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  • Tatianna Jasmine 1:16 am on February 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Loving Viet Nam…Missing Viet Nam 

    I’ll admit it, I cried as my flight departed from Sai Gon. Why? Because I fell in love..in every way.

    I fell in love with the landscape. The rolling hills, the beautiful weather, the wet rice paddies, the beautiful rivers, the amazing wild flowers, the breathe taking mountains of Ha Long Bay, the street scape of Hanoi and Saigon, and the magnificent colors that fell across the sky at sunset.

    I fell in love with the food. Banh Xeo (fried with beef/shrimp and fresh veggies), Xoi thit Kho (sticky rice and pork cooked in a clay pot), Pho bo (beef noodle soup), Thit vit (duck meat), Bun Bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup), Com ga (chicken and rice), and most of all Nuoc Mam (fermented fish sauce).

    I fell in love with the language. Learning to speak Vietnamese was challenging, I struggled and made a fool out of myself all the time. I have not mastered pronouncing the six different tones, and often forget which pronoun I should use for myself when talking to my elders. However, I admire the respect for social relationships that is embedded in each phrase and sentence. I admire the diversity within the population- I have partially learned words/phrases from multiple dialects. Most of all, I am super proud of myself for learning the basics of the language so quickly. I still hold mini conversations with people when the opportunity comes along.

    I fell in love with the people. My fondest memories of Vietnam involve the amazing people I have met. There are little spaces in my heart reserved for the following people. Both of my language instructors were super encouraging, they took the time to work with me when I was struggling. These women were some of the best instructors I have ever had, I will always be grateful for the knowledge they have passed on to me. The women who live and work for the Van Ho pagoda were so warm and welcoming. Despite the fact that I am not a devout Buddhist, and often do not apply Buddhist philosophies to my life (although I am trying to make a better effort), these women allowed me to become apart of the family they developed for themselves. I was always greeted with a smile, fed wonderful vegetarian meals, and departed with extra affection and love. I hope/plan to visit Van Ho in the near future (when funding will allow for it). The women who ran the sidewalk food stalls were always super kind and cooked the best food! Co Tuy is a woman who sold her home cooked food one block away from the guest house I stayed at in Hanoi. Co Tuy’s food is delicious and her service was even better. After visiting her for several weeks, I finally had the courage to order my food in Vietnamese. It was an amazing experience, she engaged me with small talk every time thereafter and always helped me out when I fumbled with my words. We developed a unique relationship, she often gave me discounted prices, and I often gave her an extra tip. I also appreciate every person I encountered on the streets, strangers were always smiling and greeting me with such respect. I cherish those interactions because they reinforce my faith in the good nature of human kind. Above all, is the Vietnamese-American man who stole my heart. We were on the same study abroad program and met on our flight from NYC to S.Korea. He and I became friends instantly and spent the rest our time exploring Vietnam together. He helped me learn to speak Vietnamese by allowing me the privilege of meeting his family. This was the ultimate source of my cultural immersion. He supported me when things got rough, and was my partner in all of our excursions and adventures throughout the country. He taught me the value of the human connection, the pillars of friendship, and the unconditional love that is family. I will forever be grateful for the relationships I established in Vietnam.

    Now that I am back in the states, I spend a significant amount of time trapped in nostalgia. I miss being there, and often find myself extremely sad to no longer be so close to the people and things that I love. Sometimes I have the urge to bust out into a rant in Vietnamese, only to find myself speaking to people who cannot understand me. Despite all of this, I have learned to overcome my nostalgia by appreciating the experiences I have had, and teaching my friends small Vietnamese phrases. Although I miss living in Viet Nam, I am grateful to have had such a amazing experience, one that many people cannot relate to.


    • TJ
    • DougReilly 6:58 pm on March 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      What a wonderful post! We at Mission Control agree that study abroad is about love, in many and sometimes all the ways you talked about it! What a great testament to the experience you had.

    • Christopher 1:24 pm on September 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      This is a great post. My daughter Melissa is now in Vietnam and I hope that her experience will be as fulfilling as yours. Study abroad in my mind should be about the connections made with the people and culture where one is immursed. You will always have the memories of this trip and I hope you will be able to travel back one day. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Tatianna Jasmine 6:20 am on October 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Life in Ha Noi 

    So, it has been quite a while since I last blogged. Things have been moving pretty quickly and internet connection has not been great.

    I am now living in Ha Noi, which is the capital of Vietnam. The transition from HCMC to Ha Noi was a bit rough. For starters, the weather was a bit cooler and full of rain. Initially, I thought the people were not as welcoming and warm. I was also convinced that food prices were much higher than HCMC. I guess I did not realize how much I had grown accustomed to the people, places, and food of HCMC. I asked myself if its possible to experience culture shock simply by switching cities in the same country. YES IT IS!!! Northern Vietnamese people have a different accent when they speak; I have had to adjust my pronunciation of certain words just to accommodate the northern dialect. Also, while there are many similarities in the food served here, there is a slight difference in taste. Nonetheless, I have grown much fonder of Vietnamese food. It may be the one thing I miss most about this beautiful country.

    Adjusting to life in Ha Noi was difficult, but I am happy to say that the sun has come out!! Language classes are going well, I beleive I have gotten better at creating good pictures, and history lectures have introduced me to many honorable Vietnamese scholars, and photographers. Despite all of this amazing-ness… the spotlight is definitely on the Van Ho Buddhist pagoda, where myself and two classmates intern three days a week.

    I have never been a very religious person, however I have always admired Buddhism because I believe there are many aspects that address the very essence of being human. I decided to intern at Van Ho because I want to learn more about Buddhism by seeing it in practice. Van Ho is a very special place. For starters, the head monk is a woman and it has been this way for the majority of the pagoda’s history. There has only been one male head monk. It warms my heart to see women in such high ranking positions. In the back of the garden area at the pagoda, there are several graves where all of the past head monks have been buried. During one of our breaks the head monk showed us photos of a funeral procession for the former head monk. It was such a huge celebration with tons of people and many smiles. In terms of actual work, my classmates and I are usually cleaning and organizing things. However, sometimes we are lucky enough to be in the kitchen where our wonderful hosts prepare delicious vegetarian meals for us. Other times, we are simply relaxing under the sun and getting our personal work done. Initially, things were a bit awkward because of the language barrier. However, my classmates and I have become familiar faces, and have earned quite a bit of respect and compassion from the elderly women. I hope that when my spoken Vietnamese gets better, I can ask my new friends all the questions I have about their tradition.

    Until next time world…

    • TJ


    • DougReilly 1:11 am on October 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great photo of the pagoda…what is on the ground? Looks like flower petals. Try this with your camera…

      Put it on A mode if your camera has it. M if not. You need control of the aperture and you want a high number like 11, 16 or 22. Try that photo again and you might get those in focus along with the temple. And try one with the aperture wide open but the camera focsed on the petals.

      Your photo and the two I am imagining are three paths to a good image. Like hoe your perspective is low to the ground…very Buddhist!

  • Tatianna Jasmine 11:11 pm on September 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Saying goodbye to HCMC 


    I have been living in Sai Gon for three weeks, and now it is time to say goodbye to this wonderful city. My classmates and I will travel through the central highlands, before settling in Ha Noi for the remainder of the program. As I reflect on my time living in southern Viet Nam, I can say that it has been an experience filled with hospitality, excitement, fun, adventure, and so much more. I was warmly welcomed into every home, place of business, restaurant, and shop I entered. I enjoyed almost every meal I ate, and met some amazing human beings. During my stay in HCMC I was paired with a local Vietnamese college student, she is a year older than I and is currently studying economics. My new buddy is a sweet girl, who tried her best to help me out with whatever I needed. Like most people in Vietnam, she drives a motorbike, and often took me on rides around the city for dinner and such. Initially, riding on a motorbike was terrifying, as traffic in Vietnam is ironically more intense than traffic in my hometown (NYC). However, after a short while, I developed a trust in my buddy’s familiarity with the techniques necessary to navigate such dangerous roads. My buddy is very interested in traveling to the U.S., and plans to apply for a work-study program that will aid her in her endeavors. I hope everything works out well for her, because it would be awesome if I could return her hospitality and help her explore my hometown. Another person I will miss dearly is my language instructor. I am so appreciative of the immense amount of patience and kindness she showed me. She always encouraged me when I was struggling with any of the material, and always tried her best to explain any concepts that may have been difficult. Although I am not a pro at Vietnamese, I can say that her excellent teaching skills have given me a new confidence in my own abilities. I must admit that leaving HCMC saddens me a bit because I would have liked the opportunity to build a stronger bond with both my buddy and instructor. Despite my slight disappointment, I am grateful to have met such wonderful people, and look forward to all of the new people I will meet along my journey.

    • Sam Smukler 1:47 am on September 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Yeaaaah cô Hóa! I had her this summer, she was great. 🙂

    • DougReilly 1:19 am on September 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great post! Hanoi will be a big change, but I think you will like it.

    • Irene Perez 6:48 pm on September 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      So happy you’ve had these great experiences; details great; keep it up. Godspeed!

  • Tatianna Jasmine 8:15 am on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    What defines culture? 

    What defines culture?

    Sustenance all humans need…

    Food is the answer!

    • DougReilly 1:12 pm on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I love the combination of poetry and photography here! And…what is that? Looks like rice and a tomato and…

      • Tatianna Jasmine 6:58 am on September 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks! This was just one of the seven courses of my meal. It was rice and an amazing juicy tomato. On the side was some chicken bones, some veggies, shrimp, spring rolls, and tons of other tasty stuff.

    • Sasha 1:38 pm on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I agree wholeheartedly with your poem~! There are so many different cultures around the world, and almost all of them are unique in terms of their food. It certainly describes a lot about a country/culture depending on how they present their food and what they eat ^__^

      • Tatianna Jasmine 7:00 am on September 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Yes! Food can reveal so much about culture. Imports, exports, family structure, agriculture, spiritual beliefs, health habits, food access (social/environmental justice awareness), ahhh so much!!!

  • Tatianna Jasmine 4:10 pm on September 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bus, , , , Pho, ,   

    First day in HCMC 

    This will be a simple journal style entry about my first full day in Viet Nam, with no fancy structure or catchy title.


    Today was challenging. For starters, I did not sleep at all last night. Jet lag has gotten the best of me, and I was super exhausted all day. During orientation I was trying hard to stay awake and alert, but I must admit that I drifted off quite a few times. During our walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), I felt super weak as if I had not eaten all day (although I did have breakfast). The humidity in HCMC is killer! I have never sweated so consistently in my life!! I tried my best to stay hydrated, but it seems that the only remedy for my ill feelings was a cat nap. Now that I have complained my butt off, I can talk about all of the awesome things I experienced today. After orientation, myself and the other students had a group lunch at a restaurant called Pho 2000. Pho seems to be the signature food of Viet Nam; Pho is a noodle soup served with either beef, chicken or vegetables. Based on my experience back in NYC with Vietnamese food, I decided that I did not like Pho. Although it is not my favorite dish, having the authentic taste in Viet Nam has made me much more fond of Pho. After lunch, I took my first bus ride back to my dorm hall. There are a few differences in the way HCMC’s bus system operates compared to the MTA in New York City. For starters, passengers do not hold metrocards/tokens, and there are two employees on the bus. The driver is solely responsible for driving, while there is a second person responsible for walking around the bus at each station and collecting cash payments of 4.000 VND (about the same quantity as 1 U.S. quarter) from each passenger. Navigating the streets of HCMC can be difficult. There are hundreds of motorbikes on the road at any given time; therefore the second worker must help guide the driver around the motorbikes as the bus pulls into each station. Getting on and off the bus is also quite the task; the bus never comes to a complete stop it simply slows down as passengers jump on and off. While there are differences between HCMC and NYC transportation, there are also a few similarities. Passengers can press a button to inform the driver that they need to get off the bus at a specific station. Passengers can choose to sit in very similarly styled seats, or stand and hold the silver poles. Passengers can enjoy the comfort of an air conditioner, or simply open up a window. One of the most profound similarities between the two systems is the use of the bus as an extension of the market place. Women sell their food products on the bus as they ride, or even before a bus pulls out of the main terminal. Initially, I was shocked by this and did not recognize that NYC public transportation is also an extension of the market place. On any given day in NYC, you can find children selling candy bars, performers show casing their talent for a quick buck, and bootleggers selling DVDs at super cheap prices. Because of my vast experience with public transportation, I felt silly when I assumed “transportation culture” would be a completely different experience in Viet Nam. Nonetheless, I am so excited about all of the experiential learning that awaits me. Stay tuned for more of my rambling on just about everything!

    • TJ
    • DougReilly 7:49 pm on September 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I think there are a million different kinds of Pho, so it might be a matter of experimenting to figure out what you like best. Also the pho in Hanoi will be different than the pho in Saigon…anyway you’ll have a hard time not trying it many more times! I like your observations of public transport. It will be interesting again to compare to what it’s like in the north. Doug

  • Tatianna Jasmine 9:40 pm on August 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Fruit, Polish, ,   

    Pink Polish and Fruit Talk 

    This summer has been most eventful. Internships, beach days (very few), movies, friends and family sums up the many things that kept me occupied. However, the most memorable experience for me thus far was a simple trip to the nail salon.

    It was time for a much needed manicure, my new manicurist warned me about the dangers of cutting your cuticles instead of pushing them back. As many times as I had been to this particular salon, I had never been serviced by this particular person. He welcomed me into his station, and got straight to work. He and I joked about which colors would look good on me, and which would not. We both settled for a burst of orange and pink tones. This color is much more vibrant in person. I have learned that many colors, people, places and things are always much more vibrant when experienced up close and personal.

    My manicure was complete and my new friend was handling a business transaction with a colleague. I did not know that this salon was owned by a Vietnamese family until this point. Instantly I recognized the language they were speaking- I had been teaching myself simple Vietnamese phrases. I decided that although my manicure was done, I wanted to learn more about my new friend. I joined him as he took a break from work, and asked if he wouldn’t mind chatting for a bit. I was in for a real treat! We practiced some of my spoken Vietnamese, and he told me about his home town near the Mekong Delta. I was so happy to have the opportunity to experience some of Vietnam here in my own hometown. Although I love my vibrant pink polish, it was not as memorable as the fruit talk.

    He gave me a list of places to eat, mostly mom and pop kinds of restaurants. Then he pulled out a fruit called Longan. He handed me one, and told me that they were most commonly found in the south near Saigon. The outside of the fruit was rough and shell like. This reminded me of a Qenepa- a similar fruit found mostly in the Caribbean. I cracked it open, and the inside was as if I had peeled a green grape. Just one bite, and my mouth was filled with juice that tasted like a melon. I was fascinated- a fruit I had never been exposed to, resembled so many of the fruits I have been accustomed to eating. After having a few more Longans, I thanked my new friend for spending time with me during his busy work day and headed back home.

    I am so grateful to have had this experience. As I walked home, my heart smiled. I was suddenly super eager  to board my flight on September 4th, and I began counting down the days. Today I continue my count down…10 days left. See you soon Vietnam.

    • TJ
    • DougReilly 7:26 pm on August 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great story and great that you took the opportunity to engage them with your Vietnamese! You’ve already begun to travel. Did you happen to get a snapshot of them with your ipod? 😉

    • Juliet Habjan Boisselle 12:50 am on August 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I really enjoyed reading this story. Your description of eating the longan reminds me of my first encounter with lychee. My Vietnamese sister-in-law and her family introduced me to the fruit a few years ago and they were amazing — and, curiously, hard to describe to others — such luscious, unexpected juice inside a tough exterior! Now I want to find a longan to compare!

  • Tatianna Jasmine 2:57 pm on August 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    You Got Some Guts 

    The countdown begins, in less than 10 days I will be departing from New York City, and arriving in Saigon, Vietnam. According to an older colleague, I  “got some guts.” Many people were surprised by my decision to study abroad in Vietnam and not a super touristy European country. But that’s just it, I’m not a tourist. I am a sponge, seeking to soak up the ways of life that still exists outside of the western capitalist mind. Studying anthropology has helped me realize my true passion, culture. So, when I encounter a confused, even terrified reaction from people… I smile. I smile at them because I want my words to enter their thoughts in a positive light, and hopefully induce a new way of thinking. When I am asked “why Vietnam?”, I respond with “why not Vietnam?” Of course the most popular response is the war. According to Webster, war is defined as a period of conflict between nations or states. What is a nation? What is a state? A nation is a group of people united through common decent, history, culture, or language. A state is a governed entity; people who may not consider themselves as part of the same nation are sometimes bordered into the same state. However, at the core of both entities is none other than the human species. If all human beings recognized each other as such- and were treated equally to one another- our planet would be a step closer to sustainability and peace. So, why Vietnam? Because there are groups of people with a common history, culture, and language that I am interested in learning about.  Maybe I do have some guts, or maybe its not necessarily a surplus of guts, but just the right amount. Enough guts to live amongst my fellow homo sapiens, and learn to respect their way of life- even if we [America] was once at war with them.

    • Tatianna Jasmine {TJ}
    • DougReilly 7:24 pm on August 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      When I was first considering coming to work at HWS, I was telling a particularly jaded middle-aged American ex-patriate that I would have the chance to go to Vietnam. He snarled, wide-eyed: “Most of my generation was trying to avoid that!” I decided at that point I really wanted to go to Vietnam, and that I really didn’t want to be a long-term expatriate. But anyway, “going to Vietnam” certainly has different connotations depending on if you’re talking to a vet, draft-avoider, a Vietnamese-American or another person too young to remember the conflict.

    • To Thu Tra 1:49 pm on August 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I had a similar experience being a Vietnamese student in the US. When I first came to HWS, on my fight to Rochester, I sat next to a vet and he asked me how did it feel to come here and how did Vietnamese people think of American. It struck me how deep the impression of the war still imposed on my country. If you search book about Vietnam on Amazon, many of them are about the Vietnam war with images of a Vietnam from decades ago. To us, the war is the past. We move on and have a present, war-less and developing economically. My parents generation’s never talk about it with grudges. They send me to study in the US, have many of my American friends over for dinner and even plan to visit to States someday. That fact encourages me to work hard to introduce to people the Vietnam that I was born and raised in.

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