Last year, I solo traveled through India and Southeast Asia for 5 months.
For me that trip really transformed my life. It was the beginning of a wild 2 years where I took time off college and fulfilled a few things off my bucket list. I traveled, began my blog, launched a business in the digital marketing world, and (most recently) moved to New York City.
Although I posted photos to social media, I hadn’t really processed or shared much of my experiences during that time.
As I read through my travel journals and reflect upon that time, I realize I have learned a wealth of information. I also realize that trip humbled me to the core; it’s the famous saying “the more I see the less I know”.
This piece kicks off a series where I will take you through my time in each Asian country I visited from January to June 2018, sharing funny stories and poignant life lessons along the way.
I want to start with Vietnam because I have been having dreams about this experience for the past few weeks. It was not the first country I visited on that trip (it was the 3rd) and right now my heart is really focused on that.
The biggest lesson I learned in Vietnam was how to live communaly. I was a volunteer teacher for Homestay Vietnam, a program where the students and teacher lived and worked in the same multilevel house.
Imagine 35 young, eager Vietnam students and 10 foreign English teachers living in bunk bed rooms spread throughout 5 floors of a house. Things definitely got loud and a little crazy yet it was a lot of fun.
I was able to cultivate a communication style that allowed me to connect with and befriend people across gender, culture, language, and age differences.
In the homestay rigidity and strictness had no place there. We worked with schedules yet with so many moving parts of the machine, there had to be room for flexibility. Sometimes classrooms were double booked for two lessons or students invited 3 friends to one-on-one sessions.
Things did not go as expected and that’s okay ❤ We lived, laughed, learned, and loved as a community.
I’m naturally a solitary human who has no problem doing things alone. That was not really possible at the homestay as someone was always looking to practice their English outside of class. Rather than feeling exhausted from socializing (introvert problem lol) that’s what I really loved.
Perhaps some of the biggest lessons I learned about community happened outside of the classroom.
We went camping and hiking in Ba Vi National Park. On that trip we pitched our tents, built fires, cooked food for 40 + people, and just chilled.
Going out for bias (beers) was common after dinner and night classes. We ordered pitchers of Bia Hanoi, bowls of peanuts, and bonded over jokes.
Eating and cooking together was a common group activity.
One of my friends/students Đỗ Hồng Sơn took the day off from class with me to give a private tour of his hometown, HaLong Bay. I was invited to stay with his family and they took the best care of me.
They even caught fresh fish and seafood in my honor so I *gasp* ate a bit, detracting from my vegan lifestyle.
A few of us in the homestay went to the gym together daily, working on our muscles. Things sometimes got competitive and super silly.
One weekend, one of my students Thinh, another teacher Zach and I made an impromptu motorbike trip to the Huong Pagoda to hike and learn about Vietnamese culture.
Of course I had to visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum to educate myself on the country’s history of female empowerment.
I left Vietnam feeling immediate nostalgia. Even 1 year and a half later, I know that I’m destined to return and explore more of the country.
Sending hugs to my family in Hanoi.