If “future me” came to visit myself senior year of high school and told me that I would transfer colleges and take a trip to Vietnam, I would have thought it was some kind of joke. But that’s exactly what happened.
Thanks to Arcadia’s incredible Preview program, I had the opportunity to spend my spring break in a country unlike any place I’ve ever experienced. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, I fell in love. Since Vietnam is a developing country, I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous, excited, and terrified all at once to leave the comfort of my life in a developed country. But now that I’ve been, I can’t imagine my life before.
Preview is a program that allows any first-year student, including transfers, to take a 2-credit course with a travel component in another country over spring break. We could travel to Oman, England, Ireland, Scotland, and so many more countries. Originally, as a musician, I wanted to travel to Austria. I placed it as my first choice on my application, and then had to decide what to make my second-choice program. Looking through the list, I saw the program for Vietnam and somehow I was drawn to it. I completely despise history, but the idea of Vietnam felt so intriguing. I remembered an English teacher in high school advising me that if I ever traveled abroad, I should pick someplace I could never see myself going. She had spent a semester in Thailand and it was one of her favorite experiences, and now I can see why.
The thing about Ho Chi Minh is that it feels like a city and a village all at once. There were thousands of people riding mopeds and you could barely cross the street without narrowly escaping the insanity of the roads. Yet, on the side of the roads, barefoot little old ladies carried buckets and cooked dinner outside merely because they could. Each building was tall and narrow with an array of architecture stemming from French, Asian, and contemporary influences. Foliage was everywhere and, despite the smog, everything was beautiful.
My favorite places were the 24-hour coffee shops and Beer Street. The coffee shops were extraordinary, especially because I’m madly in love with coffee. My favorite memory was from one I walked to at 6 in the morning one day, when I walked to one of the local coffee shops. It was one of my favorites because of the cute plants and the great employees. I spoke with the boy working there for nearly an hour, and was then joined by a bunch of other Arcadia students. I felt this incredible sensation of belonging.
Beer Street was amazing for similar reasons. That was where we found our first, “not-at-all-Americanized” restaurant. Since we were in a tourist-driven area, most places had English translations on their menus, but this place didn’t, which is why I liked it so much. There is no drinking age in Vietnam, so we relaxed at a bar and just hung out. I loved the chill atmosphere and the ability to just be with friends and stay present in the moment.
Vietnam means more to me than I ever imagined it would, and life without it feels empty. I fell in love with a country I never intended to go to, and I can’t wait to go back one day. I may have felt trepidation going there, but in the I didn’t want to leave.