Last winter I spent 4 weeks studying abroad in Danang, Vietnam. I set out on a spontaneous adventure with next to no knowledge about Vietnam and its culture. My time in Vietnam was spent volunteering and taking courses on Vietnamese culture. Throughout my time there I worked with families impacted by Agent Orange, visited the children of the Red Cross Orphanage, fed people without homes, helped students learn English at Danang University, and spent time with the children of the Thanh Tam Special School.
These four weeks in Vietnam changed me as a person. Spiritually, intellectually, psychologically and emotionally. I always knew that I was fortunate to come from the U.S and a well-off family. But, what Vietnam really taught me about wealth is that the best kind of wealth comes from within. I’ve realized that giving and improving the lives of others makes me feel more alive than anything else. My life has more purpose when I simply lend a helping hand.
Growing up in a society where work and making as much money as possible is an expectation, I’ve come to realize that the United States must take a step back. The people of America are so focused on themselves that it causes a lack of love for one another. This lack of love and self-centered mindset causes and adds to the problems we have today. Although Vietnam is a developing country that continues to have their own problems that the U.S. has far surpassed, the community feel of Vietnam is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in America. From the first day I got to Danang, I was welcomed by all people. I was welcomed into homes, bars, restaurants, attractions and schools. While walking down the street I would get some stares but a lot of the time the stares would be followed by a “hello” or a simple smile. Other times, the hello would be followed by “where are you from?” or “how old are you?” In the United States some would find this creepy or weird. The people of Vietnam were genuinely interested in you and where you came from so, I made sure to become as interested in them and their culture as they were in me and mine.
Throughout my time in Vietnam I learned a lot about culture, language, history, and politics. Not only did I learn about these subjects in the classroom but I actually learned more in the time spent applying what I learned, to my surroundings. There are some other things that I found very interesting...
Life in Vietnam is very laid back. When walking around on any given day you will find people relaxing and acting like there is not a worry in the world. A lot of men spend their days at bars, restaurants or even just outside doing nearly nothing. The women of Vietnam spend their time working, cooking, cleaning and providing for the family. Yet, men are highly favored over women. It is clear that there is a major inequality issue in Vietnam. This was made me upset and annoyed. I think the reason that it made me upset was because I’ve grown up in an era where women are surpassing men in the workplace and finally getting the credit they deserve after decades of inequality in the past. Although there are still issues, America is still making changes in the equality of women, I can only hope that Vietnam will too.
As a student who has previously studied the "Vietnam War" I was interested to learn about the Vietnam side of the "American War." It was very clear very fast that American had no business being in Vietnam. The amount of suffering and distraction we caused is beyond comprehension. It made me mad and upset. It made me want to force the U.S. government to at least provide aid to a country that continues to feel the effects from a war that should've never happened in the first place. I grew to wonder why the Vietnamese people were so nice to Americans. Especially the Agent Orange victims. A disease that we caused by spraying pesticides had damaged the lives of generations of Vietnamese people. When we asked them about their views on the war they simply said that it was the past. There was no point in looking backward when there is so much that needs to be done in the future.
For my full experiences in Vietnam visit: http://hkingvietnam.weebly.com/