After four fast weeks, we have concluded our time in Vietnam! We challenged our initial assumptions and broadened our thinking as we immersed ourselves in the new culture and learned from expert guest speakers. Our schedules were packed full; we wasted no time exploring this beautiful part of the world!
Culture shock was expected, but Vietnam had some interesting differences that our group found particularly interesting! The following surprises stood out: Crossing Hanoi’s intersections was a daily game, dodging motorbikes and cars that paid no attention to the motor vehicle code. The street culture is huge. You can find a delicious meal, grab a drink, buy clothing, or get a haircut on just about every block of Hanoi. Concepts of personal space were much more liberal. From riding on the bus to being in line, we had to prepare to be moved around and stand our ground. Furthermore, traditional medicine is integrated into the professional sector of medical care and is considered a legitimate alternative to biomedicine. However, after a while we all got used to the busy life in Hanoi, we grew to love and appreciate it.
We learned so much that it would be impossible to explain it all, but some of our favorite things were learning about Agent Orange, a dioxin used during the war that is harming the people of Vietnam, visiting the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine, and hearing from various guest lectures. Additionally, we spent a week in Ban Lac Village where we were able to focus on our case study research and learn more about how health care operates in rural Vietnam. The week was a break from the chaotic city life, but also an opportunity for substantial learning. We broke off into our case study groups and had the opportunity to interview Hmong and Thai persons in nearby villages.
Homestays were an invaluable experience in better understanding Vietnamese culture and immersing ourselves as much as possible in the short amount of time we had. Some initial assumptions that we had were that we would have a hard time connecting to our host families. Although that was the case for some people and in certain situations, leaving Vietnam definitely showed us that we had made a connection with our family over the past four weeks. It was harder to say goodbye than we expected! We concluded our home stays with a reception where each family sat together and enjoyed a delicious meal as the students thanked them with a goodbye video and personal gifts.
As a group, we planned a couple of excursions to see the area surrounding Hanoi. We spent an afternoon at Perfume Pagoda, a mountainous area with several Pagoda’s scattered throughout. We took a cable car up to a pagoda tucked in a cave, then climbed down the mountain to enjoy lunch and visit a historic wooden Pagoda. We got caught up in a torrential downpour, but enjoyed the chance to cool down!
Our group also rented a boat to spend a weekend on Ha Long Bay, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. We were the only one’s aboard the Minh Hai, a repurposed fishing boat. On the two-day trip we explored a cave, went kayaking, attempted squid fishing, visited a pearl farm, and relaxed aboard the repurposed fishing boat. It was a great way for our group to bond and spend time together outside of the classroom. After only 6 weeks together, it is clear we are forming a community of life-long friendships!
Overall, we had an amazing experience in Vietnam and have created memories that we will never forget. We are sad to leave Hanoi, but can’t wait to have even more adventures in South Africa!
See you soon!