REI-Vietnam News

Doubling REI Impact at Vietnamese Campuses

by REI-Vietnam |

Image: Doubling REI Impact at Vietnamese Campuses

The REI-Vietnam Cultural Exchange Program in Hanoi has grown from a single location from 2011-2013 to multiiple locations in 2014, now taking place not at just one, but at two universities in Hanoi. REI’s veteran staff members, Dr. Jeff Stebbins and Bob Motsay, coordinated two student teams to the University of Language and International Studies (ULIS) and the National Economics University (NEU) in Hanoi from May 23 to June 17. Jeff accompanied the ULIS team (Melissa Crockett, Travis Williamson, Sierra Kedroske, Virginia O’Connor, and Shelby Soltau, led by Ethan Springer), while Bob accompanied the NEU team (Joshua Aguilar, Hillary Fromme, and Daniel Walls, led by Caleb and Katelyn Quinones). This program enjoyed a number of firsts, including our first partnership with NEU, our first participating couple (the Quinoneses), and the first time for some of our team members to eat silkworms!

Toothpicks Look at these really big toothpicks!!!!

After their arrival, the students enjoyed a couple of days of rest to recover from jet lag, and then jumped into the program with a crash course in Vietnamese. Jeff, our resident linguist, enjoyed watching Texan lips (most of the students hail from Texas A&M) try to wrap themselves around Vietnamese phonemes. After only two days of oral gymnastics, each student moved into the home of a host family and shared life with them for the next five days, and then moved to housing on campus, where they stayed for the duration of the program.

STudents Learning Vietnamese Learning Vietnamese is hard!!!!"

And then the fun really began.

Developing friendships through cultural exchange was the name of the game for the next four weeks. The “R” in REI stands for “Resource,” but in the Cultural Exchange program could just as well stand for “Relationship.” Relationships are key to the success of our programs. Each team member from the USA was assigned a Vietnamese student counterpart (a “host brother” or “host sister”) to befriend, exchange cultural views, and just enjoy each other’s company while dining at a local restaurant or visiting one of Hanoi’s places of interest. Sierra Kedroske tells of bonding with Thao, her host sister, while attending a prom one evening. Most of Thao’s friends came with a date, but she herself did not, and so Sierra and Thao danced together to the enthusiastic cheers of the other students. That evening saw a breakthrough in their friendship.

Sierra The girls in green: Thao and Sierra on right

Past relationships were also renewed. Melissa Crockett had participated in the Cultural Exchange program of 2012, and had befriended Trang (pronounced “Chang”), her host sister at the time, but had lost touch with her. This year, while walking on the ULIS campus, Melissa spotted Trang in the crowd, called out to her, and then rejoiced as Trang sprinted over to her and gave her a heartfelt hug! Melissa had dinner that night with Trang and her family, and has since kept in touch with her via Facebook.

But there were structured times of cultural exchange as well. The American students’ goal was to learn as much as possible about Vietnam, while helping the Vietnamese students also learn about the USA’s language and culture. To that end, the American team had regular class time in Vietnamese at ULIS, and also gave Power Point presentations to the Vietnamese students on American history, employment, music, holidays, language, leisure, and so forth.

Jeff teaching Dr. jeff teaching on why students ride skateboards and unicycles

Organized field trips were also part of the action, whether to local museums or to nearby villages. There was also the opportunity to visit nearby Hạ Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination, as well as Sóc Sơn, a verdant area near Hanoi, tailor-made for water fights (and, presumably, later reconciliations).

Water guns

Iff’n you ain’t fur us, yer agin us!

Both Jeff and Bob attest to the extraordinary quality of the American students who participated in our Cultural Exchange program of 2014. They have set the bar high for the program in 2015! Our thanks to them, to Jeff and Bob, to our able Vietnamese administrators Lien and Nga, and, of course, to our gracious hosts at ULIS and NEU. Cám ơn, y’all!

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