In January of 2011, weekly storms brought incredible amounts of snow to the streets and sidewalks of Boston. As residents desperately searched for places to put it, many filled yards to overflowing with gargantuan mounds of snow. Our children took great delight in this development. They found the snow banks to be perfect climbing challenges, walking around the tops of these 6 foot banks to survey the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but wonder: what makes it so exciting to walk atop a hill of snow?
A few weeks later, I began to appreciate their curiosity for myself. At that time, I found myself atop a 30 foot ladder installing heating-wires for our gutters and roof to speed the de-icing process (notice the theme) and I couldn’t help but appreciate the opportunity to see the surroundings from this unusual perch. There WAS something special about looking around at familiar sites from a new vantage point. I had a totally different point-of-view, literally, and I felt like I discovering entirely new facets of the area. I was able to appreciate the beauty of our neighborhood in ways that I never had before, and I also noticed in new detail certain decrepit houses that had always been right down the street. All of this simply from a slight change in perspective.
Coli and I are spending the year in the United States after more than five years of living and working in Hanoi, Vietnam. The year has proved to be a wonderful chance to rediscover again familiar friends and places that hold a special place in our hearts. Yet we’ ve also returned to the United States with a different perspective on life and it’s curious to monitor the ways that we perceive and respond to our old haunts out of the life experiences we gained in Hanoi. More importantly, however, this year provides a significant opportunity for us to step away from our day-to-day activities in Hanoi and to see what sort of fresh insight we gain for our lives there through the distance of time and space that this year affords.
We’re midway through our year in the states at this point, so it’s still early to speak conclusively about what we’ve been learning. Nonetheless, there are few themes that have emerged through our conversations with friends and the simple change of pace that this year represents. On the one hand, we see the wear and tear of life in Hanoi upon our family more clearly. The challenges of our work can easily eat away at our connection to one another as a couple as well as the reserves out of which we care for our children and respond to the people around us. On the other hand, we’re finding the freedom to rethink basic questions about how we find refreshment day-to-day. Questions of housing figure especially large in those calculations as we look for adjustments that will provide us with a meaningful community of friends and our children with a little more space to engage with the world at large. (In our previous home, they had essentially been confined to the indoors because of lack of play space and buddies in the surrounding neighborhood.)
I can’t help but think that our Vietnamese colleagues and friends in Hanoi would also benefit from a similar experience of stepping away from the urgent demands of their work. Hanoi is a very busy, noisy city, and many Vietnamese professionals work industriously from dawn until dusk – leaving the home early and returning late. The challenges facing Vietnamese educators, with whom we work, are numerous. The resources available to educators are often limited and the administrative requirements placed upon educators are often numerous; such working conditions quickly drain a sense of creativity and excellence right out of any professional. So the importance of refreshment, and perspective, is even greater for the people with whom we work.
On the one hand, many Vietnamese educators find the gift of time and space to step away as they receive scholarships to pursue Masters or Doctorate degrees overseas in places like Australia, Belgium, and even the United States. These years of study allow educators the freedom and resources to invest in their professional development. On the other hand, REI Vietnam endeavors to come alongside our Vietnamese colleagues to provide on-going training and support that will inspire the development of these educators and many other professionals. Our entire mission, in fact, is focused upon building people! It’s a privilege to be a part of the process that allows our colleagues and friends to discover new possibilities, both professionally and personally.
Still, I wonder: What are habits of the heart allow for lifelong learning and help us to keep things in perspective? I’m eager to hear your ideas.