Letter Home from Hanoi, Viet Nam

A Letter Home from students on the Fall 2014 Track 1 of IHP Cities in the 21st Century:

Written by Dimitri Antoniou, Alina Aksiyote Benardete, Elena Crowe, and Cinneah El-Amin

Photos by QiHan Wong and Anselmo Fuentes

Xin chào từ Việt Nam!  In this final month, we’ve reflected on the beauty and chaos of Hanoi as well as how this IHP experience will forever change us. Read on to get a sense of what this final city has meant to us.

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The weekend night market in the city’s Old Quarter.

Our time in Hanoi has been vividly painted by the pace and flow of the city’s vibrant street life. We’ve enjoyed navigating around vendors and stalls and visiting the food and goods nigh tmarket in the Old Quarter. As we became more comfortable in Hanoi, we came to appreciate all of the city’s sights, sounds, and smells, like the bike vendors with piles of goods carefully balanced on top and the street-lined food vendors comfortably rotating corn over an open fire. The city has an organic pace and internal order that we’ve truly enjoyed.

We did take some time adjusting to other aspects of Hanoi, however, such as conquering our fears of crossing the fast-moving streets. We were introduced to this everyday experience as something as “closest you’ll get to passing through a solid object.” The river of motorbikes, buses, taxis, and private cars is overwhelming and honestly, a little scary. Once we each took our first rides on the back of a motorbike taxi or xe ôm, however, we understood the real Hanoi.

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Motorbikes, the vehicle of choice for most Hanoi commuters, are also used to transport wholesale goods and livestock.

In late November, we were thankful for a delicious and fun Thanksgiving Vietnamese-American fusion feast! Joining forces with students from the National University of Civil Engineering (NUCE), we planned and accomplished a night of food, performances, and great times. We dined on traditional Vietnamese fare like nem cuốn (spring rolls wrapped in rice paper) as well as Thanksgiving delicacies like roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, and gravy! We truly enjoyed the opportunity to introduce our Vietnamese friends to our tradition of Thanksgiving.


A Thanksgiving potluck with students from the National University of Civil Engineering

Like New York City, São Paulo, and Cape Town, Hanoi left us craving more. Our jam-packed, often hectic, five weeks passed by the blink of an eye. Among our many academic accomplishments this semester, we successfully completely individual comparative research projects, after weeks of immersive research collection. Our research topics ranged from civic engagement on university campuses to street performance and many topics in between. We’re incredibly proud of the work we individually and collectively completed this semester—aside from all the great fun we had.

Our final days spent as a group together were bittersweet. We traveled several hours outside Hanoi for a retreat in Bản Lác village. We spent this time reflecting on this phenomenal experience, relaxing after a challenging semester, and celebrating our last moments together surrounded by the beauty of Vietnam’s mountainous countryside. Our final night in Hanoi, our group celebrated the close of the program in grandiose style with friends and our homestay families. From a choreographed group dance to “We’re All in This Together” (Disney’s High School Musical-style) to performances and memorable videos, we ended our semester on a high. While a few tears flowed as we shared our final goodbyes, we understand that our goodbyes are only temporary as many of us plan to reconnect at our various home institutions for spring reunions.

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A final group photo from Bản Lác village, site of our closing retreat

Before we close this letter, we must acknowledge the various individuals who made our time in Hanoi so special. We’re grateful to all of our guest lecturers and various organizations that allowed us to shadow their workplaces. We send our special thanks to the Vietnam country team of Liem, Hien, Ngoc (“Candy”) and Duong for all their hard work and careful planning as well as our Hanoi School of Public Health (HSPH), PHAD and NUCE student volunteers. We send our love and gratitude to our incredible traveling faculty—Sally Frankental, Juan Arbona, our AMAZING traveling fellow Nick Allen and of course, our brilliant program director Tabitha Decker for her support throughout this entire journey.

Traveling on IHP has been quite the adventure, but our greatest adventure has been finishing the program together. The thirty of us became almost inseparable, a close group with a whole list of inside jokes, funny—and sometimes difficult—shared experiences, myriad perspectives, and tons of love for one another. As much as we learned from the four cities, we seem to have earned more about each other and ourselves. Many of us feel this experience has been transformative. Now, as IHP alums, we return to our various hometowns and institutions hungry for knowledge and hopeful for the future.

mừng những chân trời mới và những kỉ niệm của một đời người

Here’s to new horizons, fond memories, and safe travels home,

IHP Cities Track 1, Fall 2014









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