“Connected Self-Development” and Upping Quality of Life

Written by Sharon Phu (Yale University) Student Correspondent CET Vietnam, Spring 2018

Recently, some of the staff at Vietnamese Language Studies Saigon (VLS) asked me to participate in a YouTube video. VLS has a YouTube channel where they upload videos of students reciting their favorite quote (translated into Vietnamese, of course) and then explaining what the quote means to them. I’m still thinking about what quote I want to use, because while some students have deep things to say about education and engagement, the only quote that pops into my head is from Elbert Hubbard: “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.”

I’ve been taking life pretty seriously since I was little. I’ll be honest; my desire to study abroad stemmed partly from a desire to get away. Away from the stress of college academics and extracurriculars, the thought of applications for grants/fellowships/general excellent opportunities that I really should have taken advantage of but was a little too overwhelmed to even get started on, the weight of family tensions and expectations, etc.

For our 1st traveling seminar, we visited Vĩnh Long in the Mekong Delta. We left on a Friday morning and got back Sunday afternoon. To be honest, I’m not sure how much we actually learned but overall the trip was fun. Loc has plans to introduce more academic content into this particular trip in future semesters.

As you can probably guess by now, I tend to try to ignore or escape from problems rather than confronting them. Admittedly, it’s not the best way to deal with things. That’s why it’s so great that Loc (our academic director) decided to organize CET Vietnam’s first ever workshop series on “connected self-development,” or mindfulness. The workshop series started in March and ended in April. Our workshop leader, Ms. Hà, was amazing and I hope that CET Vietam is able to keep the workshops going in future semesters.

I’ve gotten a lot out of the workshop, but to keep this post from getting too long here I’ll focus on three key points: connection to self, connection to others, and connection to nature. We’ve learned that nurturing these three types of connections is essential for maintaining a balanced mental state. Sounds new-agey I know but I can say with confidence that it’s definately helped me take life and myself a little less seriously than before.

To help with “connection to self,” I’ve incorporated 2 minute morning meditation into my life. Fifteen minutes was Ms. Hà’s recommendation but ya girl has a hard time waking up early and believes that a little bit of meditation is better than none at all *winky face*. I really think that it’s something everyone should consider doing. Two minutes isn’t long, but it’s enough time for me to stop and think about what may be making me stressed or unhappy, and then to come up with concrete measures to address the problem rather than pushing it away.

During our 2nd traveling seminar, we visited 5 cities, met with 4 NGO’s, talked with 3 guest speakers, and more. The trip took 9 days, and we definitely got a lot out of it. I took this picture of a sunset over a rice field at Mai Chau.

Working on “connection with others” is the one that’s affected me the most positively. By the way, if you’re interested, Harvard did a study that revealed relationships are the biggest factor in determining happiness.

I’ve been making a more conscious effort to really listen to what people may be trying to tell me. We all think that we’re better listeners than we actually are. However, our brains, not to mention our hearts, cannot really absorb what the other person is saying if it is simultaneously occupied with doing something else or thinking about something else. I’ve started doing this spectacularly simple thing where I put down my phone when a friend starts talking to me. It’s common sense and common courtesy, both of which I apparently lack since Linh needed to point out that we have deeper, more personal conversations when I’m not on my phone while she’s trying to talk before I finally started to put in the effort to break the habit.

Besides that, I’ve been working at staying more silent while the other person is speaking, and waiting to ask my questions at the end rather than interrupting in the middle (unless I need a point clarified, then I just ask away). This allows the speaker to take their story in the direction they want to take it, rather than in a direction the listener may unintentionally be pushing the speaker toward.

Some beautiful mangrove trees at Đảo Khỉ, aka Monkey Island, which I visited over spring break.

Lastly, there’s “connection with nature.” We didn’t explore this point too much in the workshops, but I have been trying to spend more time in parks (there’s a bunch near the CET guesthouse), the mountains (Linh organized a trip to Bà Đen Mountains in Tây Ninh), the beach (Linh organized a trip Vũng Tàu; would definitely recommend lying on the sand under the stars with friends at the Beach Club), the forest (I took a trip to Monkey Island during our spring break), and looking at flowers (check out Làng Hoa Vạn Thành in Đà Lạt if you end up going there for spring break).

All in all, it’s been an incredibly transformative semester. I’m so, so glad I chose to study abroad in Vietnam because I’ve met so many people who have challenged me to grow, to learn, and to look at life as something to treasure rather than as something to run away from. I don’t know how much of this will stay with me after I leave Vietnam (anyone who knows me knows that I have a really bad memory, haha), but going forward  I’m definitely going to keep those three types of connections in mind and try to live life a little less seriously.