It’s hard to imagine that exactly one month ago, I got on a plane to Vietnam. At the time, I had no idea how this trip would change my outlook on the world — or how it would change me.
My initial reasoning for applying for this program was that I wanted to do some good for the world, while also getting to experience a part of it I never had before. Looking back now, it sounds nice to think that I made an impact on the lives of the kids that I was lucky enough to spend every day with them for three weeks, hopefully convincing them to pursue higher education — as was the goal of the camp. Simultaneously though, it was only three weeks. We tried our best to teach these kids a variety of English vocabulary and how to conjugate verbs, but in all honesty, I don’t think that’s what they will remember when they think about camp. And that’s not a bad thing. I think what they will remember most is having someone outside their families take such a deep interest in their lives, outside of academics or future careers. They will remember a bunch of twenty-somethings who started off as strangers, but became their playmates and their friends. They will remember how easy it was to say hello, and how hard it was to say goodbye.
I said it in my first blog but I would like to reiterate: these kids taught me more than I could have ever hoped to teach them. Being around them made me forget that I was on the other side of the world, and remember how much fun it is to chase each other through the pouring rain. They reminded me that laughter has no language barrier, and that you’re never too old for lollipops.
These kids didn’t have to try to teach us about their culture. It was something they exuded proudly, naturally, and unknowingly; something they were willing to share with us despite our foreign ignorance, which they so endearingly thought was funny. Little did they know how much they were changing us.
“…these kids taught me more than I could have ever hoped to teach them. Being around them made me forget that I was on the other side of the world, and remember how much fun it is to chase each other through the pouring rain. They reminded me that laughter has no language barrier, and that you’re never too old for lollipops.”
Before this trip I couldn’t truly appreciate what it meant to ride your bike 45 minutes to get to school, or to be 15 years old and living away from your parents so you can care for an elderly grandmother. But that’s what these kids do, without any affliction or resentment. They place their families above themselves without question, and it’s one of the bravest and most selfless things I have ever witnessed.
You can understand why it might be difficult then, to come into their lives as strangers, and stress the pursuit of education as a higher priority than helping their father on the farm or their mother in the family shop. Because for them, how could it be? Culturally, family will always come before education, and who are we to tell them otherwise?
This trip has made me realize how fortunate I am to have the privilege of education, but it has also reminded me that there is so much more to life. Family, friendship, enjoying the mere presence of others; these are things that we can cherish regardless of our place in the world, geographically or socioeconomically. Some might say I didn’t need to cross the globe to come to this realization, and maybe that’s true, but the time I spent in Vietnam, the relationships I formed with the kids and my fellow coaches, that is something I needed to be there for, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.