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 his third excerpt.
— — — — — —
HWS housing lottery numbers were distributed about a week ago, so people have begun to figure out where they’re going to live next year. When people ask where I plan to live, I say “Vietnam for about four months.”
Suddenly it’s becoming real; not just cultural facts and information directed at me for some vague reason.
I’ve discovered the semester schedule: a day-by-day description that is about 75 percent strange words, (which I have to trust to represent actual places), 20 percent language courses and lectures, and every Sunday as a “free day.”
The day I’m expected to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City is the day before a wedding my girlfriend and I were to attend. The semester will end in early December, leaving considerable time for my father and brothers to come join me and travel.
“I want to spend some time in Vietnam, but then definitely Cambodia or Laos,” my father plans. He’s already thinking ahead for December, and I still have so many unanswered questions!
What will my access to cash be? What will the weather be like? How much do I worry about pickpockets? Fortunately, I’m going to an immunization meeting after spring break, so there will be a load of (terrifying) questions to be answered.
An educational film was used as a springboard for the second-to-last preliminary meeting. It told us about Vietnam’s “folk culture,” and the concentric social circles in which most rural Vietnamese live.
The meeting began by referring American identity to the different circles to which we attach ourselves: family, school, friends and religion.
These aspects of life in the United States are often fractions of a person’s life, forcing one to perform and react differently in each situation. Essentially, this leads a person to live a fractured life, sometimes resulting in identity crisis.
In Vietnam, one citizen belongs to a family, within a village, within a religious community, within a nation. There is rarely any deviance, but globalization seems to threaten this way of life. In some cases, the Vietnamese people have a choice as to whether they wish to change along with the rest of the world; in some cases, they don’t.
As Professor Jack Harris explained at the end of the meeting, “Vietnam is in the course of two matrices.” He crossed his fingers, visually depicting two radically different directions.
“What I don’t want you to do is to take this information for truth and apply it in a sense of right and wrong.
“Rather, observe the traditions, the standards, the changes and apply what you’re seeing and hearing to these ideas that I’m telling you about.”
This strikes me for a moment as righteous, and I realize that most students learn about the world through books and teachers. I will be learning about the world through a first-hand experience.