Greetings from South Africa! We are writing to you from the Tribal Authority of Islington Village in Bushbuckridge. Time has flown by since we arrived in country! We wanted to send an update about our journey through Viet Nam before too much more time passes.
After two long flights and a brief layover in Taipei, we found ourselves at Noi Bai International Airport. Nguyen and his assistants, Hue and Candy, helped us load our luggage onto a bus so that we could make our way to Hanoi. This first ride through Viet Nam was peppered with sights of rice paddies, government-sponsored billboard advertisements, and impressive examples of commune-style architecture. We had a brief orientation and dinner before a sorely needed good night’s rest.
Over the next few days, we became familiar with our host families and the many sites, sounds, and smells of the city. From day one, we greeted the challenge of crossing Hanoi’s busy intersections with both excitement and trepidation. One of our first ventures in the city was a tour of the Temple of Literature, an attraction that honors the history of Vietnamese academic and intellectual development. During our time exploring the Old Quarter, we encountered both traditional and modern manifestations of Vietnamese culture. On one street we visited traditional medicine shops, and on the next we browsed mass manufactured tourist souvenirs. One of our first academic endeavors was our visit to the Museum of Ethnology. At this site, we learned about the diverse traditions and practices of Viet Nam’s many ethnic groups; we particularly enjoyed exploring the replicas of traditional dwellings. These were just some of the experiences that molded our first impressions of Viet Nam.
Whilst in the city, most of our classes and academic sessions took place at the Hanoi Medical University. From time-to-time, this afforded us opportunities to interact with Vietnamese medical students. From conversations with these individuals, we learned that the demands and pressures faced by aspiring Vietnamese doctors aren’t dissimilar from those faced by American pre-med students. Our guest lecturers highlighted key health issues present within Hanoi and, to some extent, the larger national context. Through our site visits to clinics, non-governmental organizations, and hospitals, we learned more about topics like traditional medicine, Agent Orange, and HIV/AIDS. We found that problems like tobacco use/control, sanitation, and waste management are pertinent to both rural and urban populations. However, during our trip to Lac Village in Mai Chau province, we discovered that rural settings face unique challenges when it comes to topics like infectious disease prevention and healthcare access. Poverty, education, and infrastructure are just a few of the factors driving these disparities. Our academic journey was enriched by KC, our local faculty member. His insights played a vital role in cultivating our understanding of globalization and its impacts on Viet Nam’s public health schema.
We organized an array of outings and activities so that we could optimize our free time and explore as much as of the country as possible. While some of us traveled with our host families to destinations like Sa Pa on the weekends, others organized excursions to attractions like the Silk Village and Hanoi’s Water Puppet Theatre. Our group also made a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay for a weekend of fun and relaxation. Our tour guide Ken took us through some impressive caverns and even taught us how to make fresh spring rolls! We enjoyed swimming, kayaking, dancing, and sun-bathing in the fresh air. Our time in Lac Village was also a welcome change of pace from the urban atmosphere of Hanoi. We hiked a mountain to visit and interview ethnic minority residents of remote villages, and spent an afternoon playing volleyball with Lac Village locals.
Our last evening in Viet Nam was full of both celebration and sadness. Our host families joined us for a delicious buffet-style meal where we had the opportunity to express our gratitude to our country team and other new friends. With two country programs behind us, our preparations for the long journey to South Africa were peppered with feelings of sentiment and excitement.
IHP Health & Community Fall 2015, Track II Cohort