REI-Vietnam News

Summer Cultural Exchange 2017 and more

by Gabrielle Lewis |

Image: Summer Cultural Exchange 2017 and more
A First Person Account by Gabrielle Lewis

“I wish I could spend some time traveling,” I told my friend as we waited for the waitress to drop off our check. The following morning, I began my day as normal here in the REI Global Headquarters. I was nailing down trip logistics for a short-term team when my boss asked to see me in his office.

Oh gosh, what did I do wrong? Paranoia at its finest.

To my pleasant surprise, it wasn’t that sort of meeting. He told me I’d be traveling to Vietnam for a month and a half this summer. My job would be to participate in the student cultural exchange program, work alongside our Vietnamese staff, and to see first-hand the progress of our short-term teams and resident staff not only in Vietnam, but also in Laos. Talk about the fulfillment of a heart’s desire!

When the day of my departure came, I boarded my fifteen-hour flight with the question, “Who is REI?” I had seen the administrative side, but what would it be like on the field?

Over the next few weeks, as I walked through hospital rooms in Laos with our resident staff, I saw what it looks like to give up your life for a cause. As I bonded with six Texas Tech students also participating in the cultural exchange program, I looked past all their Texan paraphernalia (hey, I’m from New Orleans) and found hearts willing to cross the globe for the sake of building life-transforming relationships. As I worked alongside our staff members, Lien, Nga, and Toan, I learned what it meant to be a true servant who works from the heart. As I was welcomed into a Vietnamese home and stuffed with more food, laughter, and generosity than anyone could ask for, I discovered a deep love for a family that will forever be a part of my life.

As I had conversation after conversation with curious Vietnamese students eager to learn about my way of life, I saw how similar we all really are–and I don’t mean our eating habits. Let’s be real, my go-to meal in America isn’t typically cow nipple or chicken feet. But when you look past the food, the worship styles, the traffic regulations (or lack thereof), and the language barriers, you can see something so evident. We all have a unique purpose, and we’re all on a journey to fulfill it.

As I reflect on my new friendships that came out of my time abroad, I see that the best thing we can do as humans is to cheer one another on in our journeys. We can teach each other about our culture, families, and spiritual practices all day. But what matters most in the midst of all of this is that we share our dreams, our struggles, and our victories. It’s in this vulnerability that we build lasting relationships and champion one another on to become the best we can be.

Resource Exchange International is much more than the files and documents stored away in my desk. It is a global reach of personal impact. Who is REI? It is the teacher, professional, student, doctor, survivor, giver, servant, and leader, all with the heart posture to see others live in the fullness for which they were created.

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