And so there it is. The once in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Vietnam among nine other student-athletes is over. The chance to work alongside Vietnamese college students in an attempt to promote higher education in middle school Vietnamese students through sports, has come to an end. If you were going to tell me three weeks ago that saying goodbye to all of the kids was going to result in a waterfall of tears and the need for various camp directors to have to physically pull me on to the bus, I would have not believed you. You see, I think of myself as a relatively emotional person. My body language tends to accurately reflect what I am feeling; I cry in movies, I laugh at jokes; I get scared easily. But crying during goodbyes? Not so much. I don’t know if I would put this down to moving a lot as a child, my mum leaving often when I was young to go and climb mountains, or simply as a result of my dad’s multiple business trips. What ever it was that has made me so easily be able to shield pain as I say goodbye, was defeated on the last day of camp.
“The funny thing is that, before the trip, I thought that, due to the language barrier and thus, the restriction of conversation, it would be difficult to develop strong relationships with the kids. I mean, how can you form any meaningful sort of connection with one another when you can’t even dive into conversations about topics such as favorite hobbies or favorite music? Boy was I wrong!”
What was the difference about this particular time, compared to the hundreds of others? The language barrier. As much as I would love to say, with me having been their English teacher, that our conversations were extensive and colored with detail, they were not. The quite universal, ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, and ‘how are you’, were usually where they tended to end. The funny thing is that, before the trip, I thought that, due to the language barrier and thus, the restriction of conversation, it would be difficult to develop strong relationships with the kids. I mean, how can you form any meaningful sort of connection with one another when you can’t even dive into conversations about topics such as favorite hobbies or favorite music? Boy was I wrong! Among other incredible experiences I was fortunate enough to have, foods I was able to try, people I had the chance to meet, this journey has made me question the strength of language. Is it really that powerful? Are words what connect people together or is it something else? Have humans been created with language acting as a stringent necessity in our ability to connect? I guess it is pretty difficult to find out the answer to those but after this trip, it seems to me that, even though being able to speak the same language definitely adds a level of ease, the language barrier is most definitely not itself, a barrier to human connection.
This ACE program has allowed me to experience so many amazing things, meet so many incredible people and view so many beautiful sights. Going in to the program I was debating the idea of wanting to pursue teaching, go into business or even perhaps go to law school (yes I know, I am all over the place). Have I now discovered my career path post-graduation? Not quite, but it has absolutely lent a helping hand in discovering different things I am good at, what my weaknesses are, all of which will certainly will help me in the future. So I still am not sure if I want to be a teacher, go into impact investment in emerging markets, or even live in Asia. I still don’t know many things. But what I do know, are the little, yet essentially as important things. Like how so many of the students have to walk 45 minutes to get to school everyday. Like how the kids were so willing to learn, that they would stand and wait for us to enter the school every morning at 7am. Like how much each kid was intrigued by our culture and how we grew up. Like how generous and giving the Vietnamese people were, even though they did not necessarily have much to give. Like how it can take a different amount of time with each kid until they open up and let you in. And the list goes on.
So no, I have not discovered my passion or my career, but what I have discovered are different ways of thinking about things. The language barrier is always going to pose as a difficult obstacle, yet, at the same time, it paves the way to use other non-verbal methods of communication, which prove to be just as powerful, if not more. To conclude, this trip has made me a big believer of the famous quote, ‘actions speak louder than words’. The language barrier that seems so prominent on the surface, was most certainly not a barrier for building life-long relationships.
Thank you so much to the ACE program, directors, and of course the Rubenstein and Bing families for providing me with this opportunity. I am so grateful for your kindness and generosity in allowing me to learn among others in the beautiful country, Vietnam.