Greetings…my friends. Yes, I am alive, and yes I took a five-week absence from writing about my time in Southeast Asia. In that time I have been studying in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam for three weeks. I have also traveled back to Thailand for a water-throwing festival called Songkran, to the massive Angkor Wat temple complexes in Cambodia, and finally Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city during my two week Spring Break.
For those who have kept up, Vietnam has been my original destination for study abroad since day one. I only found out about The Education Abroad Network because I asked about studying in Vietnam. Thailand was just an added bonus to the program. It goes without saying that my anxiety reached its peak as I wondered what it would’ve been like to go to my mother’s home country.
(A river of motor bikes, the most common form of transportation throughout Vietnam)
For the past 3 weeks, I have never felt so alive in my entire life. Wading through the bustling traffic almost comes second nature. Finding delicious food on the streets has become a routine; one I can never see dulling at any point in my life (except that America has no concept of street food). Literally wandering around twisting streets has sparked so much happiness and excitement within me its surreal.
These ravishing, addictive elements to my time abroad has left me feeling like a new person. I hesitate using this phrase because to me, it sounds too ‘hipster-ish’ and clichéd for my liking. But because of the personal fulfillment I’ve received on account of cultural immersion, there is nothing else that captures the feeling.
One of the biggest perks of being in Vietnam is how familiar I am with the culture. I recognize the warm, sweet tastes of pho. I can pick out my favorite rice-based desserts like banh gai when in a chaotic market. People shout when they’re happy, sad, or angry, expressing themselves without caring about anyone who hears. Even if they’re standing two inches away from them.
(Che, a type of porridge dessert that comes in many different styles)
For those unfamiliar with Vietnam, some people may dislike the aggressive merchants. The ones that grab onto your arm asking you for souvenirs you can probably find elsewhere for cheaper. And some people may dislike certain comforts, like the swarms of mosquitos that keep entering my apartment from hidden entrance. But these are all things I’ve grown up handling with ease. I appreciate them, the aggression, the discomfort, feeling lost in translation (not the mosquitos. I truly hate them). They’re all parts of Vietnam that make me proud of where my ancestors came from.
(A crowded street of children just getting out of school)
Finally, I cannot write about Vietnam without writing about my family. While here I have met relatives I’ve seen in photographs or heard stories about from my lively aunts in the States. Stories that I could never fully appreciate because I never thought I’d meet the leading characters in the flesh.
Meeting two of the many relatives I have has been as life changing as stepping foot on the 20-hour flight to Southeast Asia. It put color to the faded photographs I’d only glimpse at when I was younger. They’ve been so welcoming and so kind, telling me stories about all my relatives they’re too proud to admit. Even though I live so far away, my relatives here treat me as if they’d known me all their life.
I do plan to update this blog more for the remaining month I’m here. But while I have that goal in mind, the journey I am personally experiencing is different compared to other students. Study abroad isn’t some attempt to experience what life has to offer in another part of the world (a sentiment shared by many accursed backpackers I’ve met throughout the past few months).
Rather, study abroad has been a time for me to iron out the cultural inconsistencies I have within myself; of rectifying between the American and Vietnamese sides of my identity, understanding how my perception has formed and can later be developed.
So I will make it my mission to conceptualize these feelings into a written form. Rather then an actual blog I plan to turn this recording as a means of sorting out my thoughts on what it means to be a Vietnamese American. To me, this makes following me all the more boring, but hopefully you can be entertained enough to explore this internal journey with me.