Global Perspectives in Student Affairs – Vietnam – Day 1

Each day during the Global Perspectives in Student Affairs trip, SAHE students will, in pairs, write blog posts summarizing and making meaning of their day in Vietnam.  This is the first day of their time in Vietnam by Audrey Swenson and Matthew Dempsey.

Vietnam never sleeps; all day and all night, there are people moving about in a constant flow.  Thousands of motorcycles and cars are seemingly always on their way to somewhere, and during this field experience, we have the opportunity to take a small peek and begin to understand the character and the people that define this country.

The goal of the field experience is to broaden our understanding of colleges and universities across the world, and gain insight to both higher education and student affairs.  In our very first day, we had the privilege to visit Đại học Thủy Lợi, also known as Water Resource University.  A hallmark of universities in the United States is the ability to roam and visit a majority of campus.  In Vietnam, we learned, as visitors, to see the university, we need to be on official business.

The staff welcomed us warmly, and shared their excitement at the prospect to highlight the positive components of their university.  As our group of ethnically diverse students walked around campus, students were interested in interacting with us (this became clear when a woman ran up to our group, shuffled her phone to her friend, and took a picture with us in the background).  The students, staff, and faculty were kind, generous, thorough in answering our questions, and always took the time to connect with us.

As a result of our time at Water Resources University, we gained an understanding of how their mission ties into a current global issue: water management.  Here in Vietnam, areas experience both extreme floods, and extreme droughts.  In the world, there is a need to understand cleaning and conserving water.  The faculty indicated a commitment to contributing positively to the global conversation, and empowered their students to use their university knowledge to make a difference.

To bring the day at Water Resources University to a close, the staff and faculty treated our delegation to a large, scrumptious lunch.  The traditional Vietnamese lunch was enjoyed by all, and eaten alongside individuals from Water Resources University.  Conversation varied between understanding the religious breakdown in the country, what people do for fun, favorite foods, and much more.

After spending the day at Water Resources University, our group visited the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.  We learned more about the history and ethnic subgroups of Vietnam.  There are five ethnolinguistic families, with 54 ethnic groups in those families.  Each group has their own set of ritual, customs, beliefs, attire, and language.  One of these groups was a matriarchal group, where the women of the group are the primary decision makers.  Over time, these cultures have adapted, changed, merged, and spread out.  Motorbikes replaced bicycles, attire changed, and people moved.  Currently, there are more members of the Muong ethnic group who live in the United States than there are in Vietnam.

After the inside component of the museum, we had the opportunity to go outside and visit life size reconstructions of the homes in which many individuals of Vietnam used to live.  There were original statues symbolic of the lifecycle and artifacts indicating the differences in gender.

Our first full day in Vietnam can be summarized as busy.  We started the day early, the traffic was nonstop, the food was delicious and seemingly never-ending, the people were kind, and the city never seems to sleep.  There is no way to write everything we learned and absorbed today in just a blogpost, as it would be an injustice to the rich culture that exists here.

– Audrey Swenson & Matthew Dempsey