Students Give Back in Vietnam – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Give Back in Vietnam

This semester, more than a dozen students enrolled in the Colleges’ study abroad program in Hanoi, Vietnam, participated in one of the nation’s major holiday traditions, the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In reporting on the annual custom, a Vietnamese media organization, Tuoitrenews, featured three HWS students – Nathaniel Burgess ’14, Eliza Orrick ’15 and Joshua Serrano ’15 – for their involvement in preparing traditional lanterns that were given to children as part of the festival activities. HWS is noted in both an article and a video.

“I think it’s a lot of fun,” Orrick tells Tuoitrenews. “It’s really cool and traditional. There is a history behind lanterns as people keep making them every Mid-Autumn Festival.”

The HWS students celebrated the popular harvest gathering at a Ho Chi Minh City school, where they made five-star lanterns as gifts for children who are orphans. The Mid-Autumn Festival has a particular focus on celebrating Vietnamese children.

HWS joined with Union College at the Ho Chi Minh City school to create the lanterns. The connection between the institutions is part a study abroad collaboration that enhances the overall experience, including post-study programming.

Like many of the students volunteering while abroad, Serrano has also leant his time in Vietnam volunteering as an intern with Action for the City. The small NGO strives to improve the environmental conditions of urban dwellers by promoting sustainable lifestyles and organic farming. Throughout the semester, Serrano has worked to clean the city, led workshops, and even constructed a greenhouse out of plastic bottles.

This year, Burgess, Orrick, Serrano and the rest of their classmates studying in Vietnam join a remarkable line of HWS students and faculty who have been a part of the study abroad program to the Southeast Asia country.

The Colleges first offered study abroad to Vietnam during the 1994-95 academic year, making it one of the oldest and most established in the United States. With the program’s launch, HWS was the first group to go in 30 years.

Professor of French and Francophone Studies Marie-France Etienne, who was born in Vietnam, lead the first group. Professor of Sociology Jack Harris, director of the Vietnam term abroad and an expert on the country, has been an integral part of the program since its beginning.

HWS students who participate in the Vietnam study abroad program have the opportunity to study an ancient civilization that is undergoing dramatic transitions and modernization. Upon their arrival, students begin intensive Vietnamese language instruction through VLS (Vietnamese Language Studies) in Ho Chi Minh City, which continues under the direction of faculty from VLS in Hanoi. An internship or independent study project is also required.

For this semester’s experience involving the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Tuoitrenews articles explains that upon completition of the lanterns, each was donated to a local Vietnamese orphanage where the children then released the vibrant lanterns into the night sky.

In the article, Burgess says that the process went well despite never previously having the chance to work on authentic lanterns. He says that participating in the event was a great experience.

Serrano says he was hopeful that the children would enjoy the finished pieces. The HWS students used colorful paper to cover bamboo frames shaped like animals in order to create the lanterns.

To read the complete Tuoitrenews article, visit:

To view a Tuoitrenews video that features the students making lanterns, visit:

The full article is as follows.

Tuoitrenews US students make mid-autumn lanterns for HCMC orphans Binh Minh – Dong Nguyen • Sept. 13, 2013

Despite the heavy rain on September 12 afternoon, around 15 students from America’s Hobart and William Smith and Union colleges gathered at the Vietnamese Language Studies Saigon (VLS) center in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 to make traditional Vietnamese mid-autumn lanterns.

According to Vo Thanh Binh, principal of the Vietnamese language school, the lantern making event has been held every year with the hope of bringing Vietnamese culture closer to foreigners to as well as creating a playground for learners.

“We want to make an exchange between the cultures. Participants learn not only from watching and doing, they also join to make some cultural things to remember,” Binh said. “We want to offer foreign students a cultural experiment. Mid-autumn festival is very special holiday to Asians, so we aim to show them what a Vietnamese mid-autumn festival has.”

Participants were asked to cover a bamboo frame in the shape of an animal using colorful papers. They were also encouraged to decorate the lanterns with watercolor by their own creations.

“I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s really cool and traditional. There is a history behind a lantern as people keep making it every mid-autumn festival”, Elizabeth Orrick, 20, told Tuoitrenews.

In a friendly atmosphere, the students were seen putting a lot of effort in making their lanterns, not only because this is their first occasion joining a Vietnamese traditional activity, but also because all the lanterns will be given to orphan children.

“It’s my first time coming to Vietnam and making lantern. I’m struggling with putting all the parts of the lantern together. Hopefully it makes the kid happy,” Nathaniel Burgess, 21, shared with smile while Joshua Serrano, 21, said he spent a lot of time making his lantern because he wanted to make sure it’s a nice gift for children.

After the lantern event, on September 14, another event to make moon cakes will be held at the center, before a trip to visit and hand out the lanterns and cakes to 30 orphans at Tinh That Linh Son pagoda in District 12 takes place the next day.

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