Xin chào, and Greetings from Hanoi!
After a total of forty-three hours of travel from New Orleans (by way of New York, Frankfurt and Singapore) we arrived in Vietnam, ready to start the abroad part of the semester. We found ourselves in a city that pulsates to a rhythm that is, at first, very dissimilar to those we know in the United States.
Wandering into the city from our hotel for the first time itself was an experience to remember. It was not readily apparent to us how one should cross the street in Hanoi, because many streets lack crosswalks. However, we soon learned that crossing the street itself could be an exhilarating experience, if not also frightening. Almost always filled with people on motorbikes, you seemingly have to weave in and out of traffic without causing or getting into an accident. We came to discover another logic to crossing the street, where one must confidently walk into the street at a pace that is steady and predictable allowing drivers to yield briefly before also passing.
Soon enough, we began to feel confident not only in crossing the street, but also in navigating the city. Our tremendous homestay families, whom welcomed us into their homes, shared meals, and taught us some colloquial Vietnamese, were a tremendous support to our transition to life in Hanoi. Many of us had homestay siblings or lived in relative proximity, which allowed us to meet on the weekends and after class as well as become integrated into the activities of young people in the city. They’ve also accompanied us to some optional excursions on the weekend, including Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the Old Quarter, the Temple of Literature (Vietnam’s first university), and a student-organized trip to Ha Long Bay.
Our academic base in Hanoi is the Hanoi Medical University, where we conducted our Health, Culture & Community and Research Methods classes with our traveling faculty, heard from guest lecturers, as well as were led by our local faculty for the Public Health and Health and Globalization courses. Particularly, we have studied public health concerns regarding epidemic transitions and burdens of disease, as well as the certain risks to health posed by globalization in Vietnam. We have considered the roles the Vietnamese government and market economy play in contouring access to healthcare. What’s more, we’ve been reminded to consider social, political and historical legacies, such as that of the U.S. war in Vietnam and the controversial use of Agent Orange, a dangerous pesticide that was used by the U.S. in warfare in the southern parts of the country. Increasingly, it is becoming clear to us that actions, which originate in our nation, can reverberate and can profoundly influence people continents away, and vice versa.
Of course, in Hanoi we are also fully supported by our local staff, whom facilitate and accompany us to site-visits, and lead our survival language classes. Among the places we’ve visited are the Vietnamese National History Museum, Thanh Xuan Peace Village, and Department of Traditional Medicine at Hanoi Medical University. Each of these visits serves to contextualize the work we are doing in class, and provide opportunities to sharpen our comparative research methods with practice.
Our time in Vietnam was capped by a rural stay in a Lac Village, located several hours to the Northwest of Hanoi by bus, where we’ve been able to see the some of the differences between rural and urban life in Vietnam. Many of our days have been long, though we are appreciative of the opportunity to study health in a new context, and are excited to continue this work in South Africa.
IHP Health & Community: Globalization, Culture and Care, Spring 2015