around the bay. That night, we went to the bay and enjoyed a view of Halong at night and did some group bonding before passing out at the hostel. The next day we hit the beach again and traveled back to our guesthouse in Quang Tri.
This past weekend also officially marked our halfway point during our program! Halfway done with the work at
the construction site, halfway done with our ESL classes, and halfway done spending time with our group. It’s amazing to see the progress we’ve made everyday, but it’s a little sad to know that we’re over the hump and our time here is starting to countdown.
I haven’t mentioned her at all I believe, but there is another person from CET here which is our program assistant, Hien Chap. She was a roommate 2 years ago and has been working with the program ever since. Basically, she’s second-in-command and is actually the first-in-command at our worksite since Vu manages the other one. To be honest, Hien is one the coolest people I’ve ever met. She keeps our worksite motivated and chugging along by constantly cracking jokes but also keeping us at work the whole time. In our big group, we are always arguing about which worksite is better. It’s usually pretty even, but the scales definitely tip our way since we have Hien. I’m super happy that I chose the right site and that I get to work with Hien everyday. Also, if you’re wondering why the title is what it is, there’s a running joke within our group where we say her name in this funny manner of “HIIIIIEEEEEEEEENNNNN!!!!!” in a very high pitch with some tremelo effects to kick it too. She loves/hates it.
My name! Thanks for reading!
As I’ve settled into the area of Quang Tri the past 2 weeks, my lifestyle has taken a rapid change. Although their are plenty of differences, they all seem to share a common trait of just having some good vibes.
First of all, let me talk about my roommate Bao. Bao is a student at Hue University, where he is majoring in Vietnamese Studies. He’s actually the only student from his department at school, which makes him a baller. Most (the rest I think, actually) are majoring in some English-related field such as English, Interpretation, Linguistics, etc. However, this does mean that English is not his primary focus, so his English skills are not on par with the other Vietnamese roommates. Of course, I was not expecting this at all coming in and the first couple days communicating were definitely a bit tough. I had to speak very slowly, we had to write down a lot of our sentences, and we even resorted to Chinese when our main languages failed! But day after day, Bao was always happily smiling and going about our duties, even if he could not speak very well to us, the American students. Whenever he needed help with English or needed correction from me, I would always oblige and he would practice for a bit until he got it right. In just a week, Bao has improved so much! His speaking, listening, and grammar has advanced so much and we can talk these days with ease. Although it’s far from perfect, I know the next couple of weeks will bring about much more improvement. Good vibes.
At the workplace, we work with two masons: King Mason and Bling Mason. King Mason is this middle aged to older man who has masterful mason skills and Bling Mason is a younger guy who wears this silver chain around his neck. They both run the construction show and instruct us in our mission. They are both hardworking and are always willing to teach us the right way to do something on the worksite. In the past week, we’ve actually established solid communication with them. If we call out “King” or “Bling”, they respond. Also, if we mess something us, they yell “NO!” or on the flip side, they say “OK” and give us a thumbs up if we complete a task they deem acceptable. I’ve come to admire not only their hard work, but everyone else’s hard work as well. Besides the break in the middle, everyone is doing some job or another. Seeing everyone work hard only makes me want to work harder. I also get to DJ most the time with the speakers at the worksite. Good vibes.
At school, my class of all girls is always excited to learn. They’re very attentive and do not cause much trouble at all, so it’s not too tough teaching them. Me and Bao always prepare a solid lesson plan beforehand and we always try to strike a balance between new vocabulary, grammar, speaking, and listening. So far, I think they’ve really enjoyed our lessons as we try to make it as fun as possible by facilitating a lot of interaction between the students among themselves and with us. We always sprinkle in a game to start the class and a game to end the class so we can have a bit of fun while we’re at it. And of course, who can forget smoothies every Friday? I was a bit uneasy teaching at first, but my students have been so well that I look forward to seeing them everyday! Good vibes.
In general, the people here are just seem more…..nicer? The other day, I wanted to buy some English textbooks of the 9th/10th grade level so I know what my students are studying at school so I can see what they’re learning and model my lessons around it. I ask the lady at the counter (rather, Bao did) for the books and she comes back, puts the books in my hands, and walk away. Bao said it’s because we are volunteers, she offers them for free even if I was more than happy to pay for them. Earlier this week, me and Bao visited a shrine in the area and I wanted to burn some incense and place it in the shrine. It was early evening so no incense was being sold. Yet, this lady that was walking by offered us some of hers to use. Whenever we bike anywhere, it’d be odd not to hear a “Hello!” being yelled at us attached to a wave and smile. Also, don’t get me started on how polite Bao is. Nice isn’t just something good to do here, it’s a lifestyle. Good vibes.
Although the town that we are volunteering in is very small, it’s filled with good vibes. The people here lead such simple lives and it’s quite incredible to be a part of it all for a couple weeks.
Here’s a little post about the daily schedule we have here in Quang Tri during the work week. It’s a really simple schedule, surprisingly busy, and extremely gratifying.
5:30 am: Wake up! The sun rises early and sets early here in Quang Tri.
5:45 am: Wake up Bao. The dude just doesn’t have an alarm and relies on me to wake him up. I keep telling him that if I forget to wake up one morning that we’re both cooked but nothings changed.
6:00 am: Breakfast. We get a nice selection of pho, noodles, and fried eggs.
6:30 am: Leave for the worksite. It’s usually around a 15 minute bike ride to the school we’re working at.
7-11:00 am: Work work work work work! This usually involved breaking cement, digging, mixing concrete, and building the restroom.
11:30 am: Lunchtime.
12-2:45 pm: Free time. I usually do laundry and nap. If me and Bao already planned the lesson for the day, we usually sleep the whole time. If not, we wake up at around 1:00 and plan the lesson.
3-4:30 pm: ESL classes for my class. My students ended up being a whole class of girls so that’s somewhat interesting. They’re all very sweet a very nice so it definitely makes teaching for me easy! Their vocab and grammar is pretty solid, so I usually try to hit up speaking, listening, and making conversations when planning lessons for the day.
4:30-6:30 pm: Free time again! On Fridays, I take my class out for smoothies and we just relax and talk about the weekend and chill. On other days, I might grab smoothies with my fellow teachers and on Tuesdays we rent out a turf field and play soccer.
6:30 pm: Dinner.
Rest of the night: Free time to chill, lesson plan, laundry if we haven’t done it, or blog like I am right now! We usually go to bed pretty early since the day is pretty exhausting.
It doesn’t seem to bad right? It’s super simple and we’re just kinda living in our own little world here. It’s nice to see the daily progress we make at both the worksite and the progress my students are making in class so I’ve attached some photos of what’s been happening. Enjoy!
Hello everyone! It’s been a while, and I’m sorry to keep you adoring fans waiting. It’s been a pretty wild 2 weeks. We spent another week in Saigon taking culture immersion classes/visits, taking Vietnamese Speaking Classes, and just exploring the city some more in general. On Saturday (6/25) we traveled to Quang Tri and settled down with our roommates and started working the following week. Then this past weekend we got to travel to Da Nang Bay and just relax. Here’s an overview of what’s gone on!
A Week of the City Life
In the mornings, we spent most of our time immersing ourselves in the culture. We had 2 lectures from Dr. Roberte. The first lecture was an Introduction on Vietnamese Studies, primarily focusing on post-war Vietnam and how much it has recovered.There has been huge growth in the fields of education, healthcare, and the economy. However, there are still many big problems the country faces. Some of the issues fall in the category of infrastructure, education (investment, planning, and implementation in rural areas), environmental, and climate change. The area we are currently at, Quang Tri, has no university. In fact, there are nearly zero universities out of the main areas of Saigon, Hanoi, and Hue. This severely limits the access to higher education for the students in those areas. The second was about culture differences within Vietnam, such as the divide between natural Vietnamese vs. ethnic minorities and groups of people in the highlands vs. lowlands. Some other things we did were visiting the War Remnants Museum, which was a very powerful exhibit. It was a new perspective. As Americans, we do not usually look at wars from the eyes of the opposing countries. The displays definitely came with a lot of bias, as much of the information portrayed America very negatively for their treatment of Vietnamese people and waste of resources. The most shocking thing I encountered was the use of Agent Orange gas by the US. It’s been over 40 years since the war ended, but Vietnamese people are still affected by it today. The thing is, it hasn’t only been just the Vietnamese. There has been generations of American lives that have also been mutated by the gas. It was definitely painful to view those images. I felt an intense wave of privilege just to be born in a healthy body with minimal problems. As an individual and as a group, we all took away a lot from this visit.
Most of our afternoons was spent in the Vietnamese Speaking Language (VSL) classroom. We were divided into two groups (except for Kayla since she’s actually 100% fluent) and had 3 hour lessons on “Survival Vietnamese”. In the span of a week, we learned to introduce ourselves and ask basic questions like “where are you from” and “what’s your age?”, how to order food, and how to bargain at the market. Our teacher, Dung, was so fun and her lessons were very interactive!
In our spare time, we usually went exploring Saigon or chilled out. I got to visit a Buddhist temple, go to a nightclub, and hang out with our Vietnamese buddies some more! They are dearly missed and I can’t wait to see them again before we head back to the states. Oh right before we left we got to see an Acrobatic Opera (AO) Show at the historic Saigon Opera House. It was definitely one of the most amazing shows I’ve seen! Lots of history and crazy acrobatics to boot!
A Week of the Simple Life
On Saturday (6/25) we took a flight to Hue and met our roommates at the airport. My roommates name is Bao. He’s a pretty goober-ish dude, so we get along pretty well! (I’ll post more about him later). From there, we took a bus to Quang Tri. Just from looking outside the window, we could see a drastic change from the bustling streets of an urban jungle to a much more rural and quiet area. It was much more neaturey as well too, lots more trees and there is a river right by our guesthouse. It’s very peaceful and we got to have dinner at a local restaurant and just chill with our roommates after. It was a super fun time and we played this game called Wolves, which is basically the Vietnamese version of Mafia. The next morning, we woke up and took a bike tour of the area. We biked to the two worksites, the youth center where we will be teaching, and some other helpful locations. Next, we had orientation to figure out who will work where. Me and Bao chose Luong The Vinh School since it was much more open and seemed pretty fun to work at. For the grade level we taught, we got 9th-10th graders. Bao said young kids were hard to control so he wanted to lean on the older side. That night, we got to have dinner on our guesthouse porch with the local community members and the masons we are working with.
During the week…I’ll have a post about our daily working week life coming up, promise!
A good ol’ couple Days Just Chillin
This past weekend was a 3-day weekend. I don’t think they celebrate 4th of July here….but apparently we get the day off! So of course after a long work week, we decide to take a little trip to Da Nang Bay. But before we went there, we took a group visit to the 17th parallel and the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Both are historical sites and were well worth the visit. The tunnels were extremely fascinating in particular. It’s incredible that a community flourished underground in the middle of war and really showed how much resiliency and wits the Vietnamese people had. Some villages were even up to 30 meters underground!
After a group lunch, we took a bus to Da Nang Bay. The area is a little bit on the touristy side, as there’s some big attractions and the beach. On Saturday night, we went to get Pizza Hut because why not? and visited the Dragon Bridge. It was quite an incredible show, as around 9pm the head of the dragon spews out flames, and then douses everyone in the radius of it’s mouth with water. The next day some of us woke up and saw the sunrise at around 5:20 am. It was totally worth it, even if it was a little cloudy. I immediately passed out on the beach for 2 hours after and I gotta say napping on the beach is now up there on my favorite places to nap list. We grabbed breakfast and then headed to the beach as a group and had some beach fun with the waves and volleyball. Later that afternoon/evening, we went to the the Ancient Town of Hoi An that was close to Da Nang. That was also a touristy place, but very pretty. At night, lanterns filled the streets and candles in these cute little boxes filled the water along with the boats. It was very pretty. Me, Andrew, and Nikila also did a little souvenir shopping and bought some elephant pants! I’m very psyched to wear them no matter what the haters say. Sunday we left Da Nang, but not before we went to the local market and went grocery shopping for hamburgers and other American yummies. That night, we had bacon cheeseburgers, mac n’ cheese, guacamole, and french fries. I love Vietnamese food and all, but damn was it good to have a taste of America on the 4th.
Hope you guys enjoyed reading this post! Be sure to check out some of the pictures below :)
I’ve had a lot of interactions with some Vietnamese students in my time here. There’s the Vietnamese buddies we’ve been hanging around for a couple days, and there’s the group of high school students that me and Grant played some pick-up basketball. There’s a lot I’ve learned from them: similarities and differences, what college life in Vietnam is like, and real life perspectives on the importance of English.
Similarities wise, they’re just like us. They love to have fun and hang out, they are very involved in their studies, they love the NBA, etc. I had nice conversation about the Finals with one of the buddies, boy Minh. He surprised me when he mentioned Okafor, Winslow, Tyus, and the championship team last year. It made me happy there were Duke fans around the world. Talking to some of our buddies, things they love to do involve watching movies, hanging out with friends at parks, and going out! College students go out to bars and clubs just like us in America do. Although one edge they have on us is karaoke, which obviously needs to be much bigger in the US since it’s way better than anything mentioned above. Students there (and people in general) listen to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Once again, it made me happy when girl Minh (a lot of people are named Minh) said she thoroughly enjoyed county music.
There’s definitely a mix of differences in daily lives and the college experiences. My favorite talk thus far was definitely walking back from karaoke to the guesthouse with another buddy Tram. To throw it out there her middle name in Minh, to complete the Tri-Minh-fecta of buddies that I’ve mentioned in this post. She goes to bed at around 12-12:30am in the morning, which I thought was much earlier than my usual 2-3am. But then she mentioned she woke up at 5am every morning for school. The school schedules are much more defined, with classes starting at 7am. She must commute an hour by bus to get to school (makes the 10min C1 ride from East Campus to West Campus seem like pattycake) and she usually gets back late at night, usually after 8pm. Oh, a thing to throw in here is the instant bond we made over instant noodles! Students usually doesn’t have too much time to cook so they either go out and grab something quick or make something like instant noodles. After doing homework and getting to bed, it’s the same schedule over again. It really puts in perspective how much more strict and rigorous education is in this country. Most college students live from home, the rich ones go abroad. Something that me and Tram discussed was the idea of community. The US college environment gives us many opportunities to foster it through clubs, common rooms, classes, and just a lot of down time to get to know people. In Vietnam, they really only have clubs to get to know people really well. They’re very limited by their everyday schedules.
I’ve mentioned the importance of English before, but talking to our buddies and the basketball bros, I gained a first hand perspective on the matter. All of our Vietnamese buddies are studying English. Yennie in particular, seeks to go into the tourism industry, so English is something she must master for her future career. Yennie, our conversations have been clear on both ends and a great job awaits you. Tram seeks a job as an English TA in college because of her skill set. Tram, your English skill set and the people you are going to TA will benefit a ton from your teaching. One of the basketball bros we played with was a rising senior in high school, and his English is very good. I compliment his English, and he says he appreciates it as it is very important this English is good since he seeks to become a businessman one day. To him, I say he’s a really funny guy and that he’ll definitely make it big in the business world.
After all these interactions, I can’t but just feel extremely privileged living the life I’ve had so far. I expected such differences such as these but to still hear about their experiences from them directly, it was still bit shocking and unsteady. It really puts in perspective how much freedom being a college student in the US is and how much opportunity we’ve already been given as native language speakers. I’m not ready to make conclusions on my current feelings yet, as I’ve still got so many questions yet to be answered. This just makes me even more eager to meet my roommate and simply learn.
While some posts I’ll be posting will just be sharing some of the cool things I’ve done, some others will be a little self-reflection I’d like to share about. It may seem like we’ve only done a lot of fun things, but it’s not without some serious activities thrown in there too.
While we have been going out and about a lot, we’ve had two orientations. An Introduction to the Program from our program coordinator, Ho Vu (who also participated in this same program as a Vietnamese roommate 4 years ago) and Service Learning lecture from a Dr. Christophe Roberts, who also coordinates programs in Vietnam and who will be teaching us about the culture and history this next upcoming week.
The first orientation led by Vu was important as it taught us the do’s and don’ts during our time here. We must respect not only the culture and new environment that is we were just introduced to us, but to our bodies as we recover from jet lag and adapting to the new cuisine we’ve been eating. He also told us about how important we were to the area that we are volunteering in. DukeEngage and CET Vietnam are very respected there for the work they’ve done the past couple of years, and it’s our duty to carry our responsibilities and maintain that respect that’s been given to the people in the program. Overall, it was very helpful in learning the in’s and out’s of what to expect throughout the program.
The lecture by Dr. Roberts was very powerful. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Quang Tri sits right on the 17th parallel, which was the line that divided North and South Vietnam during the war. If you couldn’t guess, this place was demolished and in ruins as a result. Even though it’s been decades, the area is still recovering and could always use help, especially in the areas of education and public health. This is where we come in, and that’s first done by asking the community what they need. We don’t just go in and try to fix problems, we address the ones that the community needs. Let’s rewind for a bit and check out some of the previous projects in the past summers. A project in 2014 was the building of a parking lot and sidewalk for students that bike to school. Usually students just park in the yard in front of the school, but when it rains (which it does a lot) , the yard becomes a mud pit which can reach the students knees. A parking lot and sidewalk from the main road address this issue. Last year, they built a fence surrounding a school. During recess, if children are playing with a ball and it rolls onto the street, it puts them in great danger if they try and get it. A fence addresses this issue. Although both projects seem simple, they go a long way in the impact it makes in the children’s safety. This year, our project is restrooms. The current situation at the restrooms of the schools we are volunteering at are not too sanitary and the facilities are outdated. But we’re not building a new restroom just to build a restroom for the school to have, but we’re building it so the children have somewhere where they can deposit their waste and clean up safely. A simple act of washing hands in a clean and hygienic restroom goes a long way in terms of increasing the health of the area. Our ESL teaching is important too not because of the opportunities it provides the students in their future careers, but they also get to learn from a native English speaker and that’s a huge opportunity that not many students get. We’re also introducing type of teaching in which we try and facilitate conversation to improve grammar and group interaction skills instead of a regular lecture hall. All these are challenges that us volunteers face, but it’s something that could have a huge impact on a student’s understanding and usage of English. Recently, Vu met with a Vietnamese adult who partook in this program years ago and now holds a very well off job and said the program benefitted his English skills immensely and is the reason he is today.
Soaking in all this knowledge, I really thought about how I once viewed this program would benefit the community and people I would be working with, but not at the level of impact that I now understand. I can’t really just think about how important my service will be, but myactions must match and even surpass that level of thinking. There’s simply no other way to put it. This upcoming week is huge in terms of learning about Vietnam’s past and how it came to be today. I can say with confidence that it’s going to be very essential to my time here.
Wow, what a journey it has been. From saying goodbye to my parents at the airport to sitting here at this little coffee shop in the heart of Saigon, it has been a wild ride to where I’m currently at today. A whole week has gone by and I can already say it’s been some of the most fun, wild, and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. There’s so much to share that I’ve probably left out a bunch, but let’s start from way back then.
‘Splorin Location One: Dubai!
Now I know it’s not customary to yell during a blog post, but if any place deserves exclamatory shout-out, it’s Dubai. Six of us twelve Duke Engagers, 1/2 if you’re a fraction reducer, had an overnight layover in Dubai. There were plenty of enticing attractions near our hotel (not really), but we opted to go into the city and explore a bit. The area we went to was the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. They were both pretty significant as the Dubai Mall was the world’s largest mall by square footage and the Burj Khalifa was the cousin of Wiz Khalifa. I guess I can also throw in that the Burj is also the world’s tallest building. It was quite a spectacle, these two places were. It just shows how much wealth was contained within this city of gold. An example of wealth that I found quite entertaining was the use of a Lamborghini to market Nike cleats…. It’s utterly unnecessary, but we’re in Dubai so I guess anything goes. Oh, I forgot to mention, the world’s largest indoor fish tank is here too. I can’t really call it just a “fish” tank as it contained rays and sharks. Go figure. We ended our night with a cute little waterfront stroll along the Dubai Fountain (I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up googling this and find out it was the world’s largest fountain either). Definitely a cool place I’d like to check out when I’m a little older and have a bit more money in my pockets.
‘Splorin Location Two: Saigon (it’s what the cool kids call it)
We arrived in Saigon Wednesday night. The first thing I realized was how MASSIVE this city was. Looking out the window flying in, it seemed like a solid 15 minutes where we were over the city lights. A CET member (CET is the partner organization DukeEngage pairs us for this particular program) met us at the airport and we took a shuttle to our guesthouse, our place of stay during our time in Saigon. Some of us crashed early, but being the adventurous spirit I am, I went with some people to just walk around and explore the area. We find a road with beautifully illuminated arches and of course, we decide to follow it for a bit. We stumble upon the US Consulate and other cool little shops and street vendors and eventually settle ourselves in a little beer garden. I order a water, and they bring me out a Budweiser. A small victory! Drinking is 18 here, so please don’t get too mad if you’re reading this Mom. This place was pretty dope! It had a lot of chill vibes and the first puke contingency sink I’ve ever seen. It was hilarious. View picture below. The next morning, we all go out and grab breakfast together. The biggest challenge of the trip thus far dawned upon us: crossing the street. If you’ve ever seen that one commercial where they’re like, “There’s no rules!!!”. Yeah, that’s Saigon traffic right there. The streets are packed with cars, trucks, busses, and motorbikes and one must be extremely vigilant and alert when crossing. A quote from Jared, “It’s like being a rock in the river, but instead of water moving around the rock (us), it’s motor vehicles.” Eventually, we found a little stand that sells Bánh mì, which translates to bread. However, they cut open the bread and make a sandwich out of it by filling it with eggs, meat, vegetables, and some unknown yet yummy condiment. It was delicious and also very cheap! It was less than $1 if you convert to USD (1 USD = 22,260 VND. Yes I am currently swimming in the Dongs after cashing in my $100 stipend). We then are taken on a walking tour of central Saigon by our tour guide, An, who was also a Vietnamese roommate a couple semesters back for a different CET program in Vietnam. Also joining us are some Vietnamese buddies from the University down the street, and they were fascinating and interesting to talk to. We conversed about many things, ranging from daily school life differences to the NBA finals. We spent a lot of time hanging with these buddies. Some activities included going on a scavenger hunt around the city doing crazy things like taking a picture with a bride and groom, bowling, and dinner. Over dinner, we taught them American slang such as “Shots Fired”, “savage”, “World Star!”, and the whole bro/brah/bruh/breh/bree/brew scheme of things. They thoroughly enjoyed it and promised to incorporate it into their daily vernacular. My personal favorite though: karaoke. Karaoke was LIT! Instead of going to Shooters or something on a Saturday night or something I’d definitely be down for a little vocal cord exercise. It’s been a very rewarding experience hanging out with these buddies (I’ll be talking about it in another blog post).
As a group, we were able to do some fun things as well, such as eating phở (noodles) and go up to the top of the the Bitexco Financial Tower. At the top, you could really see how massive Saigon was. You could peer out from any of the windows and still only see the city for miles and miles. Did I mention there were 24 districts?
My time in Saigon has exceeded any expectation I would have ever had. It’s as beautiful of an urban jungle as I’ve ever seen. I’m very grateful for the experience that I’ve had so far here in Vietnam, and I look forward to the next week we spend here as well. This time, we’re immersing ourselves much more into the history and culture of Vietnam and taking Vietnamese speaking classes. Check out some of the pictures and I’ll keep y’all updated as this adventure continues!
Well, it’s safe to say I finally got this blog started. WordPress was easy, I was told…until you run into all those darn formatting issues. Anyways, thanks for rolling through my first blog post! If you haven’t heard, this summer I’ll be going on an 8-week service trip to Vietnam from June 15th – August 14th through the DukeEngage program at Duke University, which seeks to provide students an immersive service experience providing meaningful assistance to communities in the U.S. and abroad. The program I (along with 11 others) have chosen to partake this summer is the DukeEngage in Vietnam.
Started in 2009, the goals of this program was aimed at helping improve the quality of life in the rural Quảng Trị province of Central Vietnam. Hit especially hard during the war, the Central Vietnam area has some of the highest need in the country, lacking adequate infrastructure and sanitation in schools and homes. As volunteers, we are are each partnered with a local college student from the nearby Hue University and are handed two tasks: (1) improve the language skills of local high school students through ESL teachings and (2) ameliorate some of the poor living and working conditions in the village through government-suggested construction projects. This year in particular, there will be two different project sites. Both entail building restrooms for the Tan Quoc Toan Primary school (450 students) and Luong The Vinh Secondary School (350 students). Before we even get to our project site, we’ll be spending about 9 days in Vietnam’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, the former name as some of the locals still call it) for culture and language immersion and orientation.
Personally, I chose this program for a variety of reasons. I felt like the work we were doing would have an impact that would last much longer than the duration our group was staying there. ESL is an extremely important aspect to modern day Vietnamese education. There are a lot of students applying for colleges, but there are a limited amount of spaces, pushing many students to seek an education abroad. Radical globalization throughout Vietnam in the past decade also makes English a must. The healthcare and sanitation in rural areas are also lacking behind that of their urban counterparts, making this sector a strong focus within the project as well. The most unique thing I find about this project is that each of us students from Duke will be paired and rooming with a Hue University student, providing an outlet for cross-cultural understanding and exchange.
My flight leaves tomorrow and there’s plenty of emotions running through me right now, but the one that sticks out the most is eagerness. I’m eager to go and explore a part of the world I’ve never seen before. I’m eager to meet my roommate and share an adventure with him. I’m eager to see the rest of the Duke University accomplices (they’re really dope, trust me). I’m eager to try the FOOD!!! Thank you to everyone who has helped get me and my group to this place, and thanks to you for reading it (if you got this far). I’ll be keeping this blog updated weekly to share my experiences.
đến lúc đó! (until then!)