February 24, 2014

Francis Parker - Vietnam 2014

Day 12: There and Back Again

The last two weeks have, undoubtedly, been a life-changing experience for every Francis Parker student in this group. Not only have we broadened our horizons culturally, but we also have grown as individuals and gained a better global understanding as well as understanding of self.

When our group arrived in Vietnam we all had our expectations for both the trip and the country: how living with each other in a very foreign, communist country would be. As a whole the group has come together, like "sticky rice," as we have taken to saying since being in-country, and become a sort of family. Now, two weeks later we're on our way back to America, and we have found that two weeks is much longer than any of us thought, but in a good way. None of us are quite ready to leave the busy streets, the bustling cities, the vibrant culture, or the kind people of Vietnam. We also have transformed our views of Vietnam as a whole, politically and culturally, and especially have a more complete view of the American War, as it is known to the people here. 

Many of us knew Vietnam as "the jewel of Southeast Asia" because of our history classes with Mr. Taylor. Now, we all truly understand his love of this country. The culture in Vietnam is so rich it is nearly impossible not to share his love of Vietnam. In the North, we experienced a strong political presence and were fortunate enough to spend time with Hanoi University students, bonds that many of us hope will be lasting, as well as give back to victims of Agent Orange. We found that in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese people don't hate us, as they could. Rather, they have focused on healing and unifying their country. In the South we spent time in the Mekong River Delta, easily a high point of the trip for every student. During our home stay we all became very close, as we lived together, cooked together, and tried to completely immerse ourselves in the culture. After our couple of days in the Vinh Long province near the Mekong Delta we traveled to Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, to spend the last few days of our amazing trip in another city. Though Saigon and Hanoi did have similarities, there were also many differences. Most obviously, Saigon had a warmer climate and also a much stronger Western influence, allowing all to identify with the city as more "friendly" in some ways, as well as more familiar. 

In addition to the obvious cultural exposure we have gained by being in Vietnam, the group has made so many memories together. We came together in new ways and have become so close: be it through rooming situations, our adventures, our jokes, or everything we've learned. Every member of the group is coming back to the States and to Parker with new friends and two weeks of memories we will never forget. 

Vietnam has opened all of our eyes to a completely different way of life and exposed us all to a very different part of the world. We were forced, due to the different culture and huge language barrier, to communicate largely with gestures and actions, which led us to one of two major conclusions for our trip: despite being thousands of miles away from each other geographically, having very different histories, and being raised with different ideas of "right" and "wrong," as humans we are more similar than many of us could have believed without coming here. Our time at the home stay, with the Hanoi University students, the locals, and the members of the Peace Village allowed us to realize this, as we were able, and lucky enough, to form meaningful relationships with them, even if some of them were only temporary. The second is that we have all gained such an important skill in just two weeks: we have been lucky enough to become more globally aware and take a step towards understanding that service learning does not just mean we, as Francis Parker students, give to the people we are visiting; it also means they have an immense amount to teach us. 

This, for all of us, has been an experience of a lifetime. Many have said they could, and would love to, live here for many months, just to learn more about the history and culture of Vietnam, as well as see more of the country. The memories made in the last two weeks have been more meaningful and lasting than any of us could have predicted and, for that, we are all so grateful. So, tonight, though we journey home, we have all agreed we would love to someday return to Vietnam and we feel so lucky to have had such an amazing opportunity, trip, chaperones, and, of course, companions. 


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