A Letter Home from students on the IHP Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy program:
Hey America! We are finally actually abroad! Our first stop outside of the country on our academic adventure is Vietnam, and wow is it beautiful and humid! Our first week, we stayed in the small village of Hoa An, at the College of Rural Development campus of Can Tho University. While it was definitely different compared to Berkeley, we were able to transition splendidly thanks to the amazing people and food. The fresh fruit, morning glory, and noodles were delicious and plentiful, and the Vietnamese students delightful. Whether it was conversation about culture, playing some soccer, or just getting to know each other, the students and faculty at the College of Rural Development were always more than happy to have us as guests, and we were even happier to be there. Our interactions with the students have left us with some lifelong friends (at the very least, on Facebook).
After a week in Hoa An, we traveled to Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta. After a full day that included waking up at 5am to visit the famous floating markets, class, and free time to explore the city, we moved in with our first host families. While the families varied in size, knowledge of English, and number of Iowans in the house (one of our Vietnamese host sisters is married to an American guy from Iowa), every family was so generous and hospitable. We all raved about the food in our homestays, especially the fresh fruit (mango! dragon fruit! rambutan! mini bananas!) and the delicious pho. Those lucky enough to attend a wedding had an unforgettable experience watching the elaborate performances and eating great Vietnamese food. Other fond memories come from the commute to our classroom at Can Tho University, either by foot, motorbike, bicycle, or taxi. While we were not allowed to drive motorbikes—the most common form of transportation in Vietnam—most of us got to experience Can Tho as a motorbike passenger, sometimes because it was impossible to find a non-motorbike taxi in the morning. We also partook in many nights of karaoke with our host families and with each other, belting out as many hits of the 80s and early 90s as our hearts desired. Classes at Can Tho University included our regular sessions with the traveling faculty and a number of guest lectures. Highlights include Dr. Thien, who spoke passionately about the dark side of hydropower; Mr. Le, who introduced us to Khmer culture and played a nose flute; and a Vietnamese student who invited us to a lunch party via PowerPoint presentation. We also learned a great deal about fish and rice farming in the Mekong Delta through guest speakers and visits to farms in the area. During our free time, many of us adopted the phrase “treat yo self” and frequented spas, nail salons, markets (where we bought snazzy pants), and cafes. We also treated our secret buddies (who we picked on the last few days in Can Tho) to special gifts and/or poems. Overall, living in Can Tho was an amazing opportunity to learn about Vietnamese culture and explore the impacts of climate change and the adaptation and mitigation strategies that are already in place or that should be implemented in the Mekong Delta.
Oh boy Ha Noi! Traveling north from Can Tho to Ha Noi was quite a change! We were able to unpack our sweaters and jeans for the first time since arriving in Vietnam, and found we were no longer the only westerners on the streets. While we miss all the fresh fruit of the south and are slightly startled to have to pay 50 instead of 25 cents for a cup of coffee, its also nice to be in such a bustling, modern city. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, right by a lovely lake, where some of our more motivated students took early morning jogs. Our wonderful country coordinator, Phuong is very well connected in Ha Noi and was able to set up some great guest lectures on hydropower, UN projects, and biosphere reserves for example. Many students took advantage of the low cost tailoring available in Ha Noi and bought custom made clothes with eccentric patterns, while other students explored the city and the many museums, restaurants and shops in the area. We also got to visit the largest dam in Vietnam, Hoa Binh, a small village in the mountains, and a number of non-profit organizations. For an overnight excursion, we stayed on an island in the reservoir created by the hydropower dam. The reservoir was stunning, with a windmill right on the water and a waterfall only a short boat ride away. On top of all of this, we managed to escape to the beautiful Ha Long Bay—one of the seven new natural wonders of the world—to kayak, explore caves, and go for a brief swim.
Overall, Vietnam was filled with fun people, great food, beautiful scenery and memorable shenanigans. We definitely hope to visit again sometime in the future! Now off to Morocco!