by Tazia Miah
Beginning of Trip: July 12th - July 13th, 2018
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – the second major international city I am traveling to alone. This trip is different than the others, the previous having been for family emergencies or taking classes, so I already anticipate the experience to travel along its own path. Landing on Vietnamese soil, I can’t define the moment by only one emotion. With a mixture of excitement, anxiousness, and the feeling of it all being surreal, I look forward to making memories in Vietnam, immersing myself within the culture, and making connections within and through GIEU.
Being in Vietnam makes me very reminiscent of my times in Bangladesh (where most of my family still live) and Japan (where I previously studied abroad). The bustling streets, the encouraging smiles of the locals, the creativity in transforming staple foods of the country into a variety of diverse dishes, and the need to heighten all of one’s senses to truly experience the environment all brings forth memories of familiarity, but with a new Vietnamese twist. Although I am a different ethnicity, I feel connected to certain shared Asian customs of doing things here. This intrigues me in seeing in what ways my identities will connect in Vietnam – being a student, being Asian, being Muslim, and being a foreigner.
My curiosity and excitement extend to the service learning component of GIEU. As this GIEU trip focuses on community development and entrepreneurship in Vietnam, I am eager to participant in my internship. We just learned about our placements, with mine being Hong An. Hong An is a supplementary school for adults and children of all ages and differing abilities. There I will be assisting in teaching English and developing lesson plans four days a week for three weeks. As eager as I am, I too am nervous that I might not be the most helpful teacher as I am not always the bubbliest person. I hope that my collaboration with Hong An is worthwhile to both the teachers and students and that I can build a connection with the community I will be entering.
Traveling as a Muslim in Vietnam
The idea of being able to travel abroad is thrilling for me – there is a new culture to be immersed in, new people to meet, and new memories to be made. This excitement has been true for Vietnam, but so has been my worry about being Muslim abroad once again in a country or area that is not predominantly Muslim. Whether it be during college in Ann Arbor or across the world while studying in Tokyo, I’ve struggled with being able to do certain activities with the group because it doesn’t align with my religion and how I practice Islam. My main worry for this trip was not knowing to what extent I’d have to do things alone in Vietnam, if it would be safe going on my own, and if it would isolate me from my group.
Although I am always cognizant of my faith, there’s always an adjustment in finding my comfort level when places and people don’t share my religion or practice similarly – having to make time for daily prayers, being in alcohol free environments, and striving to eat halal food when there isn’t many around. In the past if I traveled with others I used to hesitate on whether I should speak up about my restrictions, which could possibly cause friction if it meant the group would have to change plans or just go about dealing with it all silently, which could lead to some unwanted resentment within myself.
Being in Vietnam, I had to both step up and step back in terms of voicing what I need. I can’t say that it hasn’t been frustrating at times, but the struggle has strengthened my resolve to both share with others about how I practice Islam and to be confident in venturing out on my own if that’s what’s best for me. Sharing with the group not only aided in helping those unfamiliar with Islam become more familiarized but helped provide a support system for me if it was tough to find a place to eat or if there needed to be new venues or activities that were alcohol free. I’m not sure if the members of my group realize how appreciative I am of their accommodations because it’s easy to follow just the needs of the majority. Sometimes though it was just easier if we did separate activities or ate at different places. Those moments strengthened my confidence to not compromise what’s important to me and to go exploring on my own (safely of course). Although not always the case, but a lot of times there can be accommodations and substitutions made to the dish. Sure, the costs were a bit more pricey to do so and I ate as if I was a pescatarian on this trip mostly, but I am grateful for all the delicacies and food that I was able to try. Traditional Vietnamese style fish is phenomenal! Aside from the food, my explorations lead me to the Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City and a few halal restaurants, only a seven-minute drive from where we have been staying. In previous trips, I had to travel far to visit a mosque, but being able to see that the mosque was accessible and integrated within the city made me feel more welcomed. I even had the fortune to be able to share the extent of my knowledge about Islam to a local Vietnamese woman who happened to stop by the mosque for the first time the day I went out of curiosity. Even though Islam isn’t predominant in Vietnam, having one of my identities represented made me feel less invisible and more connected.
End of Trip – August 6th, 2018
Today marks the end of my time in Vietnam and what an adventure it has been! Leaving any place is bittersweet and Vietnam has been no different. I’m excited to share my experiences with my friends and family back home and adopt the patience and versatility that I’ve learned more into my daily life. Yet, just as much as I love making memories, it’s saddening that there’s always a piece of me that’s left behind with the people and the places that I’m leaving. Transitioning quickly from entering a community to just as quickly leaving is difficult.
Time truly does fly. As a rising senior, looking back on how fast these 27 days have gone by is an awakening of how essential it is to use one’s time efficiently for a meaningful purpose. There is much to see, much to learn, and much to do. Just as this trip was for a short length, but memorable regardless, it excites me to know that I can continue to have new experiences in a short time frame among the chaos of life.
I am extremely grateful that I had this opportunity to travel abroad and participate in GIEU’s Community Development and Entrepreneurship in Vietnam. Working alongside the staff members of Hong An and interacting with children and adults from ages four to 40 years old has shown me that teaching is a difficult profession, but extremely rewarding. It has been enlightening to see the extreme dedication the staff have for providing an environment that encourages students and adults to believe they can go further in life, even if they initially thought they couldn’t or were inhibited from doing so. Just as much as the staff members, the engagement of the students has been inspiring because their energy is contagious. In the beginning I worried if I would be good enough of a teacher for them, but the energy from the students encouraged me to expand my versatility and creativity to teach English with my own twist. Volunteering at Hong An has shown me that despite everyone’s adversaries, the staff and students do what they can to build their community up and aid in paving a new path when society may have left it closed for them. My time in Vietnam overall reminds me of resilience – being able to adapt to the difficulties thrown at you and striving to have confidence in yourself to fulfill your dreams.