Archives - ‘Vietnam’

Movement in making present what is absent

February 26, 2020 | Laurine, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Anthropology, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities

I have only been in Vietnam for five and a half weeks. But in this “petit bout d’un monde”, all moments were absolute. The funny thing is that I made the decision to apply for this internship three hours prior to the deadline and had to rush like a crazy maniac the application procedure. I am glad that I was the first yes to the leading epic moving experiences I am having here in Vietnam. Isn’t it crazy though? How that one yes was the trigger point of my story in this “petit bout d’un monde”.

It takes encountering distances and differences to know yourself, or at least have an idea of your position and your place in this fabric of life. And I really like the fact that I, as an intern, have to do this blog post. It is the exercise of forcing to register sensations and impressions, and in a lot ways transform and expand said sensations. Because sensations, yes I had them.

It’s kinda like when I visited a swimming cave in a city nearby Dong Hoi. Halfway through the swim, the guide made us turn off our lamps. And I thought to myself: “Huh! Ok. This is to scare us. Fair enough”. And I realised that that is the point. It is to scare you. Without light, it was just darkness. Pitch black darkness. And you think you are alone but you’re not. Never. Because that’s not all there was. In that darkness, there was also movement! So many sensations and impressions going on all at once. The icy cold water moving you. Me trying so hard to catch up to the rest of the group because of my leg cramp. The many spiders and bats flying over our heads. The clear remnants of what time can do to a space with the height of the rock formations creating amazing echoes etc.

In that moment I had to ask myself what catches the eye in such a huge and coded space of signs and symbols. If I concentrate only on my hearing in the city of Dong Hoi, I have to do a huge job of deciphering what is camouflaged. I have to pay attention to what is coded in this saturation of meaning. If I were to draw or describe Dong Hoi, it would be by noise. Encountering sound in the absence of sight.

In that cave, it took subtraction of light, just for a moment, to be able to make more present those hidden perceptions and sensations. Touch, sound and smell. Even when you think nothing is happening, that there’s only darkness and that nothing seems familiar, that’s not true because something and everything is always happening. Continuing and expanding. Everything all at once. You take away your main point of contact (your compass) to make out the world and all of a sudden, the other senses seem to peek through. And those senses and perceptions were always there. The potential was always there. It is only a matter of how to get access to them.

The absence of sight (my compass) transformed not things, because they were already there, but my perception and my sensitivity to and of these things. I had to be open to what that absence of something familiar would bring me. Just like I had to be open to the disorientation that came with the absence of my familiar and accustomed scripted settings (school, work and family) back in Ottawa.

Swimming in an icy cold water and pitch black cave in Vietnam was for me a moment of bliss. And that’s when it hit me. I felt the same way when I got the acceptance email to go to Vietnam, or everytime I told friends and family I was coming here and their faces lit up with joy and excitement for me, or when I attended a staff lunch party on my first day working for AEPD (Association for Empowerment for People with Disability) and how everyone was so welcoming, or when the locals and expats invite Zoe (the other intern that came here with me and that’s from UOttawa as well) and I to eat out with them or to their homes.

You know, it’s like when something surprises you, it never really is a surprise because it seems so familiar and it resonates so well. You’re being reminded of something that was already there, that you already knew. I chose to talk about this short moment of bliss I had so far away in a cave somewhere deep in a jungle in Vietnam because there is simply too much to talk about. So much has happened in such a short amount of time and space that I decided to grasp this captured moment in this “petit bout d’un et de monde” and see how it relates to the grand scheme of things.

Chaos of Adapting Forces

February 14, 2020 | Zoe, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Conflict Studies and Human Rights, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Vietnam, Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilitie, support officer

As most other students have said on the blog posts, there’s no way to accurately put this amazing experience into words. Arriving to a whole new country without being familiar with any traditions, culture, or even language can be such an overwhelming experience. Fortunately, Vietnamese people are the warmest, nicest, most welcoming and just overall kind people I have ever met in my life. The way they genuinely care about the well-being of anyone, even strangers, is something I was not at all expecting when I arrived here. Almost everyone is ready to help us if we have any questions or if we need any help. In terms of culture shock, my coworkers are more than willing to explain certain traditions in order to understand the culture and the history of Vietnam.

I have had the honour of being here during the Vietnamese New Year (Tết) and I have experienced the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony, and extensive celebrations between those two. We were even invited to our supervisor’s house to make traditional Vietnamese cakes they make for the New Year with her father. These experiences are ones that I will forever treasure.

What I did not expect from the experience is to what point the chaos of adapting forces you to learn so much about yourself and what you’re capable of. I found out I am a much stronger person that I could have ever imagined. Being in a foreign country shows you exactly how resourceful and quick-thinking you can be. Not only will I come back with amazing memories, but also a sense of wisdom a normal semester at university does not give you.

Time is slipping by and I feel as if I’m just finally getting settled. Every day I observe something new, or I learn something else about this country. What’s for certain is that I won’t forget the extensive amount of plants and trees that decorate the little streets of the city and almost make it look like a little jungle. I won’t forget the tenderness I see in the grandfathers and fathers taking care of the kids as they run around the streets or attempt to learn how to ride a bike. I won’t forget how the owner and the employees of the bubble tea place close to my work always come outside to wave hello every time I pass by. I won’t forget the table full of elderly men who seem to be always playing card games (whether it be day or night) on the walk back to my place. I won’t forget the little city bustling with kindness, colour and life I have the honour to spend three months in. I won’t ever, ever forget Dong Hoi.

Xin chao once more from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

November 27, 2019 | Ryan, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Economics and Development, Vietnam, Uniterra - Ho Chi Minh College of Economic (HCE), Soft Skill and Marketing Officer

As I approach the last week of my internship here at the Ho Chi Minh City College of Economics, I’m confronted by a sea of clashing emotions. I’m happy to be finally coming home and seeing my friends and family, of course – even if it means that I’ll have to endure the frigid Ottawa winter once more. But I’m also heartbroken to be leaving such an incredible country, and the amazing people who I’ve met here. The work I’ve been doing has been meaningful – at least in some aspects – and while I’m relieved that all those days of typing up design guides and templates are finally over, I’m left unsatisfied and wanting more. I signed up to make a real difference, and just when it seems like I’ve gotten the hang of things I suddenly have to pack up and go back home.

While the first few weeks of work here were hectic – what with my being dragged off to live on a farm for a week in support of a joint exchange program – the rest of my work term has definitely been slower by comparison. As it turns out, there’s only so many webpages you can design or articles you can write before it all kind of merges into one continuous, drawn-out exercise in monotony. That’s not to say that it’s all been boring – I’ve also delivered training workshops, given impromptu English lessons, and attended ceremonies (so many ceremonies!). But the first two weeks were definitely a highlight all the same, at least compared to office work and typing away at a desk.

At times, I’ve often wondered why I was even here – after all, there are no hospitals to build or famines to stop in the middle of Vietnam’s largest and most developed city. I felt as though none of my work here was even remotely related to all those classes on humanitarian relief, supply and demand, and the ethics of Hobbes vs. Smith or the impact of Keynesian economics on small African nations. uOttawa had prepared me (so I thought) for a life of superhero-like moments of sweeping in and making a difference in a struggling community – and Ho Chi Minh City is anything but.

Case in point: I’m writing this from a chic café that’s far nicer than anything you’d find in Ottawa, watching as businesswomen and -men wander about after work. It would be easy enough to believe that I’m in the middle of Paris or Shanghai, or any other big city – at least from my current seat.

Yet like anywhere else, Vietnam is a land of stark contrasts and disparity – every day on my commute, I pass by a little village of scrap-metal huts nestled between the banks of a heavily-polluted creek and a 6-lane highway. Five minutes later, I’m sweeping past gleaming high-rises and luxury shopping malls with more bling than the Rideau Centre (not that that’s much of an achievement, mind). Riches, next to rags.

And, like anywhere else, education here is the biggest equalizer. Many of the students at the college don’t exactly come from the depths of poverty, but they aren’t part of the Vietnamese upper-middle class either. Sure, they have smartphones and motorbikes and frequent fancy cafés, yet they’re still not as financially secure as they’d like to be. They come from the countryside, or other, far poorer provinces. They have families who, while not struggling to support them, wouldn’t be considered terribly wealthy. They work part-time jobs to afford school and rent, send money or gifts back to their parents whenever they can, and have the same worries about finding employment after graduation.

But one thing is for sure: they are passionate, driven, and determined – as one of them told me, they have the hopes of their whole family on their shoulders. I suppose, then, that my role isn’t that of a saviour or a superhero – just as someone who can help out a little bit, however small that impact is. While I might quietly complain about how I’m most definitely not qualified to design a website or a marketing video, I’ve realized that I do play a role in helping these students receive quality education and the same opportunities as those afforded to me through uOttawa and the Canadian education system.

My marketing videos advertise the school’s exchange programs, making more students aware of these experiences and helping HCE find the best of the best. My website will go on to be presented to foreign partner institutions – and as it turns out, the design suggestions that seem common sense to me are quite novel to the IT team here; and, when trying to impress a Korean university or a Singaporean school federation, it’s best to pull out all the stops. (Full disclaimer, I definitely made use of’s design for inspiration.) And the soft skills workshops, while not exactly university-level material, give the students an opportunity to improve their self-confidence when working in English and express their creativity in a way that they might not be able to otherwise.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that despite what it seems, I really am making a difference. It might not be as flashy as leading conferences or implementing a new farming technique, but to the bright young leaders and innovators who attend HCE, it matters just as much.

I’m thankful to have been able to experience life and the “other” side of international development here in Vietnam. As a Canadian of East Asian descent, it’s been something of a homecoming to me – complete with a neighbourhood auntie who calls me a 靓仔 (leng jai, handsome boy) whenever I come to buy her street food. It’s been an incredible opportunity to venture out of my comfort zone and see a bit more of the world, and I’m profoundly glad that I took that leap of faith.

Until next time, Vietnam. Xin Cảm Ơn. Thank you.

Xin chao from Ho Chi Minh City

October 1, 2019 | Ryan, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Economics and Development, Vietnam, Uniterra - Ho Chi Minh College of Economic (HCE), Soft Skill and Marketing Officer

It’s been four weeks since I’ve arrived here in Ho Chi Minh City, yet it feels like a lifetime has already passed.

If I could describe Vietnam in a single word, it would be contradictory. This is a country of stark contrasts, with 5-star hotels sitting side-by-side with centuries-old temples to Thien Hau – the Buddhist goddess of the sea – and old aunties selling noodles on the street next to Starbucks and luxury sushi restaurants. Even the traffic, as chaotic as it is, has some sort of orderly nature to it; granted, crossing a 6-lane avenue is always a bit hair-raising, but once you start walking the bikes and taxis will just weave around you almost effortlessly. This is a place where old and new, east and west, all seamlessly combine to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Economic inequality is striking here, as is the fast-paced nature of the country’s development and the constant determination and drive of its people.

There’s something that stirs the heart about clinging on for dear life on the back of a motorbike taxi as it races down neon-lit rain-slicked streets (with a helmet on, of course!), or about sipping iced coffee (extra condensed milk) at a rooftop café while watching the world pass you by. And there’s something about greeting the banh mi stall auntie at the end of my alleyway every morning with a xin chao and a wave, and about petting the overfed neighbourhood dogs who come up to me with wagging tails, that never fails to bring a smile to my face.

In short, Saigon feels like a home away from home, and it’s an experience that I wouldn’t give up for the world.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges, of course. The language barrier is ever-present, perhaps even more so given my East Asian descent. I’m assumed to be a local wherever I go, at least until the shopowners start bombarding me with questions in Vietnamese only to be met by my wide-eyed, uncomprehending stare and an embarrassed chuckle. The air pollution is ever-present, too, enough that I’ve taken to wearing a mask whenever I step outside on some of the worst days. If it doesn’t protect me against the particles in the air, at least it’ll help shield me from some of the smell of durians being sold on the street.

Most WUSC volunteers are in Hanoi, on the opposite end of the country. There’s only one other volunteer in my office, but even then it hasn’t really been all that lonely here. We’re both Asian-Canadians, and while her Vietnamese background makes it easier for her to adjust, her presence and the ability to share our experiences together has made working and living here an incredibly enjoyable and refreshing journey.

During the first two weeks of work here, I had the opportunity to go out into a rural community to live and work alongside local farmers while supporting a joint Vietnamese-Singaporean social innovation project. I was lucky enough to have observed as a team of 18-20 year-old students matured and grew over those two weeks to become some of the most passionate and brightest young leaders and innovators who I’ve ever met, and to have been able to directly contribute to the development of Southeast Asia’s youth. The fact that some of these same students now bring me an iced coffee every day after they saw me sneak off to buy one in the middle of the jungle doesn’t hurt, either.

Something that becomes very clear very quickly, though, is how much the work culture here stands on ceremony. Every event must have a hundred photographs, usually with an oversized bouquet of flowers in each participant’s hands. I’ve felt as though myself and the other volunteer are often wheeled out as a way to show off the school’s international partnerships, though after speaking with other WUSC staff in Hanoi I’m thankful at least that we’ve been given meaningful work instead of being simply token foreigners.

Despite the difficulties and awkward moments, though, the chance to work here as a Soft Skills & Marketing Officer has been nothing short of incredibly rewarding. I feel like I really can make a difference here, however small, and I look forward to the next two rewarding months.

A well-rounded education on international work

August 2, 2019 | Laura, International Studies and Modern Languages, Uniterra, Vietnam, Vietnam Association of Community Colleges (VACC)- Program Officer

I have had such an amazing time living and working in Hanoi and I’m not ready to leave yet. The past three months have been packed with activities, work, new experiences, and friends. My work with the VACC has allowed me to learn so much about international work, specifically about international education. I was able to work in the many facets of my field of study and I was so grateful for the opportunity to discover what work I was best suited for.

Working with the VACC has been amazing. Through my work I was given the opportunity to travel to Gia Lai province for almost three weeks and help with English courses and international cooperation. While there I taught regular English classes to the teachers of the college to help with English conversation topics. This was my first experience teaching an actual class and it was a great opportunity to learn about teaching from other English teachers working there. At the VACC office in Hanoi I worked with some students in the English club and I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to work as a teacher already because it made me much more confident in my abilities while working with the students.

In Hanoi, I worked a lot on grant proposals, research for international education opportunities, and international cooperation plans. While I enjoyed working with the students and teachers, I liked working on these things more. My partner let me come up with and write grants for my own ideas, and I was able to research things that interest me like education. With the VACC, I received a well-rounded education on international work and types of positions I could have once I graduate and I’m so grateful to now have a better understanding of my own personal goals.

I’ve learned a lot and am so sad to be leaving. I’m very pleased with my work here and very grateful to have had this opportunity.

Uncovering the Beauty and Mysteries of Vietnam

August 1, 2019 | Darian, Conflict Studies and Human Rights, Uniterra, Vietnam, Bac Thang Long Economic Technical College (BTL) - Employability Skills Development Officer

I cannot believe it but I am already in the last week of my internship. Looking back at my time in Vietnam some of my most memorable experiences have been the weekend travels around the nation and some of the bordering countries. Since travelling within Vietnam is extremely affordable (never paying more than $175 Canadian dollars for a round trip flight) and easy to get around (with most flights being between one and two hours) I was able to go on eleven different weekend adventures during my twelve week internship. Some of the highlights included: Halong Bay (one of the seven natural wonders of the world), Sapa (the traditional mountainous rice fields), Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park (home to the largest and arguably most stunning caves in the world), Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat temples, Hue’s forbidden imperial city, Hoi An (known as the lantern village and regarded as the most beautiful town in Vietnam) and Ban Gioc Falls (the largest waterfalls in Asia).

For being a somewhat small country geographically, Vietnam has a great diversity in landscapes and sceneries throughout the nation. From the turquoise sea in Halong Bay, to the rushing waterfalls at Ban Gioc, to the dense tropical jungle in Bạch Mã National Park, to the Limestone Mountains of Ninh Binh, to the S shaped white sandy beaches of Dang, to the giant karst caves of Phong Nha Ke Bang, and the swamp like river in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam has practically everything to make the perfect travel destination for nature lovers. During my three months in Vietnam there was always something to do and see during which left me constantly exploring both the city of Hanoi where I work and the country as a whole. The breathtaking landscapes left me with so many contrasting emotions feeling the calmness of the crystal clear turquoise water crashing into the beach whereas standing on the edge of a massive waterfall looking hundreds of meters down filled my body with tons of adrenaline. The countless mountains, forests and caves I had the opportunity to explore made me feel as though I was right in the middle of a film set for a Hollywood fantasy movie, often leaving me in awe of the natural beauty of the environment I was in.

Along with the amazing picturesque views from these places, I had the opportunity of to connect with many locals from the areas I was travelling in. Some of the most special memories for my travels was staying at rural homestays and learning about life experiences from local Vietnamese people, even if they did not speak English. The hospitality and friendliness of the Vietnamese people is nothing like I have ever experienced before. I learned so much about Vietnamese history, culture, tradition and their way of life in different ways from individuals such as Nguyenthanh, a 78 year-old who fought in the Vietnam War, who gave me a private tour of the demilitarized war zone outside of Hue or Quang, a Vietnamese Monk I befriended during my Mekong Delta exploration or Dinh, a local elder a part of a Vietnamese ethnic minority group, who guided me through the hikes of the mountainous rice fields in Sapa. These people embraced me not as a strange foreigner but as a new friend, often inviting me to eat dinner with them, sharing many stories and insisting me to meet their families. This was such a unique aspect of Vietnam as many locals opened up their homes to me treating me like family.

However, the local friendships created and diverse landscapes of Vietnam cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs or with a couple pictures. It is impossible to find the words to describe the indescribable experiences and feelings you get when uncovering the beautiful intricacies this country has to offer. I feel like there is still so much to explore and learn about Vietnam, making wish I did not have return back home to reality in Ottawa just yet.

Trois mois plus tard dans mon pays d’adoption…

July 30, 2019 | Dahlia, Conflict Studies and Human Rights, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD)

Me voilà déjà à la douzième semaine de mon stage international à Dong Hoi, petite ville côtière au centre du Vietnam. Trois mois se sont écoulés en un clin d’œil. Entre le travail la semaine à l’« Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities » et les voyages de fin de semaine, je n’ai pas eu un seul jour de repos depuis mon départ du Canada et je n’ai aucun regret.

Lorsqu’on vit dans un pays où la culture et les normes sociales sont très différentes de chez soi, il est important selon moi de trouver un équilibre entre le confort du connu et l’aventure de l’inconnu. Bien qu’il soit nécessaire de se pousser hors de sa zone de confort pour faire de nouvelles expériences — culinaires par exemple —, il y a des jours où l’on n’a qu’une envie de se sentir chez soi dans la douceur de ce qui est familier.

En prenant du recul vis-à-vis de cette nouvelle expérience asiatique, je constate que je suis sortie de ma zone de confort à de nombreuses reprises. S’il est normal de ne pas toujours en apprécier le résultat, je ne changerais en rien ces aventures, car elles m’ont permis de vivre et de comprendre la culture vietnamienne. C’est d’ailleurs ce qui fait la différence entre un touriste et un voyageur. Le Vietnam étant un pays de plus en plus touristique, je me considère d’autant plus chanceuse de vivre dans une ville peu touristique où la vie locale est authentiquement vietnamienne. En effet, Dong Hoi est peu occidentalisé. Il n’y a même aucun McDonald dans cette petite ville.

Vivre dans un pays en développement a définitivement changé ma perception de la vie et la personne que je suis. Même si j’en suis consciente maintenant, je sais que ce ne sera qu’en rentrant au Canada que cette différence me frappera. Lors des semaines qui ont précédé mon arrivée au Vietnam, je me suis préparée mentalement à adopter un mode de vie complètement différent dans un nouvel environnement. Or, il ne m’a jamais traversé l’esprit que j’aurai, à mon retour au Canada, à me préparer mentalement à quitter ce nouveau chez-moi.

Quitter cette vie pleine d’aventures et de rebondissements pour retourner à ma vie routinière et stressante d’étudiante demandera certainement à nouveau de l’adaptation. En effet, la bonté des Vietnamiens, les paysages spectaculaires, les mets frais et nutritifs, les fruits exotiques, les plages de sable, la végétation abondante, l’odeur de l’encens que les gens brûlent pour prier ne sont que quelques exemples de ce qui va énormément me manquer à la suite de mon retour. Malgré les difficultés du pays — la pollution, la circulation abondante des motos, la corruption, les enjeux relatifs aux droits de la personne —, le Vietnam me rappellera toujours d’excellents souvenirs dans le futur. Ce qui ne me manquera certainement pas, c’est bel et bien l’extrême humidité qui pèse au Vietnam. J’ai presque envie de dire que j’ai hâte de retrouver le grand froid canadien !

What I want to do

July 22, 2019 | Genevieve, International Development and Globalization, Vietnam, Uniterra, Hanoi Open University (HOU) - Youth Engagement Officer

I am just finishing my second month in Hanoi. The city gets more and more unique everyday. I find new things to appreciate, and as with all cities, new things to be irritated by. After having the opportunity to travel to Siem Reap in Cambodia and Hue City in Central Vietnam, I have a new appreciation for how local Hanoi is. While both of those cities are incredibly beautiful, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the backpacker culture has influence their development. Of course Hanoi has it’s touristy area, the Old Quarter, and it’s expat area, West Lake. But even within these areas, the local culture is present; street food restaurants every 20 feet, “fruit ladies” (women carrying large baskets full of fruit, usually on bicycles) wandering about selling their goods and women in beautiful Ao Dais (traditional Vietnamese dresses) taking photos at every major landmark. I have a new appreciation for how cultured Hanoi is, and I am endless thankful that I get to do an internship in such a diverse city.

My second month posed a number of new challenges. I experienced miscommunications in the workplace daily. I would spend days on a task, constantly ask for approval and receive nothing, only to receive the news that everything needed to be changed the night before the product was to be delivered. Figuring out how to navigate this has been a struggle. At the same time, I have been dealing with personal issues with friends and family in Canada. Working with organizations like WUSC and HOU have allowed me to think critically about development and how it is administered, an opportunity that I am thankful for and will undoubtedly benefit me in the future. Having the other WUSC volunteers to rely on, to vent to after work and to share our mutual frustrations has been such a blessing. Similarly, I have also found support and inspiration from the students at HOU. Whenever I feel like there is no hope, that I have reached the end of my rope, that the project I’m pouring all of my time into is useless, I get to work with them. And they are constantly positive, curious and enthusiastic. They always uplift me and renew my energy without even knowing it. It is so special. They make all of the frustration at work, worth it.

Since I started my degree, I’ve always had a passion for development in education. Working at HOU has made me realize that this is really what I want to do. I didn’t have any expectation on what the issues in Vietnamese education may be. While there are a number of criticisms I have, particularly on the biased English as a Second Language programs, I have noticed two particular things from working with HOU. Students at HOU are faced with include lacking infrastructure and a lack of opportunity to apply what they learn. I can’t exactly speak on the quality of education, as I am not working directly in classrooms. But from what I have noticed, there seems to be a lack of funding. As a result, teachers, who are extremely dedicated, must work long hours to provide students with opportunities, like clubs and events, sometimes funding them out of their own pockets. From the lack of opportunity to practice what they are learning, I have noticed insecurity in many of the students. They are hesitant to participate and ask questions, especially in English. After talking to some other volunteers, it seems like this is a common problem among Vietnamese students. I believe that this is a result of the theory-based curriculum. Through the programs that are run through WUSC and the WUSC volunteers, I think that there is an amazing opportunity to increase youth engagement. In my 8 weeks working with the HOU students, I have already seen such an improvement. In my last month, I hope to contribute something truly meaningful to the students of Hanoi Open University.

Welcome to Hanoi!

July 19, 2019 | Genevieve, International Development and Globalization, Vietnam, Uniterra, Hanoi Open University (HOU) - Youth Engagement Officer

My three weeks in Hanoi had been wonderful, a constant mix of calm and chaos. At first glance, everything seems out of control; the traffic, the mismatched buildings, the old and new side by side. It is a unique kind of beauty that can only exist in a place like Vietnam. The long and complicated mix of various colonial influences is apparent: French style apartment buildings stand right beside Chinese style temples. The traffic, a constant stream of motorbikes driven by “Sun Ninjas”; women covered head to toe in special suits, no matter what the temperature, blaring their horns and weaving in and out of cars. Anything can be carried on a motorbike, from fish tanks to couches to newborn babies. Chaos. But, it all just works. After you get used to it, it is easy to spot the quiet moments. The young couple taking selfies on a park bench, the elderly bicycle lady singing songs as she pedals through narrow alleyways and shop owners napping on the floor of their stores to relieve themselves from the unique heat of Hanoi afternoons. These little moments of peace and beauty make it all worth it.

I have fallen in love with my studio apartment and the traditional vibe of my neighbourhood. I have befriended the children of a local fruit vendor whose stall sits just outside of my apartment building. The children have an insatiable fascination with my curly hair and eye colour. They always run to meet me and offer hugs in the morning before I leave for work. Usually, while I am busy playing with the children, their father has taken to snatching my phone out of my hands and shouting instructions at the confused grab drivers (Vietnam’s equivalent to Uber – but on a motorbike) on where to find me. It amazes me that despite a total language barrier, I look forward to seeing their smiling faces everyday.

The other WUSC volunteers in Hanoi have been amazing. We have already developed a close relationship, and being able to share our experiences with one another has made adjusting incredibly easy.

One of the biggest struggles that I have faced so far is the perception Vietnamese people have of white Westerners. People will stop me to take my picture, or more often, just snap one of me without asking. It is deeply uncomfortable for me. Maybe I am being dramatic, but the idea that photos of me just exist in the world without my knowledge is unsettling. With that comes constant stares and unwanted attention, particularly from Vietnamese men. I can’t walk down my street without being jeered at by men lounging at the Bia Hoi’s that are scattered throughout the alley. I have been reassured that it is all-harmless, but I can’t help but feel irritated. The influence of colonization is still so apparent. Vietnamese women go to extreme lengths to maintain white skin. Billboard ads are heavily (and obviously) photoshopped and the grocery store aisle are lined with products that promise to lighten and whiten your complexion.

My work as a Youth Engagement Advisor has been incredibly rewarding. I am lucky enough to get to work directly with 18-20 year old Tourism students. Not only have I been blessed with a wealth of knowledge on all of Hanoi hot spots, but I have also been welcomed with open arms and they feel more like friends than recipients of my mandate. I look forward to getting to know these students better, and finding out how I can serve Hanoi Open University and its students to the best of my abilities.

Life in Vietnam

July 19, 2019 | Laura, International Studies and Modern Languages, Uniterra, Vietnam, Vietnam Association of Community Colleges (VACC)- Program Officer

I have been in Vietnam for five weeks now, four spent in Hanoi and one in Pleiku and I think they may be the longest and shortest five weeks of my life. Living here has been a big exercise in adapting. Every new experience comes with a set of challenges and the need to be flexible. But, despite all the challenges these have been the most amazing weeks of my life.

Hanoi is a beautiful city with so much to do. In my first week I had trouble adjusting to the fast pace of the city, but I quickly got used to it and now, living in a more remote area, I really miss feeling at the center of everything. My favourite place in Hanoi is the Old Quarter, where we spent our first few days in a hotel. Every weekend they close off the streets around Hoan Kiem lake and have events and activities. I have loved walking around the lake, grabbing coffee, and watching the traffic.

Living in Vietnam has not come without challenges of course. The hardest thing I’ve had to overcome has been the language barrier. At my organization there is only one person that speaks English fluently, so miscommunication is a common occurrence. I am also getting used to casually being pushed out of my comfort zone with every new experience pushing me a little further. While this causes me a little stress and is not something I always enjoy, I do appreciate it because it has given me amazing experiences that I might not have tried otherwise.

I am also really proud of the work I’ve completed at the VACC. The past few weeks I have been working with my counterpart on a grant proposal for a conference dedicated to helping women and girls to become entrepreneurs. The workshop focuses on all aspects of business administration and submitting the proposal has been one of my proudest moments of my internship yet. I also help with the English club and have loved working with all of the students to improve their language skills.

I am also coming to the end of two weeks in Gia Lai province which has been a bit of a challenge but also an amazing experience. While here I taught English lessons to the teachers of the college. It was amazing to have such an attentive group of people that just wanted to learn. I felt very proud of the students in the last class because of how far they’d come.

In my first weeks coming to Vietnam I would count down how long I had left to be here whenever I was struggling to adjust, now I never want it to end. I have had such an amazing summer so far and I am excited to see what the next six weeks has to offer.