Editor’s corner: Learning in a new country

By Leanne Signoriello – Opinion Editor

When I first told family and friends I would be traveling to Vietnam, I would get jokes about getting shipped off to fight in the Vietnam War or they would start talking to me about meeting Anthony Bourdain (a Travel Channel chef who has visited the country multiple times). Although I didn’t fulfill everyone’s wishes, I was able to take away a lot from spending two weeks in Asia.

Last semester I was in a sociology class where we learned the term “ethnocentrism,” the idea that one perceives their culture as superior and views others as lesser. As someone who considers themself an open-minded person, I felt that everyone naturally disregards this concept. However, in reality, that isn’t true and it takes trips like this to really comprehend cultural differences.

Before we departed, I referred to the trip as “the study abroad experience I never had.” Although that seemed like an accurate way to approach the trip, I left feeling differently.

I have a number of friends who studied abroad. I hear of the places they traveled to, the restaurants where they became regulars, and how they were able to become a part of a new country’s culture during their time there.

However, two weeks versus four months in a new country is a big difference. Two weeks is a much shorter amount of time to immerse yourself into new culture you are surrounded by, but that did not stop me from making the most out of my experience and taking advantage of every opportunity.

I tried foods I would never try on my own (I highly recommend corn milk, a Vietnamese beverage) and had the freedom to explore the populated streets nearby. I made sure I interacted with as many locals as I could and most importantly, I was fortunate enough to meet the amazing children of the SOS Children’s Village.

The SOS Children’s Village is an organization that houses and schools parentless children worldwide in a family-like setting. Working with these children everyday on their English pronunciation was the highlight of the trip. We may have been there to teach them, but they ended up teaching me more than I thought was possible.

Even though there was a significant language barrier, it did not stop the kids from displaying their unconditional love for us in the short time we spent with them. Having children fight over who gets to braid your hair, hold your hand, or take a selfie with you is oddly flattering.

The children of the village, and the people of Vietnam in general, live life differently than us, have different customs, come from different backgrounds and living situations, but are just as happy, if not even more full of life, than people I have encountered anywhere else.

I wasn’t able to become a part of the Vietnamese culture like most people do when they study abroad. It wasn’t a study abroad experience and I am okay with that. I was able to learn about the culture and appreciate the differences as an outsider, which I consider a more valuable way to look at life while traveling.

My eyes were opened to the fact some people do indeed have an ethnocentrisic mindset but just because someone lives life differently, doesn’t make it less valuable.

I have no problem saying my time spent in Vietnam did not make me a new person. However, because of my time spent there, I have a new outlook and appreciation for cultures that are unique to my own.

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