My experience abroad was not one that I was expecting, in spite of visiting twice before my time abroad. I was able to live in both the city and small villages and there were many distinct differences. For one, Ho Chi Minh City was shockingly liberal. Many individuals were open about their sexuality, even more so in the United States. In the United States, many LBGT’s are discriminated against and to a very shocking degree; however, in Ho Chi Minh City, males in particular were very open about their sexual orientation. In fact, our Vietnamese roommates even told us that approximately half of the males in their college identified themselves as being gay; albeit, if you go into smaller villages, which tends to be a bit more “old-fashioned”, then these things are almost unheard of. This illustrates how unevenly developed culturally many parts of Vietnam can be.
This concept of uneven development is also apparent even within Ho Chi Minh City, but more so through economic standards. Many foreign companies are coming into Vietnam and developing areas at an extremely rapid pace. There are some buildings that extremely tall, luxurious, modern buildings, yet, is located adjacent to a shanty home or restaurants, with rusted tin roofing ready to fall apart, tattered paint on the walls, and just an overall distinct appearance of poverty. While this is apparent in the city, there are many areas in Vietnam that are not even able to make ends meet, namely in small villages and many underprivileged districts in Ho Chi Minh City. Approximately 50% of the workers in Ho Chi Minh City had blue collared jobs, working illegally in careers, such as, street vending and scrap collecting. So, while Vietnam is thriving economically, it has been struggling to create economic equality among its people.
Surprisingly, the rate of development in Vietnam is considered one of the fastest, as it was only in the late 1990’s when Vietnam was allowed to join the international market, after the United States removed the tariff they placed on Vietnam because of the war. Currently, the Vietnamese are attempting to learn new ways to develop their country, such as, how to run large businesses or the importance of education. Although, one of the biggest problems that Vietnam faces and I believe I can speak for most of the Vietnamese population, as they would tell me every day about how corrupt the government officials were, thinking about gaining large profits, in spite of the millions of people suffering.
In one instance, Famosa, a large Taiwanese company, polluted Vietnam’s costs, killing many fish and in turn negatively effecting the Vietnamese population. Many of these fish contained poison as a result of the pollution. Some of the marginalized families that I met ate these fish in spite of knowing that it contained toxins because they depended heavily on fish to help them survive. Outraged by this, many student bloggers were courageous enough to blog about this incident and some even protested in the streets right outside of the building I studied at, only two months before I arrived. However, the Vietnamese government refused to tolerate this. They beat protestors publicly on the streets and dragged them into buses and were never heard of again as they were probably sent to reeducation camps.
Ironically, before I left, I remember reading articles about Famosa polluting Vietnam’s waters, but the government “called in special analytics, who stated that the death of fish was due to ‘red tide’, and that Famosa was not to blame.” Unfortunately, when did I arrive, I learned that this was actually the government censoring information that they did not want to be leaked, especially to foreigners. This is just one incident, but there are many more similar to this. I personally wished I could have talked about the problems that Vietnam faces; however, due to instances like the one I mentioned, I was advised to refrain from blogging about many of these issues for the sake of my own personal safety.
While there are many things I wished could be changed in Vietnam, I did enjoy my time because I learned so much about the culture, politics, how the Vietnamese think, and of the many issues that endanger the Vietnamese and prevent them from becoming as developed as they would like. This experience was very rewarding; it opened my mind to many problems that I think we often neglect, while we are in the pursuit of our dreams. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to learn that and it helped me personally try to overcome fears that I have a tendency to embed in myself. So, no matter where you decide to go or no matter where you went, I hope that everyone enjoys their time abroad.