Written by Abigail Leberman, (Student Correspondent) Bates College
Public Health & Service-Learning in Ho Chi Minh City, Spring 2015
I would recommend CET Vietnam to anyone who’s looking for something riveting, fascinating, exciting, and challenging. Here’s why:
1. The Coffee
This is for coffee lovers and haters alike. The coffee here is incredible. I’m not kidding when I say it’s so rich that it’s almost chocolate-like. Moreover, the café culture here in Saigon is really cool. There are a lot of new trendy cafes. There are also a bunch of street side cafes, which consist of blue and red plastic stools under the shade on the sidewalk. No matter where you go for coffee, it’s a great vantage point to people-watch.
2. The Art Scene
There’s a lot going of cool stuff in art happening here today. There are a bunch of awesome museums where you can see the transformation of Vietnamese art and culture through time. But perhaps, cooler yet, there are a bunch of contemporary art spaces emerging. Check out Saigon Outcast! Decibel Lounge, too.
3. The Fast Pace
Vietnam is on overdrive. This seems to be the case in tons of tiers of Vietnamese life, from the crazy motorbike traffic, to the (overnight) construction on the street, to huge differences in culture between the generations. It’s a constant balancing act of tradition and modernity, and it’s really cool to experience.
4. Public Health, Development, and Service-Learning Curriculum
The topics we discuss are incredibly interesting and relevant to our experiences here in Vietnam. My internship with VinaCapital Foundation has been awesome, and has allowed me to take part in yet another facet of Vietnamese life while gaining experience and clarity in world-wide public health issues as well as direction in my career path.
5. The Deep History
Vietnam has a rich and long history. Traditional thought and culture has been formulated over thousands of years and has been preserved through many generations. On top of this, Vietnam has a multi-dimensional history, and Vietnamese frameworks, public health, culture have all evolved throughout these different periods, most recently being the independence achieved at the end of the Vietnam War.
6. Your Vietnamese Roommate
I anticipated living with a Vietnamese roommate to be a huge part of my learning experience here with CET Vietnam, and this has been absolutely true. What I didn’t anticipate was how foundational the roommates would be for some of our best adventures and experiences in Saigon. A funny example: Kendall and Emily were on the hunt for real and affordable Converse. We went to Diamond Plaza thinking we could find them there, but they were incredibly expensive. And we had gone to this shoe street near Ben Thanh market, but they weren’t real. Phuong, Kendall’s roommate, stepped in. She’s super savvy at identifying real brands from fakes and, being a Saigoneer, knows where to find these brands. She and Chi took Kendall Emily to a Converse shop they knew of, which ended up being a motorbike ride through an alley into another smaller alley that led to an even smaller winding alley where they arrived at the unidentified, hole-in-the wall Converse shop that had walls and walls of converse. It’s experiences like this that really make us feel like we’re experiencing the real Saigon.
7. Mekong Delta
CET organizes a weekend-long excursion to a homestay in the Mekong. Experiencing this completely different part of Vietnam with our roommates was a huge highlight of my time here. Biking along the river, through the jungle, and around the village, as well as getting stuck on the river at low tide were two notable experiences.
8. It’s Different
Vietnam is incredibly unique; its culture, history, food, weather, you name it. No matter where you are coming, you will probably be out of your comfort zone when you study in Vietnam, and that’s something that has proved to be incredibly worthwhile to my abroad experience.
9. The Street Life
Life spills into the streets here in Saigon. The alleys are filled with family life. Haircuts happen on the street. Teenager hangouts happen each night in the parks, the coffee shops. Vietnamese meditate, do tai chi, ballroom dance, play badminton, etc., for the morning exercise in the zoo and gardens. So much of Vietnamese life is observable in these chaotic streets.
10. Independent Travel in Vietnam
CET Vietnam has a weeklong break for the students to complete independent travel. We did a trip to Northern Vietnam, which included 4 days of trekking with a local Hmong guide through the fog, villages, and bamboo forests surrounding Sapa. We stayed in homestays at different villages each night. It was amazing experiencing this village-life in Vietnam, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Saigon
BONUS: A motorbike ride with your roommate around the different districts at night is always a blast.