Firsts in Vietnam

Written by Hannah Le, (Student Correspondent) University of Washington
CET Public Health & Service-Learning in Ho Chi Minh City, Summer 2015

My whole experience in Vietnam is a “first” because this is my first time living abroad and getting to become a part of another culture for an extensive period of time. I am constantly learning new things about public health, culture, and identity. Through all of this, one of the most important things that I’ve learned while in Vietnam is that Vietnam is not America. Adjusting to the differences was initially uncomfortable, but I am excited because fresh experience has provided me with so many “first-time” stories and a broader cultural understanding.

The first time I saw an outdoor meat market, I was shocked. My nerdy inner microbiologist was screaming “DANGER!” as I hurriedly passed by the meat shop, thinking every kind of E. Coli, salmonella or worm that must be flourishing on that raw meat exposed to the sun, humidity, dirt, bugs, and pollution of the city. However, after expressing my concerns to my roommate, she assured me that this method of buying and selling meat is the norm here and that people prefer this because it ensures freshness of the product. Come to think of it, I haven’t gotten sick from any meat product—in fact, everything that I’ve eaten so far has been nothing short of delicious! I realize that the way I was raised in the states is not the only way that societies are able to operate. I feel blessed with the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the world through the differences that I experience in Vietnam!

My friendly neighborhood meat shop

My friendly neighborhood meat shop

The second huge “first” for me is experiencing heat and humidity. Coming from Seattle, where the air is clear and everyone thinks that there will be an apocalypse during the few days of the year when it gets above 80 degrees, I was not prepared to experience 90-degree weather on a daily basis. Every time I step outside, it is guaranteed that within five minutes I will be red faced and covered in sweat. I absolutely love the sun, but the heat and humidity is a new experience that I am still adjusting to. I hope that by the end of the summer my tolerance for heat will be greater and I will be more like a true Vietnamese person!

Each day, I am overwhelmed and in awe with how lovely and vibrant Vietnam is. Seeing everything from meat markets and motorbike traffic to rice fields and dense jungles is surprising and exciting. As I continue to live here for the next month and a half, I hope to never stop experiencing the exhilarating rush of a first-time experience!

This view of Saigon will never get old.

This view of Saigon will never get old.