When Stanford’s spring quarter ended in mid-June and I packed my bags, ready to depart on my Vietnam experience, I waited at home anxiously, hoping for time to pass quickly so that I could get on the airplane and embark to a foreign country. I had been eagerly anticipating this moment for months ever since I received an email saying that I had been accepted into the ACE in Vietnam program. Fast forward a couple days, and I am on a twelve hour flight to Seoul, South Korea and then another five hour flight from Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City. Despite the numerous movies I watched on the plane, time passed slowly on the plane. The persistent turbulence didn’t help much either. After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting and delays, I finally arrived in Vietnam sixteen hours later, unaware of how much this program would truly impact me.
“Learning the children’s names and seeing their faces light up when you greeted them with a “Xin Chao, (insert name)” was easily one of the highlights of every day. Or, when I would call up a student to the chalkboard to walk me through the steps of multiplying two polynomial expressions and watching them solve it perfectly.”
Despite a seemingly routine schedule of arriving at the local middle school at 7:00 a.m., teaching until 5:30 p.m., and planning the next day’s lesson until 9:00 p.m., no two days seemed the same. Every new day in Long Mỹ supplied me with new stories to tell my peers back home, lessons I’ve learned, and memories I will never forget. Learning the children’s names and seeing their faces light up when you greeted them with a “Xin Chao, (insert name)” was easily one of the highlights of every day. Or, when I would call up a student to the chalkboard to walk me through the steps of multiplying two polynomial expressions and watching them solve it perfectly. The thought of the children paying attention to my math lessons and applying my teachings made me proud. Or how could I ever forget all those times I threw a pitch in baseball and a student would hammer the ball into the outfield? Everyone would erupt in cheering and laughter. These moments were innocent, pure, and blissful. Of course, these happy moments on the trip were also mixed with the not-so pleasant ones, like whenever I had to remind a student to pay attention and not skip classes. Or when I ate something on the weekend trip in Cần Thơ, and it didn’t agree with me. Though challenging in the moment, these experiences along with all the pleasant ones helped to create a life-changing journey for me.
Now, I am home and shocked at how quickly the three weeks have passed. Almost daily, the Vietnamese children video-call me and send me Facebook messages. Though the messages and calls don’t amount to much more than simple “hello’s” and “how are you’s” because of the language barrier, it is their presence that is comforting and reminds me of the memories we shared. While at home waiting to depart to Vietnam and on the airplane, it felt like time was passing so slowly. I waited eagerly at home and no matter how hard I tried to pass the time, Vietnam seemed so far in the distance. Yet, when I finally arrive in Vietnam and met the children, time seemed to pass so quickly. It is crazy how my three weeks in Long Mỹ felt almost shorter than my three days of anticipation. When you’re doing something meaningful and impactful, you lose track of time and focus in on the only thing that matters. In going to Vietnam, I distanced myself from my worries at home. I prevented myself from obsessing over what classes I would take in the Fall, or what internships I would apply to for the next year. Instead, I focused in on my relationships with the people around me and it made the trip so much more memorable and meaningful.