Blog #1: Food and Trafficking
Today marks my third day here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and I can honestly say that I my short time here will be unlike anything I have experienced back in Detroit, Michigan. From the simple things like traffic to more interesting aspects of life such as food, I constantly exposed to Vietnamese lifestyle to which I am not accustomed. My diet here in Vietnam consists largely of rice, noodles and seafood. However, back home, I am a big meat-eater and rarely have so much rice and noodles as I have had here the past few days. In saying that, I do not mean to downgrade the food here, its tastyness and effectiveness of leaving me feeling satisfied. I am still exploring local cuisine and have not been disappointed, but I have realized that I should wait to ask what I have eaten until after I finish, with the exception of making sure I dot not eat shrimp, crab and lobster. I am not generally adventurous with my food options, but the different things I have tried have been good.
On the ride from the airport to housing location, the nature of the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City startled me. I know that a person can do all the research on a particular aspect of a country, but what that experience in person can be entirely different. This applies to the traffic conditions I witnessed. Before the program started, I watched videos of what the traffic could look like both during and not during rush hour, and can I thought it was a complete mess. However, what I came to understand is that the traffic, however chaotic it can become, has organization to it. When a person gets accustomed to the norms of the roads, that person can handle things that I would consider simple, such as crossing the street. I do not bother learning the traffic rules here because it seems as if majority of the drivers do not adhere to them. However, one thing I do not like is the frequency at which drivers honk their horns, like it is mandatory to honk for any and every reason, or sometimes no reason at all. I just leave it to the fact that I am in Vietnam and recognize that there will be things that I will not like.
Although I have been here for a few days, I need to remember that this is an intercultural experience and that there will be moments of uncertainty and uncomfortability. The most obvious things are my zero understanding of Vietnamese and the different foods I will be eating. Moreover, I cannot forget about the work that I will be doing with the local organization starting tomorrow. I am not entirely certain about what my responsibilities will be with the organization, I am sure that I will have new lesson brought forth to me and stories to tell.
Blog #2: Stand Out in the Crowd
Welcome back. Now it is time to talk about experiences involving one of my identities in particular. We have had a couple meetings during the school year that mentioned how our social identities and the way they are approached can affect our experiences abroad. A former participant of the same program spoke to my cohort about some things that happened to her while she was in Vietnam, like touching her hair. Therefore, I had some point of reference about what may come my while here, but what I am experiencing is much more intense.
To set the scene of sorts, I am a Black male with my hair currently styled in cornrows. I sometimes keep it short or a few inches long, but my hair is easier to manage when it braided, which is why I decided to go as I did. On several occasions while walking with local Vietnamese speakers, they would get questions from other locals about my hair and how did it get styled in such a way. I am not getting as much touching but there are a lot of questions. The only person to touch my hair was a kids a couple days ago from the organization I work with, but I do not mind people touching my hair, and I really like kids.
However, the big problem I am facing is with the Vietnamese locals taking pictures of me, both with and without my permission. After the first couple times it happened, the staff at the partner organization in Ho Chi Minh City told me that the locals do not intend any malice with their actions, and that they are not generally exposed to international people, let alone a Black person. So, I began to loosen up a lot. I usually do not like go have my picture taken back home, but I did not mind it too much here anymore. After all, this is an intercultural experience and I genuinely want to know how Black people are treated in other parts of the world in which they are also in the minority. I have known how Black people are treated in the United States all my life.
One major experience happened while I was at the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City. A guy pulled my arm around his shoulder while his friend took a picture. I have learned that the Vietnamese have different perceptions of personal space, and I figured neither person spoke English. So, it did not bother me that much because I would prefer this treatment any day above the way Black people are treated in the United States. Also, there would be people taking selfies while intentionally getting me and my face in the picture, or just out right put their phone in my face. I would say that I was probable in ten or so different pictures, but once did anyone ask permission.
Another major experience happened while I while traveled outside of the city with the organization and kids I was working with. On a side note, I plan to talk more about my experiences with the local organization in a future blog. While we were hiking up a mountain to a large statue of Jesus Christ, I was overwhelmed by the staring and people wanting to take pictures. You would not believe how it had become unless you were there. Almost everywhere I turned, there were people staring or someone wanting a picture. I was in a lot more pictures here than at the Independence Palace. At one point, I noticed a man walk up to me, about two feet away from my face, recording me on Facebook Live. I even told another student on the program that it felt like I should be in a zoo with everything that was happening. However, like I said, I would rather people treat me like that because I am a Black person over the way people assume I am involved with crime and gangs over in America. Even with all the uncomfortableness associated with these two and other related experiences, the Vietnamese people I have encountered are really nice, friendly, and welcoming. Thank you for reading.
Blog #3: Where do I go from here?
Hello, everyone. I am writing you from aboard a 14-hour Qatar Airways flight from Doha, Qatar to Chicago, Illinois. In this segment, I would like to talk about my overall experience in Vietnam and working with the organization through GIEU. Would I come back to Vietnam on my own or as a tourist? No, except in a special case that I will explain later. Would I do this GIEU program in Vietnam again knowing how I was treated this first time? Yes. Would I go to Vietnam to work with the same organization but not while being affiliated with GIEU? Yes. Allow me to explain it all by starting at the beginning.
While in route to Vietnam, I did not know what I would be doing except working with a local organization who may or may not be helping kids. Specifically, though, I was volunteering with an organization called Friends for Street Children (FFSC) as an English teacher to a group of 20 fifth graders, although their ages ranged from 10 to 14 years old, with the help of 2 other Michigan students and a Vietnamese volunteer. FFSC is an organization that provided schooling for kids whose families could not afford to send their child to a traditional school and an end-of-year camp among other things. The group of Michigan students created lesson plans to teach the kids and brainstormed camp activities. The Vietnamese volunteer helped to translate things. Speaking only for me, I became very attached to the kids in short amount of time that it was hard to part ways after the camp.
All the kids in my class were energetic and very eager to learn. I have never taught a second language to kids, but they made my time there really exciting meaningful. That is why I would do this GIEU program over again in a heartbeat. However, Vietnam would not be my first choice if I had the opportunity to be a tourist and take a vacation. To commemorate the end of the school year, FFSC take the 4th and 5th grade students on a two day camp to expose them to life outside the city and learn about positive thinking, being appreciative, and working in groups. The other Michigan students and I volunteering at FFSC helped to come up with camp activities, and had the opportunity to partake with the kids.
Our knowledge and understanding of Vietnamese is nonexistent and the kids English skills are very basic, to the point that we cannot communicate to each other without a translator. However, I did not need a translator to know how much they were enjoying the camp. The smiles on their face was unmatched to anything I have ever did, and their laughter was like music to the ears. Even without a translator, we became closer in a sense to each other. I miss them and really enjoyed the time we had together. In conclusion, I am really glad that I applied to the GIEU Vietnam program. Bye for now, folks.