Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.
They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies
While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program. Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.
As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students. (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.) My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion.
I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination. In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan. (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.) There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs. To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016. One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone. I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.
I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future. There are usually two or three who fall into this category. Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them. Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi
First Days of Hanoi
November 15, 2017
After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!
We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.
Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.
The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.