Being back at home has made the Vietnam experience feel like a distant dream even though it’s only been a few days. But every time I look at my wrist and see the handcrafted bracelets it reminds me how very real it was. Further than that, the great change it’s made on me has already been noticed by my family and friends. I don’t believe I’ve grown this much in such a short time period before. Going into it I only knew two of the nineteen other people going, but I’ve ended up with lifelong friends. I wanted to go on this trip to get a similar experience I had to the one I had when i went to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It’s odd that now I’m struggling to compare them even though their impacts have been virtually identical. The intensity of emotion I’ve felt when reflecting on this experience matches the intensity after The War Remnants Museum, but the actual feeling is quite different. Again, like the museum, it’s hard to find a word that correctly communicates what it is exactly.
The first way I think I’ve grown is the ability to communicate across a language barrier. This involves active listening, reading nonverbal cues, and figuring out how to rephrase questions or use hand motions to portray what I mean. The active listening is especially true when learning a tonal language. Hearing the small differences felt impossible the first couple days, but by the end I started to get a better ear for it. Another thing we all had to do on the trip a lot is solve problems without all of the information. I quickly learned that Culture Smart was a massive over generalization, so much of the cultural knowledge I thought I had just didn’t apply. Because of this, the strategy I think I took was to observe the UEF students first, and then to mimic them. Lastly, and I think most importantly, is the ability to just say yes. I’ve always had a problem with being too hesitant in my life, but on this trip I said yes to nearly everything. I held a snake, I went into the Cu Chi Tunnels, I stomached the Agent Orange exhibit, and I at least tried all of the food. The food theme of the trip was, “I’m not sure what this is, but I like it.” On the first night, the hot pot had those shrimp staring at us, and on one of the last days I had a tiny, whole octopus on my plate. It wasn’t calamari, which just uses the octopus as a vehicle for fried batter. It was just a tiny octopus. There’s so many experiences I had on this trip that a year ago I never would’ve said yes to, but saying yes is my new favorite skill.