Vietnam

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First rule: There are no rules. These resources are completely free and at your disposal. Use as much, or as little, as you want. Study casually, or work to create a portfolio of academic work that will blow the socks off of the educational establishment.

Feel free to adapt the materials for your own purposes. We expect families, business people, backpackers, college students, high school kids, middle aged vacationers, and retirees who are on a late life adventure to take these materials and run with them. We’d be very happy for teachers or travel group leaders to add these materials to their study abroad packets as well.

The nature of open source is collaboration, so please feel free to contribute when you become aware of resources we haven’t listed, or you have project ideas that we haven’t developed. Send us your work and inspire others to reach higher and deeper as they travel!

Our goal with this project is to inspire adventure and further education through experiential learning around the world. Please send us a note and let us know how you used these resources!
 

 

Buffet Style Learning

Does the menu look overwhelming? Looking for a formula to use as a skeleton for your studies in Australia?

Choose:

  • Two books
  • Two films
  • Three articles
  • One Problem & Solution or Project Option
  • One Cultural Assignment

Table of Contents

Book Recommendations

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vietnam newVietnam: A New History

by Christopher Goscha

Vietnam today offers a fascinating mosaic of peoples, languages, and cultures—a small nation that is home to over fifty ethnic groups speaking more than a half-dozen different tongues. The country’s extraordinary diversity is the legacy of centuries of imperial collisions and ever-shifting political configurations.

In Vietnam, Christopher Goscha tells the full history of Vietnam, from antiquity to the present day. Generations of emperors, rebels, priests, and colonizers left complicated legacies in this remarkable country. Periods of Chinese, French, and Japanese rule reshaped and modernized Vietnam, but so too did the colonial enterprises of the Vietnamese themselves as they extended their influence southward from the Red River Delta. Over the centuries, numerous kingdoms, dynasties, and states have ruled over—and fought for—what is now Vietnam. Trinh and Nguyen military lords led competing states in the seventeenth century. French colonizers grouped Vietnam with Laos and Cambodia in an Indochinese Union, but governed Vietnam itself as three separate territorial units. The bloody Cold War–era conflict between Ho Chi Minh’s communist-backed Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the American-backed Republic of Vietnam was only the most recent instance when war divided and transformed Vietnam.

A major achievement, Vietnam offers the grand narrative of the country’s complex past and the creation of the modern state of Vietnam. At a time when more and more visitors come to Vietnam and Southeast Asia is again at the center of intense global rivalries, this is the definitive single-volume history for anyone seeking to understand Vietnam today.

vietnam historyVietnam: A History

by Stanley Karnow
“Vietnam: A History” is a masterfully written history of America’s involvement in Vietnam – certainly one of the two best single-volume histories (along with “A Bright Shining Lie,” by Neil Sheehan) of America’s most regrettable war that I’ve read. Written by Stanley Karnow, a former Southeast Asian correspondent for “Time” and “Life” magazines, and “The Washington Post,” this book is a comprehensive and fascinating look at the Vietnam war, from its underlying causes at the end of World War II, to the final takeover of South Vietnam by its Communist neighbor, North Vietnam, in April 1975.

Karnow delivers with crisp and precise prose an account of the Vietnam War which is both fair and objective. He analyzes the conflict from both the political and military standpoint, and is unsparing in his criticism of errors made by political and military leaders on all sides of the conflict. Three areas of this book were especially interesting to me: first, the author’s account of the conflict between the French and Viet Minh, and how the French were defeated at Dienbienphu in 1954; second, how the U.S. government formulated its Vietnam policy under the Kennedy administration, and how that policy ultimately failed; and third, how Richard Nixon, upon becoming President in 1969, changed America’s Vietnam policy and began the process of “Vietnamizing” the war. (Karnow’s candid description of how the Kennedy administration initially supported South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, then tacitly approved of the 1963 coup d’etat which resulted in Diem’s murder is fascinating.)

“Vietnam: A History” is an essential book for the reader interested in gaining a good understanding of the war and its causes. Highly recommendable reading! –Mike Powers

vietnam matterhornMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

by Karl Marlantes

Editor’s note: I consider this book a must read.

An incredible publishing story—written over the course of thirty years by a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, a New York Times best seller for sixteen weeks, a National Indie Next and a USA Today best seller—Matterhorn has been hailed as a “brilliant account of war” (New York Times Book Review). Now out in paperback, Matterhorn is an epic war novel in the tradition of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line.

It is the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his comrades in Bravo Company, who are dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and forced to fight their way into manhood. Standing in their way are not merely the North Vietnamese but also monsoon rain and mud, leeches and tigers, disease and malnutrition. Almost as daunting, it turns out, are the obstacles they discover between each other: racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers. But when the company finds itself surrounded and outnumbered by a massive enemy regiment, the Marines are thrust into the raw and all-consuming terror of combat. The experience will change them forever.

Matterhorn is a visceral and spellbinding novel about what it is like to be a young man at war. It is an unforgettable novel that transforms the tragedy of Vietnam into a powerful and universal story of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice: a parable not only of the war in Vietnam but of all war, and a testament to the redemptive power of literature.

vietnam catfishCatfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

by Andrew X. Pham

Catfish and Mandala is the story of an American odyssey―a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam―made by a young Vietnamese-American man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland.

Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam and raised in California. His father had been a POW of the Vietcong; his family came to America as “boat people.” Following the suicide of his sister, Pham quit his job, sold all of his possessions, and embarked on a year-long bicycle journey that took him through the Mexican desert, around a thousand-mile loop from Narita to Kyoto in Japan; and, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon, where he finds “nothing familiar in the bombed-out darkness.” In Vietnam, he’s taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except, of course, by his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey (“Only Westerners can do it”); and in the United States he’s considered anything but American. A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and an eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity.

vietnam sympathizerThe Sympathizer: A Novel

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal.

The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

vietnam companionVietnam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion

by John Balaban

Since relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have normalized, many more people are traveling to this exotic country, previously closed to a generation of Western visitors. Vietnam provides one of the first chances for Americans to know the Vietnamese outside the context of war. Vietnamese have been telling stories for thousands of years, in poetry and in song, in Chinese script and then in Vietnamese nôm, and more recently, in novels and short stories.

These 17 stories, from contemporary Vietnamese writers living in Vietnam and abroad, take the literary traveler to extraordinary places: from the jungle-clad mountain ranges of the North to the mysterious silence of the old capital along the Perfume River. Proximity of the spirit world, love of family, exhaustion from war, one’s Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist obligations, social protest, and the hunger for a better life — these are some of the concerns to be encountered in these thrilling landscapes.

vietnam viet congA Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath

by Troung Nhu Tang

When he was a student in Paris, Truong Nhu Tang met Ho Chi Minh. Later he fought in the Vietnamese jungle and emerged as one of the major figures in the “fight for liberation”—and one of the most determined adversaries of the United States.

He became the Vietcong’s Minister of Justice, but at the end of the war he fled the country in disillusionment and despair. He now lives in exile in Paris, the highest level official to have defected from Vietnam to the West. This is his candid, revealing and unforgettable autobiography.
 
 

vietnam phoThe Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles

by Andrea Nguyen

Author Andrea Nguyen first tasted pho in Vietnam as a child, sitting at a Saigon street stall with her parents. That experience sparked a lifelong love of the iconic noodle soup, long before it became a cult food item in the United States.

Here Andrea dives deep into pho’s lively past, visiting its birthplace and then teaching you how to successfully make it at home. Options range from quick weeknight cheats to impressive weekend feasts with broth and condiments from scratch, as well as other pho rice noodle favorites. Over fifty versatile recipes, including snacks, salads, companion dishes, and vegetarian and gluten-free options, welcome everyone to the pho table.

With a thoughtful guide on ingredients and techniques, plus evocative location photography and deep historical knowledge, The Pho Cookbook enables you to make this comforting classic your own.

vietnam eatsEating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table

by Graham Holliday

A journalist and blogger takes us on a colorful and spicy gastronomic tour through Viet Nam in this entertaining, offbeat travel memoir, with a foreword by Anthony Bourdain.

Growing up in a small town in northern England, Graham Holliday wasn’t keen on travel. But in his early twenties, a picture of Hanoi sparked a curiosity that propelled him halfway across the globe. Graham didn’t want to be a tourist in an alien land, though; he was determined to live it. An ordinary guy who liked trying interesting food, he moved to the capital city and embarked on a quest to find real Vietnamese food. In Eating Viet Nam, he chronicles his odyssey in this strange, enticing land infused with sublime smells and tastes.

Traveling through the back alleys and across the boulevards of Hanoi—where home cooks set up grills and stripped-down stands serving sumptuous fare on blue plastic furniture—he risked dysentery, giardia, and diarrhea to discover a culinary treasure-load that was truly foreign and unique. Holliday shares every bite of the extraordinary fresh dishes, pungent and bursting with flavor, which he came to love in Hanoi, Saigon, and the countryside. Here, too, are the remarkable people who became a part of his new life, including his wife, Sophie.

A feast for the senses, funny, charming, and always delicious, Eating Viet Nam will inspire armchair travelers, curious palates, and everyone itching for a taste of adventure.

vietnam saigonSaigon: A Novel

by Anthony Grey

Joseph Sherman first visits Saigon, the capital of French colonial Cochin-China, in 1925 on a hunting expedition with his father, a US senator. He is lured back again and again as a traveler, a soldier, and then as a reporter by his fascination for the exotic land and for Lan, a mandarin’s daughter he cannot forget.

Over five decades Joseph’s life becomes enmeshed with the political intrigues of two of Saigon’s most influential families, the French colonist Devrauxs, and the native Trans―and inevitably with Vietnam’s turbulent, war torn fate. He is there when the hatred of a million coolies rises against the French, and when the French Foreign Legion fights it’s bloody last stand at Dien Bien Phu.

Kids Book Recommendations

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Vietnam ABCVietnam A to Z: Discover the colorful culture of Vietnam!

by Ms. Elka K. Ray

With creative illustrations and bilingual English and Vietnamese text, this colorful ABC book introduces Vietnam’s culture to small children.
 
 
 
 

vietnam childrenVietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories

by Phuoc Thi Minh Tran

Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories, is a charming collection of fifteen tales as told by prominent storyteller Tran Thi Minh Phuoc. In it, Tran—Minnesota’s first Vietnamese librarian and an active member of the Vietnamese-American community—recounts cherished folktales such as “The Story of Tam and Cam” (the Vietnamese version of Cinderella), “The Jade Rabbit,” and “The Legend of the Mai Flower.”

With beautiful illustrations by veteran artists Nguyen Thi Hop and Nguyen Dong, children and adults alike will be enchanted by Tran’s English re tellings. Stories in which integrity, hard work and a kind heart triumph over deception, laziness, and greed—as gods, peasants, kings and fools spring to life in legends of bravery and beauty, and fables about nature.

vietnam grow upWater Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam

by Huynh Quang Nhuong

As a young boy growing up in the hills of central Vietnam, Nhuong’s companion was Tank, the family water buffalo. When bullies harassed Nhuong, Tank sent them packing. When a wild tiger threatened the entire village, Tank defeated it. He led the herd and adopted a lonely puppy. Tank was Nhuong’s best friend.

Nhuong gives readers a glimpse of himself when he was their age, and tells a thrilling story of how he and Tank together faced the dangers of life in the Vietnamese jungle which was their home.
 
 
 

vietnam kids exploreExplore Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos: A Travel Activity Book for Kids

by Brian Bibi

What does a Nymph look like? Where is Halong Bay? What is Angkor? How do you spell ‘hello’ in Cambodian? Want to see a ‘Wonder of the World’? Discover this and more inside.

This Activity Book Series takes a fun approach to teaching History, Geography, Social Studies and Language by placing them into a “travel” theme. Explore France & Italy presents different cultures, places, events, and monuments as engaging, interactive activities for kids, ages 6-12. “Playful Learning” is the key.

Great for on the road, in the train & in the air, the kids can get familiar with the major landmarks and special places and things in Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos. Engaging the kids in the trip makes for quality family time. Also fitting for the classroom & home-school, or for time well spent away from the TV. There’s a great big world out there, Explore It!

vietnam goodbyeGoodbye, Vietnam

by Gloria Whalen

When Mai’s family discovers that Vietnam government soldiers will soon apprehend her father and grandmother, the family slips away in the night. They trudge through the swamps of the Mekong Delta toward the sea. The gut-wrenching trip to Hong Kong is just another step toward a new life, which the family eventually finds. Whelan’s characters are distinctive, and her story is riveting, haunting, and memorable, reflecting the human virtues of determination, hope, love, and courage in the face of the most devastating of circumstances and injustices.”–Booklist.
 
 
 

Film Recommendations

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Love Market


 
“It’s a story of wild & exotic love. It’s a story of tribal kings and opium trade. It’s a story of kidnapping and loss. It’s a story of sexual discovery, of spirits and magic. It’s a story of government propaganda vs. the fascinating yet harrowing reality of the people.”

Far up in Vietnam’s remote mountains, once a year, a secretive Love Market is held. Delving beyond the ambiguous myths, this unique, independently produced adventure documentary discovers a reality much more fascinating, even if painful, than the legends told.
 

How America Got into The Vietnam War


 
Dick Cavett’s Vietnam includes numerous highlights from the talk show representing all sides of the unfolding debate about the war.

A young Warren Beatty gives a passionate explanation for how America got into the war and his evolving feelings about the country’s involvement in Vietnam, highlighting the changing opinion of the American public toward the war. Cavett also had veterans, including future Senator John Kerry, on his program to debate the morality of fighting in Vietnam as well as discuss the treatment they received upon their return stateside. Today, these episodes of The Dick Cavett Show provide a unique window into what was happening all across the country–in private homes, on college campuses and in the halls of government.
 

Ho Chi Minh | A Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader Full Biography


 

Special Cuisine Of Vietnam Documentary – Food of Hue


 

Vietnam: My Orange Pain


 
50 years after the US military intervention in the Vietnam War, the weapons it used continue to harm the local population. Unexploded mines still take lives and the consequences of “Agent Orange” claim new victims. A defoliant used by the US Air Force to destroy forests where Vietcong guerrilla fighters were taking cover, “Agent Orange” is highly toxic to humans.

The chemical not only severely harmed the health of those immediately exposed to it, but also led to birth defects in subsequent generations. Its impact is still being felt in Vietnam, where it is estimated that around 5 million people are suffering from its damaging effects. They call it their “orange pain.”
 

THE CU CHI TUNNELS (with subtitles as told by America’s former enemy)

Embedding is disabled on The Chu Chi Tunnels, but you should click through and watch this one. All Vietnamese voices (subtitled) telling about their experiences during the Vietnam War and the tunnels.

Beekeeping Extension and Training in Vietnam – A Documentary Featurette


 
In 2005, University of Guelph Prof. Gard Otis and several other Canadians began collaborating with staff from the Bee Research and Development Centre, or BRDC, in Vietnam, to undertake an extension and training project that would give rural farmers a sustainable, practical source of income through beekeeping.
 

Phantoms of Vietnam (Nature Documentary)


 

Vietnam Water and Puppets – Full Documentary by Alessandra Grassi


 
What is Water Puppetry and how is it related with the Vietnamese culture? This documentary will answer to all these question, and will make you fall in love with Vietnam!
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Vietnam’s Dog Snatchers Documentary HD


 
The horrifying footage will show how animals are taken from their homes and stuffed into tiny cages until they are ready to be killed and served as food.

This lucrative trade is said to be on the rise after the Vietnam government banned dog meat from being imported.

Despite this, the documentary shows that dog meat remains a popular delicacy in the southeast Asian country.

It is believed that dog thieves can earn up to £60 a night stealing pets, with one thief bragging that he has stolen over 3,000 dogs.

“In the seven years I’ve been working, I’ve stolen round 3,000 dogs, big and small,” a dog thief told documentary reporter Nelufar Hedayat.

But the appalling trade has also been met with a violent backlash – including mob killings of some dog thieves.
 

Red over the rainbow – Gay Pride Vietnam video documentary production – Vietpride 2013


 
With Vietnamese officials declaring they are considering recognizing same sex marriage, Vietnam might be the first country in Asia to provide gender equity laws.
 

The Mountain Midwives of Vietnam


 
The infant and maternal mortality rates in the mountainous regions of northern Vietnam are 10 times higher than the national average. This Al Jazeera film tells the story of a Hmong ethnic minority midwife who has been trained to provide maternal care to her community in the isolated Chi Ca commune.
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Article Recommendations

Vietnam’s Own ‘Great Wall’ Uncovered – CNN

Journey of a Rhino Horn – Al Jazeera

Saving Hanoi’s Street Children from Abuse, Hunger and Self-destruction – The Guardian

Trump’s Tough Trade Talk Could Damage American Factories – NY Times

Transforming a Motorcycle City: The Long Wait for Hanoi’s Metro – The Guardian

The Nephews of Ho Chi Minh – Al Jazeera

Vietnam’s Gamble: Whether or Not to Legalize Betting – Al Jazeera

Robot Factories Could Threaten Jobs of Millions of Garment Workers – The Guardian

A Lingering, Deadly Legacy of Wars: Unexploded Bombs – NY Times

The Mental Scars of Vietnam’s War Veterans – Al Jazeera

US and Vietnam in Controversial Nuclear Negotiations – The Guardian

3,000 Children Enslaved in Britain After Being Trafficked From Vietnam – The Guardian

The Tarzans of Vietnam – NY Times

Vietnam and the US: From Enemies to Lovers – Al Jazeera

Most unlikely UNESCO site: The empty citadel of Vietnam – CNN

Leaving Vietnam – An Orphan’s Story – NY Times

Freedom of the Press in Vietnam – Freedomhouse.org

 

 

Project Options:

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History

So often when the history of Vietnam is discussed it centers around the Vietnam war and the conflict between the Americans and the Vietnamese. While this is an important chapter in Vietnam’s story, it’s a very small window of their overall history. In this resource guide we’ve worked to include lots of resources about Vietnam that do not center on the war.

In studying the history of this country spend some time focusing on other aspects of Vietnamese history as well:

  • Early civilizations and states in Vietnam
  • Early Chinese rule beginning with the Han dynasty
  • Early sovereignty and early dynasties of Vietnam
  • Ming invasion
  • French colonialism
  • Japanese occupation
  • Emergence of communism
  • Fall of the last dynasty
  • Founding of the modern republic
  • War with Americans
  • Post war reconstruction

Communism in Vietnam

Vietnam remains a communist country. The word “communist” is a politically charged word and doesn’t have one definition across the countries have political systems rooted in it. What does Vietnam’s particular brand of communism look like?

How does is this applied to business, the economy, personal property rights, taxation, education, health care or personal freedoms? Are there democratic influences at work in Vietnam? How has their brand of communism evolved since the early days of the republic? What is daily life like now in communist Vietnam?

Hanoi vs. Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi is located in the north of the country, Ho Chi Minh City in the far south. If you have the opportunity to visit both cities, do so. What are the similarities and differences? Examine the cultural, historical, economic and political roots of both cities.

How is the architecture different and why? Is the food culture different? Describe both cities in as much detail as you can and form some hypotheses, or conclusions from the data you have collected and the things you’ve observed.

Water Puppetry

Water puppetry is an ancient art form and is deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture. Attend a water puppet performance. What did you think? Learn all you can about the puppets themselves and how they are created (can you visit a puppet workshop?), the puppeteers and the process of becoming one. Discover the origins of the stories told through this genre of theater.

Where did water puppetry get it’s start and why? How has the art form evolved over the centuries? What remains consistent even though the art is evolving?

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh is a very important figure in modern Vietnamese history. His body is preserved and on display in a mausoleum in Hanoi, and his home and compound, nearby, are a museum. It’s an interesting historical and cultural experience to visit his tomb.

Who was Ho Chi Minh? Where was he born? How did he grow up? What turned him into a hero of the republic? What was his role in the Vietnam war? Listen to some of his famous speeches and watch a documentary about his life. Examine the man and think about how he became the hero of his country. What do you think about his life and the legacy he left? How does his shadow continue to fall over modern Vietnam?

Legacy of French Colonialism

The French ruled in Vietnam (and surrounding countries) for over 60 years. Their influence is still felt in Vietnam in the art and architecture as well as the presence on every street corner of baguette like breads. However the French colonial efforts were not without consequence for the country.

Why did the French take over this part of the world and what was their motivation in keeping it? How did their “divide and rule” strategy affect Vietnam moving forward? What was life for the average laborer, or “coolie” under French Colonial rule? What were the big cash crops exported to Europe from Vietnam?

Were there any lasting benefits to the Vietnamese during or post French colonization?

Profiles of …..

Conduct a series of at least five interviews within a country. The point of the exercise would be to get a well rounded view of what it is like to live in the France from a variety of ages, incomes, employments and experiences. This could be conducted as video, or as text. Do an in depth analysis of the experience/information.

People you might profile:

  • Farmers
  • Teachers
  • Restaurant owners/workers
  • Monks or Nuns
  • Government officials
  • Doctors or nurses
  • Cafe owners
  • Street vendors
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Drivers
  • Artists or musicians
  • Laborers
  • Cab drivers
  • Long term expats

Problems & Solutions

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Vietnam has been a country of conflict for generations. In a constant state of reconstruction, there are many issues that are ongoing for the country. Choose a particular challenge to focus on as you experience Vietnam.

Continued Conflict with China

Vietnam and China have a centuries long history of conflict, since the early rule of the Han and subsequent dynasties. Most recently, following the Vietnam war, China and Vietnam spent another nearly twenty years in an extended border dispute. While that’s quieted down, now they’re in disagreement over the land rights of some of the islands in the South China Sea.

Detail the history of the conflicts between China and Vietnam. Regarding the current conflict over the islands in the South China Sea, explain what the issues are, on both sides and what the recent news surrounding both parties’ desire to establish control has been. If you were the judge over this case, who would you rule in favor of on the issue of island ownership? Vietnam, or China? Why?

Healthcare

Healthcare is an ongoing struggle, economically, politically and in daily life for Vietnamese people. Describe the current healthcare situation for Vietnamese. What are the primary healthcare issues?

Examine the challenges in maternal and pediatric healthcare, specifically. How does nutrition play into healtcare in Vietnam? Is there a difference between availability and quality of care in the cities, vs the rural areas? Where is progress being made? What are the factors that continue to hold the country back in terms of healthcare development?

Freedom of the Press

The constitution of Vietnam recognizes the individual right to freedom of expression, however the criminal code prohibits speech (verbal or written) that is critical of the government. Vietnam has one of the worst records for harassment of journalists and legal action to silence them.

What is the journalistic community like in Vietnam? Where do most Vietnamese get their news? Examine the bias of these sources. Are there underground pockets of free press? How is the internet and social media changing the way journalism is done and the way news and messages are disseminated? What has been the experience of bloggers and new media professionals in Vietnam, both locals and expats? Tell some stories.

Climate Change

According to USAID: “Increasing temperatures, worsening droughts and floods, sea level rise and increased frequency of storms threaten food security, livelihoods and lives for millions of Vietnamese.” Global Climate Change is already a significant threat in Vietnam.

What is the Vietnamese government’s position on climate change? What is being done to combat both the root causes and the immediate effects of climate change? What struggles does Vietnam face? Are there any areas in which they are implementing progressive solutions?

Gender Issues

On paper, Vietnam is progressive where gender issues are concerned. They have laws on the books towards gender equality and the prevention of domestic violence, and they are moving towards equal rights for some of the LGBTQ community. However, in daily practice, there are still many inequities yet to be resolved.

What are the gender related employment and wage gap statistics for Vietnam? What are the issues that women continue to struggle with? Is there a difference in the city, vs rural populations? Examine the high abortion rates of Vietnam and the phenomenon of sex selective abortions. Why is this problem so significant in this country and what is being done to work towards lowering it?

Are there NGOs that are working to improve gender inequities and empower women and the LGBTQ community? Tell some of the success stories that you encounter.

Cultural Assignment Options

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Food

Vietnam is a phenomenal food destination. You could spend an entire trip entirely on the subject of Pho in all of it’s variations by region, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Make a project of tasting as many different types of food as you possibly can, from the French colonial hang overs to the very traditional dishes served out of blackened pots, roadside, out in the country. Don’t be afraid to sit down on plastic stools in little holes in the wall and order whatever happens to be cooking.

Make a record (or a video!) of all of the new foods you’re trying as you travel through Vietnam.

Meaningful Connections

What is a meaningful interaction? You get to decide that. In general, it should be an interaction in which cultural exchange took place and you learned something. Often this will be with a local person; sometimes it will be with another traveler.

Sometimes these interactions look like very little on the outside but are totally life changing on the inside. Other times, they are rock your world amazing from every angle. It could be a meal shared, an afternoon’s excursion, a discussion that opens your eyes in some way, a self revelation that happened without any words exchanged at all.

Spend a day with a local individual or family. Document your experience in photos, interviews and the written word. The best way to interact with locals is to just start chatting with them at markets, on tours or on the street. You can also ask other travelers if they have met anyone who has offered some insight into life in the country. If you are a family who have children attending a local school then have a party, invite a parent to coffee, basically just open up your home to new relationships.

Take a Class

There are many options! Don’t be limited by this list:

  • Cooking
  • Language
  • Art or Crafts
  • Brush painting or puppetry
  • Crafts production
  • Exercise
  • Music

Museum Visits

Vietnam has wonderful museums. In Hanoi, don’t miss Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, or the Hoa Lo Prison museum (Hanoi Hilton) where many of the US POW’s (including Senator John McCain) were held. It has a history much longer than that, however.

Other museum options include:

Save your ticket stubs!

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to get to know a local community and give back a bit to the places that you choose to travel. There are lots of ways to do this, both organized and arranged privately, as well as impromptu opportunities that will pop up.

If you’re looking for a list of volunteer opportunities in Vietnam, Transitions Abroad has a site dedicated to helping you find one. Please be advised that TAP is not recommending these, only presenting them as a list of possibilities. Vet your volunteer options carefully.

Live local

Get out of the hostel, rent a place in a local village, or do a homestay. Through websites like Airbnb it’s easy to find places to live locally.

Photo essay or a blog description of why living local was different than living in a hostel. How did this experience change the economics of your stay? What did you learn about the way locals live? What challenged you? What would you do differently next time?

Work Stay

Through an organization like WWOOF, HelpX, or Workaway you can arrange for an opportunity to work in exchange for your room and board in a number of capacities, from farm labour to hospitality. Lots of students make use of these experiences to lower the cost of their travels, while at the same time learning valuable skills or “trying out” various career areas that interest them.

Request feedback in the form of a short evaluation that can be used later for a CV or reference

Public Transportation Project

Take as many types of public transportation as possible. From animal carts and cyclos to cabs, airplanes, local buses, overnight buses, motorcycles and boats, there are a colorful array of options!

Challenge yourself to take every type of public transportation available while you are in Vietnam. Create a photo essay or videologue of your adventures. What did you learn?

Attend a Religious Observance

Vietnam is one of the least religious countries in the world. That said, there is a deeply rooted folk religion and a reasonable number of Buddhist followers. Christian churches have never taken hold in any great number and the communist aspect of the political culture isn’t one that encourages religious observance. If you look, you will find religious people and practice in Vietnam. Take a ride up the Perfume River (a day trip from Hanoi) to the Phong Nha Cave to experience a form of Buddhism. Take some time to attend various religious observances and see what you can learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. How does the religious climate in Australia compare with what you grew up with?

How to Create Your Own Course Work

Ask

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Learn to ask for what you want. If you meet someone interesting, ask them to teach you. Ask them for an interview. Ask to shadow them for a day or a week. You’ll be surprised at how eager people are to share what they know and teach when someone shows actual interest. Learn to ask questions. Learn to take social risks by putting yourself out there as a learner.

Plan

You have an idea or an interest. Something surprises you on your journey and all of a sudden you have a burning desire to know more. Plan your attack:

  • Narrow your field of study to a particular question or topic.
  • Compile resources: Look for teachers. Who knows what you need to know? Or who can you interview to learn more? Are there books or videos on the topic you’re interested in?
  • Quantify it. How will you demonstrate what you have learned? A research paper, a video project, a photo essay, through art or music, a blog post, a published piece, an interview series, a mini documentary or do you have some other idea?

Produce

Produce a quality piece of academic work that reflects your experiential learning. The whole key to quantifying outside the box learning is to translate it into something that reflects the value of what you learned and how it contributed to your overall educational process.

Perhaps this will be as simple as a traditional research paper, depending on the depth and length of your study this could be as short as three pages or as long as a dissertation. Maybe you’ll produce a video for YouTube, or something grander, like a mini-documentary. Perhaps you’ll do something concrete instead, an art, or community action project and you’ll tell the story through a photo essay, or a series of blog posts. The possibilities are limited only by the resources you have at hand. Get creative. Think outside the box and truly experience your education.

 

 

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Thank you!