Summer 2010 Summary: Vietnam

I’ve been back from Vietnam for a month now. I vowed not to eat any Vietnamese food for at least a month, so tomorrow you’ll be able to find me at Saigon Pearl down on Richmond Road. I’ll be curled up to a bowl of pho and some fresh cha gio, sipping on an iced coffee with condensed milk. I’ll be there trying to relive the best summer of my life. I’m only a month removed from those dirty, bustling streets and already I’m ready to go back.

Research wise my summer was a failure. The HIV/AIDS facility I was working at was completely inadequate both for learning and volunteering. Our coordinator frustrated us with her poor command of the English language and slight contempt for Westerners. In spite of all of that, I still think I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a doctor in Vietnam. I always have come to believe that when I become a doctor, Vietnam is not where I’d be most effective as a practitioner. People should take care of their own. And while I may be half Vietnamese on the inside, my patients should be the people with whom I live. It’s refreshing to finally have this perspective, to be okay with practicing medicine in the United States. I realize that my contribution to the world doesn’t have to be in the form of an expedition to save lives in the third world. Instead, I can make my immediate community a healthier place. I’m excited about that.

I also set out this summer to learn about what it meant to me to be half-Vietnamese. I’m so proud to be a part of the culture, the close family ties, the hard-working spirit, and the enduring hope of Vietnam. I’m not as okay with the corrupt government, the way women are treated as second class citizens, and how fast paced the cities are. I truly believe that what I did this summer is exactly what I am meant to do as a Vietnamese-American. I should visit as often as I can for as long as I can. I should give my time and my money to helping my family and their community. I should keep an open mind when trying to evaluate the differences between the United States and Vietnam. I’m never going to call Vietnam home, but I’ll never be able to get away from it entirely either. I thought that what I needed was to somehow fuse my two cultural identities. Instead, I realize now that I should celebrate both of them for what they are: two worlds that could not be more different.

This summer I took care of patients in crummy clinics on the streets of Saigon. I climbed mountains in the central highlands, jumped off boats on the islands of Nha Trang, crawled through Vietcong war tunnels, and explored the ruins of Angkor Wat. I ate insects, half developed baby duck embryos, and coagulated blood cakes. I set out to have a life changing experience. And that is exactly what I got. Thanks, Charles Center, for making it possible.