Every morning and afternoon, we, the Vietnamese, Stanford, and Duke coaches, would get off the bus at the school. And every morning and afternoon, we were welcomed with the sight of our 8th and 9th grade students waiting for us. While the kids were quite shy initially, we took time to get to know each of them, and they quickly opened up.
On the third day of camp, the first students gave gifts to the coaches. I was confused by this at first: it had only been three days, and there was still two and half weeks left of camp. There was no reason to be giving gifts, it was just a random day at the beginning of our time there. Regardless of my confusion, the rest of camp continued on in the same fashion. Students would gift candies and juices, and I even received a mango (along with a “5 Step Plan” to succeeding in English class, which was very heartwarming to receive). I quickly began to understand the nature of their gifts; they weren’t meant to be for a specific purpose but just given out of appreciation and love for us. In turn, the coaches gave parting gifts of toys, candies, and handwritten notes written for each of the students on their team, expressing how much we would miss them and our hopes for their futures.
The culture of gift-giving, however, went beyond the days that we spent at the school. When we were invited to the house of one of the students, his family was also very welcoming to us. We were treated to a large variety of native Vietnamese fruits, such as rambutan, jackfruit, coconut, and mango. At the end of our visit, the student’s father gifted the coaches with large bags of white rice for us to take home. Additionally, upon our departure from the Ho Chi Minh airport at the end of the program, many of our fellow Vietnamese coaches gave us parting gifts and notes.
The culture of gift giving in Vietnam had a profound impact on me, and it made me want to try and emulate it now that I am back home in the US.
– Ellie Sutro, Stanford Women’s Rowing
During these three and a half weeks in Vietnam, I quickly found myself changing my own habits to be able to share and give gifts as freely. When buying food or candy, I would always make sure to buy more than I needed so I could offer it to all the other coaches. The culture of gift giving in Vietnam had a profound impact on me, and it made me want to try and emulate it now that I am back home in the US.
In my experience at home, gifts are most often reserved for special occasions such as Christmas, a birthday, and maybe a graduation. While they are acts of love or kindness, they are also typically given for specific occasions and hold a lot of significance. On the other hand, in Vietnam, I never felt like I had done anything amazing to deserve these gifts, but they were given anyways. They weren’t rewards for accomplishments or celebrations; they were simply given as tokens of friendship and gratitude. As I reflect on my time in Vietnam, I learned that you don’t always have to do something of grandeur to deserve a gift.
Sometimes just showing up every day, trying your hardest, and being a friend is more than enough.