From abroad: Life on the streets

From+abroad%3A+Life+on+the+streets

Phoebe Wilks

Local motorists drive on the bustling streets of Vietnam near the Hanoi Medical University.

Photo Courtesy of Phoebe Wilks ‘16

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A Lafayette student details their experience abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam

Dentist appointments, grocery shopping, butchering, eating at a restaurant, getting your hair cut, fighting with your family and going to the bathroom. What do these things have in common? In the United States, these are activities that typically happen behind closed doors—in a house, in a store, in an enclosed space. But, in Hanoi, Vietnam, I have seen every single one of these activities on the street, mainly during my commute to and from school.

As a student studying public health and coming from the United States, some of these are cause for concern in my mind. Yet, they are considered perfectly normal here. I’ll admit: although I have gotten used to some of them, going to the bathroom in the street will never appeal to me.

Beginning this program in New Orleans was only a small transition from the life I led in Connecticut and Easton, but, living in Hanoi for the past three weeks, I have experienced quite a bit of culture shock. Seeing all of this happening on the street makes me appreciate the life I have at home and crave it: the cleanliness, the privacy and how I am able to deal with issues on my own. It also teaches a powerful lesson on openness.

Living in my home-stay just outside the main part of the city, breakfast consists of anything from ramen noodles to “traditional cakes” made with rice powder and wrapped in banana leaves. Then comes the hour-long commute to school. A 20-minute walk to our bus stop, followed by a 30-minute ride on a crowded bus and another 10-minute walk from our final stop to the medical university where I am studying. After hearing that other students have quick 15-minute walks, I originally protested the remote location of my home. But during this hour-long commute I have learned just as much as I have in the classroom.

Life at Lafayette is class after class after class. This program focuses on experiential learning through lectures, site visits, and case studies, which is a true breath of fresh air. We do have class-heavy days where we are stuck in our classroom, but studying abroad in such a new and exciting place is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience no matter what.

While studying public health, I also get to focus on preserving my own personal health, mind and body through all of these new experiences. I am being open to new ideas and experiences, trying new things and looking out for myself instead of relying on others. Even after the first two weeks of orientation in New Orleans and now three weeks into Vietnam I feel like I have grown as a person and gained so much my knowledge. I look forward to bringing these new ideas with me to the next stops in my program, South Africa and Argentina, as well as back home. As for now though, living my life on the streets seems pretty good to me.