Well, I’ve been asked to write a final article for Synergy about my experience in Vietnam. It’s very difficult to put words to the whirlwind of thoughts and images that remind me daily of the amazing months I spent in Hanoi and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. But I’ll try.
First, there are the people -the people who must be thanked, and they are many. Those who helped me get there in the first place, including the Luther Cabinet, my wonderful Colleagues, and all the Vietnamese students who urged me forward. Then I must thank all the families and friends I met in Vietnam, and special thanks should go to Ms. Phan Oanh, who hosted me, fed me, taught me, and would never let me help with the dishes. She became a friend and a sister.
Thinking of Oanh, I’m reminded that one should never let a language barrier keep you from going somewhere new. Picture us at the kitchen table, two dictionaries at the ready, discussing children, politics, love and family. Oanh’s English took us a long way, but when we got stuck, we wrote out our thoughts, and by the time I left Hanoi, we had filled one notebook and were well into a second. Great Conversations are documented there!
Living abroad is an opportunity for much growth and self discovery. I learned that maybe I’m not as open minded as I’d like to be. I realized how much I rely on my family and friends for nurturing and companionship. I experienced daily what it’s like to be “different” or the “other” and found that sometimes it was novel, interesting, and fun to see how people reacted to my presence, and sometimes it got kind of old and tiresome. I learned that I had to work hard to make myself step outside my comfort zone, to go exploring on my own, to make contacts and fill my days with meaningful experiences. And I learned that I could forgive myself when I just didn’t feel like doing those things. I tried to learn Vietnamese, and discovered that I’m not as good at languages than I thought I was.
The Vietnamese people are friendly and welcoming, and I was well taken care of while in Hanoi and my brief visit to Ho Chi Minh City. There is now an informal parents’ group in Hanoi, and I also introduced the parents in Ho Chi Minh City to one another over coffee one night. The Hanoi moms insisted that I couldn’t leave Vietnam without seeing HaLong Bay, so they organized a trip and off we went! Many other people guided me to historic sites, temples, family visits and shopping expeditions. I was treated like royalty and totally spoiled.
One of my main goals in going to live in Hanoi for these months was to gain a better understanding of the adjustments our international students have to make when they leave everything familiar to come to Luther. They have the advantage of having excellent English skills when they come here, and that must definitely help, but I have new respect for their courage and determination as they reach for their dreams. I hope I can use my experience to be more sensitive to their needs and appreciative of their journey.
Lastly, I must again thank Wintlett, Sheila, Hans, the student workers in the LDC and Rachel and Tanya who stepped into new territory to fill some gaps while I was gone. I am sincerely, and humbly grateful.