Hobart and William Smith Colleges
The HWS Update
Vịnh Hạ Long, Việt Nam

Immersed in Vietnamese Life and Culture

Tay Ninh Temple (Cao Dai)Trekking their way through villages, markets and national parks, 10 William Smith students have immersed themselves in Vietnamese culture this semester as part of the Colleges’ Hanoi study abroad program. Led by Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Christopher Annear, students are exploring the culture through unique experiences and analytical reflection.

The program – geared toward students in the humanities and social sciences – began with three weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, where students took intensive Vietnamese language courses and became acquainted with the culture. Before traveling to Hanoi, students visited the Mekong Delta Floating Market, a Buddhist Temple, a Cham Village, a crocodile farm, and also hiked Sam Mountain.

“The Mekong Delta excursion set the tone for an amazing, surprising, unforgettable, adventure-filled program that none of us will ever forget,” says Danielle Moyer ’18, an anthropology major.

Since their arrival in Hanoi, students have continued their language studies, in addition to taking Vietnamese history and culture courses and completing individual internships. Students are interning with environmental NGOs, teaching English to 11-year-old Vietnamese students, advocating for greater LGBTQ rights, and working with an English publishing company, among others.

The Fish Sauce Class Visit, SaigonMoyer, for example, is interning at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, where she is surveying English-speaking foreigners about their experience in the museum’s newest building and using the results to help guide the museum’s Board of Education on how to improve the museum experience.

“As a result of this experience, I have been able to learn about Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cultures in ways I could have never imagined,” Moyer says. “Working at this internship allows me to take the knowledge I learn and apply it to my daily life experience, furthering my ability to connect with the people of Vietnam.”

Annear’s seminar that focuses on food studies also relies on experiential learning, integrating cultural experiences with a reflective component to help students analyze their personal and intellectual learning and encourage discussion throughout the semester.

“I hope and expect students in this program will begin to meet others in the world on their own terms – culturally, economically and linguistically,” says Annear. “In so doing, students will start to take responsibility for their own learning and identities as global citizens.”

Each experiential component – from ethnic cooking classes to visiting the Khai Dinh and Minh Mang royal tombs or exploring the imperial city of Hue –  is designed to promote cross-cultural learning.

“Vietnam has challenged me to approach people differently,” says sociology major Katherine Storch ’18. “Every day I am taken out of my comfort zone because I have to try to communicate in a different language and understand cultural tendencies that are completely foreign to me.”

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