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When visiting a new country and taking part in incredible opportunities, it is easy to notice only the obvious details. Of course, the humid weather is different from the dry California summers that I am so used to. Eating pho and other noodle soups for breakfast may be different from my staple of bacon and eggs. Teaching a school of Vietnamese school children is nothing like my routine summer days of hanging out with friends and searching for internships. However, when you really immerse yourself in the culture, after having lived in the new country like a local citizen, you begin to notice small little details that you would not have seen otherwise.

“A simple “Xin Chao (hello!)” or a “Cam On (Thank you!)” it evokes a pleasant smile out of most people I meet.”

For example – the generosity and genuine kindness prevalent everywhere. This morning, the ACE crew stopped at a fish soup restaurant recommended to us by our bus driver, Dat. As we were eating our meal, I heard little children screaming in delight. When I looked back, Dat’s children and wife ran into the restaurant, greeting the whole team and feeding us spring rolls that they had spent hours making.

Some other details I have noticed along my journey:

The big smile on people’s faces when you attempt to speak their language – I do not know if they smile because usually we are butchering the pronunciation or because we are showing appreciation by making an effort to speak a language we do not know. Either way, I have noticed that when I supply a simple “Xin Chao (hello!)” or a “Cam On (Thank you!)” it evokes a pleasant smile out of most people I meet.

Students with backpacks standing outside
Going home at the end of the day at camp

Doing laundry by hand – No laundry machines for three weeks. At first, I thought it would be easy to wash clothes by hand, but I soon realized that the whole process (rinsing, rinsing with detergent, rinsing again, wringing, drying) would take quite a bit of time. I still do not think I am doing it correctly, because the clothes that I put up to dry a couple days ago are still a little damp.

How a high five can go a long way – I usually begin all my classes with a hello and a high five to all the students entering the room. Whenever a student answers a question correctly, I would congratulate him/her and give them a high five. It has become routine for me and just the other day, a student was upset and thought he answered a question wrong because I forgot to give him a high five. A couple pieces of candy helped to turn his frown into a wide smile.

“The most rewarding part of this journey, by far, is interacting with the children and seeing them grow each and every day.”

I could name so many more, and I am sure I will discover more during my time here. But what is more important, however, are the lessons I take from discovering these small details. For one, they have allowed me to really appreciate my new environment. It allows me to empathize and live life in the shoes of the people in this city.

I am also more curious. With discovering new things, comes a thirst to learn more. I usually ask the Vietnamese coaches and directors how to say a certain word in Vietnamese or ask them to help me find new foods I have never tried. Finally, it has given me excitement. The most rewarding part of this journey, by far, is interacting with the children and seeing them grow each and every day. It has only been a week, but already the children are opening up to us and it has been so joyful coming to the school every day and seeing their smiles.

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