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  • appelsina7 6:51 am on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , identity, , , , united states,   


    Getting places in a new city is always an adventure. Especially when you don’t speak the native language very well. Usually, in the beginning it involves writing addresses down on napkins and other scraps of paper, so that you can give it to the taxi driver without having to communicate very much. After being here for almost two months, I have become more confident of my ability to communicate an address to a taxi driver or negotiate a price with a “xe om” driver (man you pay to give you a ride on his motorbike). Getting to my internship meeting for the first time was more eventful that I would have liked, especially on an early Monday morning. I have started to enjoy trying out my broken Vietnamese with taxi drivers and on this morning in particular, my driver asked the typical initial questions like “where are you from?” but then skipped a few and went right to “Do you have a boyfriend?” I was happy that I picked up the words but surprised by the forwardness of his question. I replied that I did have a boyfriend and he asked his nationality, either Vietnamese or American. Not sure where the conversation was going at this point, I answered that he is American and the taxi driver wanted to know why he did not come with me to Vietnam? It was an unusual exchange and one that ended up sticking with me, especially after my taxi driver admitted to not knowing the way. So I led him to the street, paid and got out of the cab thinking that it would be easy to find my way. I ended up not being able to find it and I asked a well-dressed elderly man who did not know the way but asked around and taking my arm led me to the address. He was very sweet and I was excited to discover that he spoke French (he was the first Vietnamese man of the older generation who I encountered speaking French). He led me carefully through the early morning traffic, giving my arm little tugs when he thought I was going to walk in front of a moving vehicle, in my eagerness to be on the sidewalk again.

    Even at home I enjoy trying new foods and being in Vietnam has made me much more adventurous. Just the other day I tried snake and on another occasion, my roommate came home very excited about some wedding cake that her friend gave her. Curious, I watched as she unpacked two plastic bags of this sticky looking green and brow gelatin looking substance. She explained that it was wedding cake made of rice from the hai phong province; the cake is called banh phu the banh com. She ate it by pulling the dark green layer from the tan layer or the whitish layer (there were two different types of the cake). So I tried some and it tasted like mildly sweet rice jelly goo. I am not a fan and happily let my roommate devour the bags of cake.

    Themes have started to present themselves now that I have been here for two months. One of these is the problems that are created by the Vietnamese attempting to straddle their traditional culture and their desire to be modern. Stemming from their traditional belief that, “we are all one,” the Vietnamese continue to live by this idea. When Vietnam was still organized in Villages, people could not exist outside of their community. Not belonging to a village meant being homeless, not connected to any place or to any one. As a result, people in their villages demonstrated and follow the unique cultural expressions of their village. People, outside of their village, were identified by it but within their community they were recognized as individuals. People ask you where you are from so they can discover who you are, defined by the village you belong to, their communal traditions and beliefs, to whom you are attached. Today this idea causes problems. Location is still very important to the Vietnamese. One of the first things I am asked when meeting a new Vietnamese is always “where are you from?” This though, because I am a foreigner and not from a village, is not a sufficient question to be able to figure out who I am. They need more information, just like I can’t ask a Vietnamese person “where are you from?” and have Vietnam be an adequate answer to begin figuring out who they are. Just like I would not recognize the specific village/town/city they come from, unless it is one of the few I have heard of or visited, they usually do not know where Massachusetts is and never know where Hadley is. As a result, they generalize about Americans, as though we are all the same. Even if they did have an understanding of the town I come from, my town and the majority of the towns in he US are not made up of people belonging to the same political, economic or religious groups. My town does effect who I am, like my preference of rural areas rather than urban ones. I have found that Vietnamese youth, like my buddy from Ho Chi Minh City and my roommate in Hanoi, try to put me in this box labeled “American” and I do not fit with many of the qualifiers that they previously thought were characteristics of Americans. Their example comes from what they watch on MTV and gain from other internet shown, movies and the internet. I am frugal, do not enjoy going to loud and smoke filled nightclubs, or wearing minuscule clothing. I do not smoke or do drugs, and I like to enjoy my drinks instead of just drinking to get wasted. I am trying to show them a more real, diverse side of the “American” that the have created from the media. Just like they are all unique, so am I and location cannot be the only identifier one uses to figure out who someone is.

  • explorewithasmile 9:56 am on October 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ngo, united states, , war   

    Quotes from an American Vietnam War Veteran 

    Please think deeply about what I shared to you all, make any comments you may like and ask any and all questions.

    Here is the link to Project Renew: http://www.landmines.org.vn
    It has a wonderful video explaining the project in detail: http://www.landmines.org.vn/galleries/videos/video_01.html

    Thank you so much for watching

    : )

    • jhboisselle 1:49 pm on October 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for the thoughtful and provocative posting. It’s so powerful to hear first person accounts, isn’t it, and equally compelling then to take on the responsibility of representing another’s voice. The presence of NGOs and their varying missions, scopes and sustainability is an area that I’d love to hear more about as you interact with more individuals and groups!

    • Ellen 2:20 pm on December 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Great post, Taylor. It speaks to some of the issues we were wondering about during my visit. What a great opportunity to hear about NGOs first hand.

  • explorewithasmile 3:44 am on October 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: united states, ,   

    STORM! – Eastern Coasts of VN and U.S. 

    This is not the best video (his Vietnamese accent is horrible), but a good overview of the storm that is hitting Vietnam right now.

    Even though we are half way around the world – both Geneva, NY and Ha Noi, VN are bracing for a storm today!

    • Ellen 4:01 am on October 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Son-Tin vs Sandy!!

  • grenphi 9:46 pm on February 13, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , united states   


    It’s been a few months that I’ve been back in the U.S., and by request, here’s a post on the experience being back.

    Transitioning back to the United States has been fairly easy. I missed American breakfasts enough to compensate for a lot of what I lost coming back from China. I may have my qualms with the United States, but omelets with hot sauce is not one of them.

    What has proven to be strange and abnormally difficult has been transitioning back to the culture at HWS. Where in Nanjing I had a community of people to go do martial arts with during my free time, here I do not. I fit in better in Nanjing as a foreigner than I do here as a student. I find a lot of the chit chat that I do trying to make friends and open doors here at HWS is boring beyond belief. I bond more with someone who’s struggling to choke me or bring my joints to breaking point than someone who tries to explain to me how funny their friends are drunk. Many of my conversations with fellow HWS students break down when I say “no, I don’t drink or smoke, I don’t party, I simply like training and being with friends”. I usually receive an awkward silence, and then a hesitant change of subject.

    Academics have been a struggle as well. First and foremost, I have to care, which I didn’t last semester. Efforts to focus and stay alert while reading and writing have renewed, and so far I’ve made it through the semester without too many problems. I’ve been fortunate to have a class that interests me, my EMS class, to keep me sane. Unfortunately, this has caused me to look at other courses much more critically. My sociological research methods professor  told me on the first day of the semester that she thinks her course is the most important in the curriculum, and that research methods courses should be taught across disciplines. In the next month I learned a myriad of definitions, read studies and accounts of studies, and have expanded both my vocabulary and knowledge about conducting research. In contrast, from EMS class I’ve learned anatomy, how and when to move injured people, take vital signs, and CPR. For whatever strange reason, EMS class seems much more important.

    I choose research methods as a comparison simply because it consumes a lot of times these days. My struggle with that class and EMS is representative my struggle with a culture of education that often times seems lost in abstraction. It’s important to research and discuss issues, but without putting your boots on the ground, no good is really being done.

    But, that’s why I returned to the U.S. I get to work and get involved, and I will make sure that my boots will hit the ground as soon as they are able. China was a nice vacation, a cool experience, but it will not compare to the life of purpose I will create here.

    • DougReilly 6:31 pm on March 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for this post…it has given those of us in mission control a lot to think about, especially since we’ve devoted so much energy over the years to higher ed. You’ve pointed out so many interesting tensions in that system, some things we have noticed as well. The desire to have things grounded in details and real world applications is one of the things that motivated Asiapod and our work in study abroad in general. To join the conceptual with the actual, details with underlying dynamics, etc, and to get conversations started between people with diverse experiences, to search for resonance. Anyway, bottom line is that I really appreciate your post and can empathize with your present situation! doug

  • Sasha 10:23 pm on January 10, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , united states   


    It’s difficult re-assimilating into the American culture. Not that I wish to complain, as I do love America, as well as my family and friends back here, but from that first walk through the airport I noticed drastic differences.

    People are rude. And I’ve already gotten confirmation of this from others who have traveled abroad so I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. But people don’t pay attention to where they are, or who is around them.

    The food. Wow, the food. I ate my last real Japanese food at the Narita airport in Tokyo. Shrimp tempura, delicious! But now…well. I walked into our local convenience store with my mom. She wanted coffee, I wanted hot chocolate. I passed by the small aisles of sandwiches and snacks and tastycakes and couldn’t help but thinking just how unappetizing everything looked. It seemed liked such a shame too cause I would have loved this food a few short months ago. But now, I could barely look at it.

    Granted, some things, though, are actually pretty easy to assimilate back into. I no loner have to struggle reading signs everywhere (on the road, in stores) or strain to catch words of people’s conversations. I can understand everything around me, recognize people’s accents (Japanese accents—dialects—are a bit harder to distinguish as I’m not as familiar with the language). It’s both weird and slightly comforting to know that if I get lost somewhere I can easily find my way back as there’s no more of the language barrier.

    However, I do miss getting lost in Japan. And I did that so very often. ☺

    It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve been back, and I’m sure the others who joined me on the trip would agree, I wish I could go back. I would love to spend another semester in Japan, visiting places and people, and taking more of an advantage of being in another country and it might be quite a bit of time before I return there.

    I guarantee we will all look for other ways to return to Japan, whether it be next year or in a few years from now, I’m sure we will all return someday.

    • stanweaver 8:38 pm on February 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Sasha, I hope you are able to return and re-assimilate into Japanese culture!

  • jhboisselle 1:33 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , united states,   

    You and I 

    The following is a post from Asiapod reader Tra T. To ’12 HWS.

    Being a loyal reader to Asiapod, I have always felt compelled to share, compare and contrast my own experience with all my blogger friends. While all of them are talking about their experience being Americans in Asia, I am in a opposite position of an Asian student in the US.

    My mother tongue is Vietnamese and my hometown is the old capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. The culture and the language I was brought up with put a great amount of emphasis on showing due respect to people higher up than you in social rank. The hierarchy of social ranking in Vietnam bases on an intricate web of age, kinship, occupation and social status, which reflect in Vietnamese complex system of pronouns. In Vietnamese language, there are over 30 words used to refer to “I” or “me” and just as many for “you”, all depend on the relative statuses between the speakers. When I talk to my mother, she is “mẹ” and I am “con”. When I talk to my uncle, he is “chú” and I am “cháu”. A female older acquaintance is “chị” and a younger one is “em” and the list goes on. The pronouns also imply the intimacy of the relationship. To my same-age friends, I am “tao” and I call he/she “mày”. To another same-age person that I am not too familiar with, I am “tôi” and the other is “bạn”. The male special someone is always “anh” (the same word for older brother) and the female is always “em” (the same word for younger sibling). A small switch in the pronouns in the conversation can contain in it a whole lot of meanings. It can either be a transition from stranger to friendship, to kinship or from closeness to hostility. I might sound repetitive at this point but Vietnamese language is so subtle that way and that’s what I love about it. When starting school in the States three years ago, English became my daily language and getting used to the simplicity of “I,me” and “you” still remains my longest cultural adaption. Suddenly, I found myself feeling impolite and ill-mannered because without the honorific pronoun system, I couldn’t fully express my respects to professors and older people.

    Three years passed and I’m still the kid who bows a lot and finds it uncomfortable to call professors and elders by their first name (of course, with exception to certain ones). The system of pronouns based on social ranking is shared by other Asian languages such as Japanese and Korean.

    I encourage you to go out there, listen to the subtlety of the language, make conversation, ask about it, use it and enjoy the fondness and respect people give you for your being earnest. Language opens the door to culture and I strongly believe in the power of everyday engagement as the key to it.

    Tra T. To ’12
    Hobart and William Smith Colleges

    • andrewupton 3:39 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply


      How have you been? I miss you!!!
      I know exctly wht you mean about the struggle between Vietnamese and English in terms of honorific language and language based on relations. Those of us in Japan, as you pointed out, face similar problems every day. The probelem is sort of reversed though. Instead of getting used to the language’s simplicity, like you and english, we are struggling with its complexity. I am always thinking of whether I should use certain honorific forms, whether I should use distal or direct style. It really makes me evaluate how well I know people, or how I view them. I don’t know how we survive without bowing in the U.S. I know for a fact that I will be bowing to everyone when I get back. ; )

    • Sam Smukler 3:25 pm on October 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Heh heh, this reminds me of a story. My parents visited me in Vietnam, and my Vietnamese friend and I were showing them around. We were at the Museum of Ethnography, and we were invited to have tea. I called my parents over: “Hey guys, this lady just invited us to have tea!”. My Vietnamese friend was amazed that I called my parents “guys”. 😉

  • viennamf 7:20 am on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Hikone, host family, , , , united states   

    Small World 

    So far most of my initial worries about Japan have been laid to rest. It turns out that I definitely did not over pack and I may have even under packed for the first time in my life. I didn’t lose any luggage. I’ve been early to all my classes thus far (being two minutes away from your classroom helps) and I have decided that kanji and vocabulary are both scary and I will have to conquer them both.  The Boss coffee is as good as I remember though and the food is awesome in general (especially the snacks!).  I have done some exploring of Hikone and surrounding cities but not as much as I would have hoped due to jet lag, school work, and rain (or maybe I am just a wimp).  I have already made some great friends here but so far they are all Americans and I find myself really enjoying the American ghetto experience.  This is obviously because it is super comfortable and there is not much of a language or cultural barrier to get over first and I really like the other students here.  I think that my home stay will definitely change this.

    Speaking of my home stay…I am fortunate to have a home stay this semester because there were a lot of students applying for a small number of slots.  When the very nice Japanese woman who coordinates the home stay program at JCMU told me about my host family she said that I had a host sister, Mami, who had experience studying abroad in the U.S. in New York.  I thought that this was interesting indeed and I figured that I would probably know the college she went to, maybe Hamilton or Ithaca College or something along those lines. I was really excited when she Friended me on Facebook but I almost fell of my bed when I read her message and she told me that she had studied abroad at Wells College.

    Wells College, dear reader, is located in my hometown of Aurora, NY. This itsy bitsy village is 1 square mile and contains about 700 people.  Wells College takes up a good percentage of the village and the po

    pulation but it is also teeny tiny with about 400 students.  She practically lived in my backyard.  A little Facebook stalking revealed that we had both attended Ennichi, a Japanese festival at Cornell University, we had a friend in common, and she had stayed with friends of my family for winter break.  I am pretty sure that we never actually met, but it could have easily happened since we were in such close proximity for a year. My mind is a little bit blown. I think that the chances of this happening are very slim and some how predestined by fate.  However, she attends an all women’s college in Kyoto that is affiliated with Wells (it used to be an all women’s school) and HWS students study abroad in Hikone, so it is not wildly impossible for someone from HWS to meet someone who studied abroad at Wells.  Or maybe it still is. I am not very good at statistics.

    This is my gift for my host family. It is a picture my mother took of the Wells College boat house. I think it turned out to be very fitting.

    I’m sure that my home stay experience would be unique without this connection, but I think it will be on a different level now because we are not just exchanging our cultures of America and Japan but also the specific cultures of Aurora and Hikone, two places we have both lived.  Apparently that whole “small world” thing is true.

    • DougReilly 1:10 pm on September 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      What a great story! And yeah, the small world thing is not a cliche but a fact. I hope the host family works out well!

    • Jennifer Allen 12:26 am on September 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      That is so awesome! Especially since Wells and Aurora are so small. I think giving them a picture of the boathouse is very fitting. It is one of the things most people and students remember about Aurora is the sunsets, with good reason as they are some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

      btw I studied at Wells and than worked there for a few years.

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