Ed. note: Jonah Levy '08 of Brooklyn will study abroad in Vietnam during the Fall 06 semester. He has agreed to keep a journal of his preparation and during his time there. This is the second excerpt.
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During the last 2,000 years, Vietnam has dealt with the threat, the act, and the seemingly endless consequence of invasion.
For 1,100 years, this tiny nation has been under foreign control. China held the bulk of the foreign occupation: nearly 1,000 years alone. The Mongols had their share of time in the history of Vietnam, and the Vietnamese used numerous innovative techniques to keep one of the most relentless war-mongering armies at bay.
Finally, as the 20th century came around, the French and the Americans were the most recent in the list of occupiers, adding the latest chapters in this impressive history of resilience.
Far more impressive than all of this is the unanimous vision of the future the Vietnamese people seem to embody. During a recent weekend at home, I dug out the latest edition of the Aleph, HWS’s annual publication of photos, stories, poems and journal entries inspired from semesters abroad. The midnight reading burgeoned my excitement for my upcoming semester abroad and gave me first-hand accounts of the concepts and ideas I’m learning about in the more formal settings of the preliminary meetings.
One entry told of a peculiar sight: instead of massive graveyards monopolizing large plots of land, the Vietnamese often place single graves in the middle of farmland and yards. This cultural technique not only contributes to the agriculture (decomposed corpses provide nutrients to crops), but declares death to be a natural and accepted state in the cycle of life.
Instead of grouping together hundreds of plots to declare acres of land as a center of mourning and grief, they spread their fallen countrymen to state the common notion of the acceptance of death, and they move on.
In a more contemporary statement, the Vietnamese are highly forgiving of the American war. Beyond that, many are eager to learn English. Because of this notion, those of us traveling will be paired with Vietnamese students and learn from each other.
If that’s not a glorious example of the ideal of forgive-and-forget, I don’t know what is.