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.