While studying the political history of Vietnam, Tolulope Arasanyin ’21 focused her abroad experience on a project that allowed her to interview people who had experienced the move from colonialism to Communism.
Her project “Humans of Hanoi: From Colonialism to Communism,” funded by a Student International Initiative Fund (SIIF) grant awarded by HWS’ Center for Global Education, allowed her to hire a translator, enabling her to talk to people she met in the streets of Hanoi.
“I spoke with locals about how their country has changed pre- and post-war, and how their lives have shifted,” says Arasanyin, a political science major with minors in history, Africana studies and Writing Colleagues Program.
She says the encounters increased her understanding of the significance of listening to individual stories when studying the history of a particular place or time. “The only way you can get to know how people truly feel is by talking to them,” she says.
Of the many encounters she had, Arasanyin recalls that following two hours of not finding any interviewees, “My translator and I asked a store owner if he would like to be interviewed. He told the story of his life in Vietnam and how there was a bomb shelter right around the corner, and that children used to use it as a playhouse. The interview really contextualized the history that I was learning there.”
Arasanyin began her studies in Saigon, where she lived in a guesthouse while taking a Vietnamese language class, and later travelled through the Mekong to Hanoi.
Another highlight was meeting Bảo Ninh, the author of the award-winning novel The Sorrow of War, who spoke to Arasanyin and her group about his experiences during the war. She also visited a number of museums and historical sites, ranging from the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and a fish farm in the Mekong Delta to the My Son ruins in Central Vietnam, experiences she wrote about for a travel blog and shared via her Instagram account thesisofablackgirl.
She says experiential learning is incredible. “I learned something new every day about myself and about Vietnam.”