For alumni reliving their experience of traveling in Vietnam, what comes to mind? Perhaps it is the stunning scenery of Ha Long Bay or eating delicious pho on the streets of Hanoi or, or having preconceived notions challenged at the War Remnants Museum. These are all common memories that our voyagers experience during their time in the port country of Vietnam.
But what about hiking in the bucolic countryside villages of the Sapa region which are home to ethnic minority groups such as the Hmong or Dao people? This might not be the first image for a lot of people, but for five Spring 2019 Voyagers, the memories forged during a four-day trek through the mountains is what they will remember from their time in Vietnam.
It is not every young person who will sign up for a field program that includes 15 miles of trekking, sleeping on an overnight train, and staying in a rural village in the mountains of Sapa, but five intrepid students signed up for this experience to push their boundaries and expose themselves to a totally different side of Vietnam.
Read on for these voyagers‚Äô stories of how getting off the beaten path in Vietnam impacted their perspective on this port country and what they learned in the process.
Alexis Schroeder ‚Äì University of Montana
‚ÄúFor me the reason I chose this program was that I wanted a more local experience. I wanted something outside of the city where I could dive into a particular culture, where I could be a tourist without feeling like a tourist. Going into this trip with an open mind helped me be a sponge and soak in everything from this experience. I grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin so there was something about this program that felt familiar to me. Seeing the pigs and chicken and cows reminded me of home but incorporated into this new environment. The villages are more modern than I thought, but there was so such a strong tie to traditional values. I felt like I was just staying in someone‚Äôs house and experiencing their real life. We participated in the traditions and had a good time over food.”
Matthew Bailey ‚Äì Colorado State University
‚ÄúThe most impactful part of the experience for me was spending time in Sin Chai village and really seeing how different the community was. I have never been to an isolated and traditional community like that before, so that was a really new experience. It was impactful to see how different their lifestyle was. Just because they don‚Äôt have the things that I have, they still have a beautiful and joyful life. I am learning not to take anything for granted and to be thankful for everything that I have and that I am privileged. This experience was honestly life-changing for me and I love Vietnam so much now, and I could definitely see myself coming back here for a longer-term stay.‚Äù
Betty Hurd ‚Äì University of Arizona
“I love hiking but I always trek in Arizona which is a desert climate, so when I first saw the photos of the rice paddies, I knew I wanted to do this field program because it was super different. On this voyage, there are a lot of places that are different but pretty similar to the U.S. like the big cities, but Sin Chai was nothing like anywhere in the U.S. I really liked that and it will definitely stay with me. Seeing women carrying babies on their backs washing clothes in the river was unlike anything I had seen before. The lifestyle of the villagers was so entirely different and it really struck me as a very unique cultural experience.”
Madeline Werner ‚Äì CSU
“This was the best experience‚ÄîI was in paradise for the last three days! Hiking is my favorite thing to do, and doing it in such a unique and beautiful environment was an awesome way to spend time outdoors. Any sort of backpacking puts you out of your comfort zone, no matter how extensive or simple it is. Even if people weren‚Äôt into hiking like me, those moments of discomfort are really what allow you to grow. Going to the village of Sin Chai was totally off the beaten path. Getting a taste of the lifestyle of the local people and seeing their mannerisms were really eye-opening and beautiful for me. There is no way I could have gone there on my own, and I would recommend that future voyagers do programs like this that they couldn‚Äôt organize on their own. I think off-the-beaten-path experiences are what Semester at Sea is all about because that is where we make change for ourselves.”
Jitka ‚Äì Gap Year Student from Austria
“The most impactful part of this experience for me was definitely meeting people in the rural communities and visiting places that most tourists don‚Äôt visit. I am attracted to things that are not as mainstream so I prefer doing things that are not the first thing you would think of. Places that are visited by a lot of tourists often lose their identity, and this felt like a pure and special opportunity. I loved that we didn‚Äôt see any other foreigners during our time, which is a very special experience. I felt like it gave me an insight into a life that most people don‚Äôt get the opportunity to see, which was very valuable.”