‘Ohana’ in Vietnam
Sisters on our Southeast Asia Semester share their perspective on the group's time in North Vietnam, as the group re-calibrate after two students were dismissed, and the planned student-led section was impacted...
Staring out the window on our drive into Hanoi, I took it all in - the flashing lights, the big bridges, the constant honking. We had just gotten off a plane, sat on the floor of the airport waiting for our passports to be checked, and grabbed a quick 10PM dinner at Popeyes before sleepily boarding a bus. The energy of the city was such a change from our time in Laos, and as tired as I was, I was excited to explore in the coming days.
In the morning, we began intensively planning for our student-led section. There was friendly competition between the 2 groups to see who could plan a better week. Who could find cooler activities? Who could find cheaper accommodations?
We had hit the ground running in Hanoi, but that night we came across a major speed bump. Over the next 2 days, we started to realize that the speed bump was just the beginning of an obstacle course - barriers, dead ends, and blind corners popped up, and we got more and more hurt and confused. As a group, we felt shocked, betrayed, broken, empty. Even though a few things were still up in the air, we felt we needed to get out of Hanoi, a city that for a lot of us turned out to be very chaotic and overwhelming. So while we were trying to wrap our heads around everything that was happening, we set off for Cat Ba Island and Ha Long Bay. We tried to distract ourselves, bonding as we hiked, kayaked, went for massages, and played cards at night.
After losing two members of our "ohana," we did our best to find a "new normal" as we continued on to Da Nang. Having our own AirBnb was something we all really enjoyed, and we tried to push ourselves to find activities like going to the beach, visiting a market, and going to Sun World Asia Park to try to get back on a schedule and to focus on recovering and moving forward.
Although we have found something pretty close to a "new normal" now, we still have struggles here and there. But every day I am amazed by the support, love, and resilience my group shows, and I am proud of us for coming this far and for being eager to keep growing.
Since the beginning, we have called ourselves "ohana," the Hawaiian word for "family", and a reference to the beloved Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch." The past week has been a powerful reminder of what we mean to each other, not just as group members but as potential lifelong friends. Saying good bye to two students over the span of a few days was incredibly difficult. We realized just how interconnected the group's relationships are, and how easy it is for our emotions to affect everyone. It took the sea breeze of Cat Ba Island, the modernity and excitement of Da Nang, and the charm of Hoi An to help the group get back on our feet.
Hoi An is a great city to explore on foot. Soon after arriving, much of the group dashed out to a number of the city's tailors, eager to have their favorite designs come to life. The next day, a free day, was spent biking to the beach, going back for fittings, and exploring. Our last day in Hoi An, we went to the Lifestart Foundation where we did crafts (painting and lantern making) and learned about their mission to help people with disabilities become self-sufficient. We had lunch at Streets, a non-profit to help disadvantaged youth. Both were very refreshing and inspiring. That night, we had a "fashion show," a big reveal of the beautiful clothes we had made during our time in Hoi An. Seeing everyone laugh and smile again together was the perfect reminder that, despite the challenges we face as a group, we will always be ohana.