I've had a lot on my mind for the past few days, after saying goodbye to Quang Tri and everyone in it. In our last day in Quang Tri, hundreds--yes, literally hundreds--of students came to our guesthouse to see us off--a few bearing gifts, others helping us carry out luggage down the stairs, others taking pictures, hugging us, shaking our hands, and exchanging tearful goodbyes. We then biked to the youth center, where we were meeting our bus, resulting in an impromptu, tearful, 200 person bike parade down the main street in Quang tri, all because of our departure. Seeing just how much we meant to them in that way was mind-blowing. It emphasized something that I think we all came to realize about our trip--it was focused around forming personal connections with the community. Yes, taking pictures with the finished bathroom gave us a satisfying feeling of accomplishment, but ultimately, it's the moment that students latch onto you and beg you not to leave where you really, really feel as if you've contributed something meaningful. Interestingly enough, however, I hardly credit my teaching skills for this meaningful contribution. It was ultimately the students' eagerness to learn and willingness to love us that enabled us to establish these relationships. They made our jobs easy, and I am really grateful for that.
I cannot express how difficult permanently saying goodbye to Trinh and all my other Vietnamese friends was--they are so helpful, emotional, hilarious, and just generally happy that I'll miss their daily presence so much. I hope to take what I've learned from them back to the States, namely their appreciation for the little things in life. I'll miss Quang Tri dearly as well--the freely biking around, the open coffee and milk tea shops, even the uncomfortably tiny tables and chairs. By the end of the summer, the town felt like my home, second only to Pleasanton and far ahead of Durham. I already know I'm going to be that annoying American who comes back from a summer abroad and comments on cultural differences between everything, because I'll always be thinking back to what Quang Tri was like in relation to where I am. My friends should be prepared for expletives about prices, over appreciation for mediocre American food, and praise for traffic orderliness.
Blake Shelton has a song called "Some Beach," where he essentially says that whenever he's frustrated or stressed, he closes his eyes and imagines that he's on a beautiful beach somewhere. I think Vietnam as a whole could be that "beach" for me. This summer, I have fallen in love with everything from the literal beaches of Vietnam, to Quang Tri, to Trinh's house in the Hue countryside, to the top of the Hai Van Pass. I've had so many unforgettable experiences: laughing at rice eating contests, watching the sunset over the river after dinner, sitting with friends at the top of a waterfall, even just mixing concrete at the worksite. The amount of joy I've derived from this trip is incredible. I think remembering that this "beach" exists can help me escape the Pleasanton bubble and Duke bubble, maybe not physically, but mentally. Looking back on Vietnam can remind me to take a walk through the gardens, that grades are not really that important, that doing laundry isn't the end of the world. When I'm frustrated at hearing soccer moms argue over Bunco games, I can remember that there are rice fields in Hue where you can see bright stars and smell fresh crops if you ride through them at night. Having never traveled internationally before, I am so grateful for this opportunity to gain more appreciation for the world and to share it with 11 other Duke students. It was a phenomenal experience.