By Molly Sobel /// Staff Writer
It feels like I have learned more in the past six weeks in Vietnam than in any semester of college. There is something about studying language, history and culture that works a lot better when you are actually immersed in that particular culture.
I chose to attend Lewis & Clark because of the incredible international experiences it encourages students to participate in. While here, I have been fortunate enough to go on an international Alternative Spring Break trip my first year, a semester through a program that took me around the world my second year, an internship grant from LC that allowed me to live and work in Ghana for the summer following my third year and now the chance to spend a semester on an LC overseas program in Vietnam.
I went to Vietnam briefly my sophomore year, and I immediately fell in love with it. I knew I had more to learn about this place. The culture, food, people and language seemed more interesting to me than almost any of the over 30 countries I have been able to visit during my time at LC.
Living in the dorms with local university students has been a highlight for all of us in the program, making it easier to immerse myself in local culture. Living in a community that is made up of 13 LC students and 13 Vietnamese students has also made it easy to form a close community full of culture shock and learning opportunities for both groups. Waterparks, traffic and market trips are other highlights.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach an English class here at an elementary school twice a week, allowing me to connect with a handful of amazing young children who help me practice my Vietnamese while I teach them English.
Learning Vietnamese—a monosyllabic, tonal language— has been my biggest challenge, but I am starting to communicate in full sentences with people I meet in the parks, when ordering food or when bargaining with shop owners (a skill I wasn’t expecting to develop after just one month of learning a new language).
Another challenge I have encountered while living in Vietnam is the food. I love Vietnamese food, but sometimes seeing dog, silkworm, weasel or porcupine on a menu can be upsetting. But meals are cheap, and the food is great. Every day, I have smoothies for breakfast, pho for lunch and broken rice for dinner.
Overall, I’ve found myself feeling surprisingly comfortable here. Though there are still challenges, like mastering crossing streets of motorbike traffic and paying for things with a surprising conversion rate (one U.S. dollar is equal to 20,000 Vietnamese dong!), I feel lucky to be here. I’m so glad LC has programs that allow students to learn in such an authentic and in-depth way.