Xin chào tù’ Hà Nôi!
It’s been almost a year since the hot and humid June day when I arrived in Hanoi for a stint as a Luce Scholar. After two months of intensive Vietnamese language study, I began work as a policy researcher for a local environmental NGO. I research the environmental implications that trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, would have on a highly biodiverse country like Vietnam.
A highlight of my time has been living with a wonderful homestay family, cô Mai and chú Việt. Not only has living with them been great practice for my Vietnamese, but it also has provided insight into cultural traditions such as Vietnamese New Year (Tết) and ancestor worship. Plus, cô Mai makes the best fried spring rolls (nem rán) I have ever had and has introduced me to so many delicious foods — expanding my concept of Vietnamese food beyond a bowl of phở.
While endless construction projects line my commute to work (via my Yamaha Nouvo motorbike), there is an undeniable charm to Vietnam’s capital city, with its tree-lined streets and peaceful lakes; toddlers riding on the backs of motorbikes in sunglasses, helmets and adorable outfits; and the look of utter surprise by locals when I speak to them in Vietnamese. Every day brings new and unexpected experiences — whether drinking rice wine and going to karaoke with coworkers or dodging herds of cows and water buffaloes in the countryside.
There have also been some low points, like missing home during the holidays or sitting in a meeting and not being able to follow what was being said. Another Rice alum living in Hanoi reminds me that I am adjusting to a new country, culture, language and work environment while transitioning from college — and nothing about that is easy.
I’m looking forward to some upcoming adventures — motorbiking in Vietnam’s northern mountains near the Chinese border and spending time with my family when they come to visit during the summer. Vietnam has opened my eyes to what it means to live and work abroad, to experience a new culture and to discuss global issues. It has been nothing short of a transformative experience.
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