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A Day of Spanish…In Vietnam


When others ask about my time in Vietnam, I have many wonderful things to say. I ate delicious pho, crossed a street through a river of motorbikes, and bargained my way through Ben Than Market, but perhaps my favorite response to that question is: I spoke Spanish.

Professor Arantxa Alegre-Gonzalez’s Intermediate Spanish field lab offered us a truly unique opportunity Рto meet Vietnamese university students studying Spanish and spend the day chatting and getting to know them in Spanish. What a great way to learn from each other by using a shared second language!

University students meet for the first time and introduce themselves – in Spanish!

After getting picked up from the ship by our Spanish-speaking guide (A local to Vietnam, yet had spent time studying in Cuba), we headed out to visit the Spanish Department at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. After meeting the students and learning about the development of their Spanish department, we were paired one-on-one with Vietnamese students who we would come to know throughout the day.

While some were timid at first, others jumped right in and were clearly excited to be using their Spanish to get to know new people. A number of Vietnamese students were particularly enthused to go by their chosen Spanish names – Antonio, Dora, and Vivian.

We spent some time getting acquainted. Although it started with the basics Рwhat’s your name, what do you study, what year are you in school Рit wasn’t long before we began tackling more profound topics such as family, plans for the future, social class, and lifestyles.

From there, our eclectic group ventured out to the Ho Chi Minh History Museum to learn about Vietnam’s troubled past (all in Spanish, of course), and then went on to the Ho Chi Minh Calligraphy Market, outside the Youth Culture house, to get a view of the city’s preparations for Tet, or Lunar New Year. Having the DSCN0590_600Vietnamese students nearby to share their perspectives and personal experiences regarding these topics was truly invaluable.

We ended the day with a meal all together at Viet Village Restaurant, where we sampled Vietnamese traditional cuisine (dragonfruit for dessert was especially popular), learned important Vietnamese phrases, and marveled at the fact that we were able to get to know one another and create new friendships with people that may not even speak our native tongues.

After saying our goodbyes (and taking a handful of selfies), there was finally time to reflect on what a unique experience we had that day. For me, I not only learned about Vietnam and made Vietnamese friends in Spanish, but I realized what a connecting force language truly is.

Had we all never studied Spanish, we wouldn’t have been able to communicate or get to know each other as we did. As a result, I feel encouraged to continue improving my language skills, since they may come in handy even in the unlikeliest of places.

  • Culture
  • Education
  • Life on Land

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