For the past 15 or so days, I have traveled from the Mekong Delta (a HOT, flat, area with MANY rivers) to Da Lat (a mountainous, pine covered, COOL area). Between the intense climate of the Delta, the endless travel between excursions, and the days that went from 8am to 9pm, the last two weeks have been a wild adventure that tested me in many unpredictable ways.
Before embarking on study abroad, I knew that my program’s field-based component would be incredibly difficult. Although I felt adequately prepared to take on the challenges of being out in the field for days at a time, I neglected to consider the difficulties of being in a group of 14 people. Everyone has such different personalities, needs, interests – sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up.
In addition, the microaggressions and social discomforts I have experienced these past 2 weeks have, at times, been incredibly hurtful and demoralizing. Although I am part of the majority in Vietnam and my group is (thankfully) nearly all womxn (half are womxn of color!), certain privileged identities still take up space and assert dominance. When people make microaggressive statements or act in offensive ways toward my culture, I feel so angry yet helpless.
However, this post is not meant to complain. Rather, I want to talk about the importance of positivity. Before Vietnam, I promised myself that I would not let anyone, or anything, negatively affect my abroad experience. Throughout this month, I have learned that this requires choosing to “let it go”. When people are being offensive, I have two choices: lash out or calmly “let it go”. While I want to correct people and make sure they learn from their behaviors, ultimately it’s not my job. My job here is to take care of myself, explore my identity, and learn about this country that means so much to me.
More so, I have learned the importance of just laughing it off. There were so many moments of the past 2 weeks that can only be described as a “fever dream” because of how ridiculous or challenging they were. One particularly stands out:
While in Dong Thap province, we were driving to a local flower farm. However, the bus driver suddenly stopped. I woke up from my nap and heard that he ran off the bus and hopped on the back of the motorbike. At this point in the trip, we were delirious. Soon, the bus devolved into chaos as we sat in a 95 degree bus confused as to where our bus driver went and why we stopped. However, instead of panicking, my friend and I turned to each other and just busted out laughing. The experience was so ridiculous and we were so delirious, it truly felt unreal – like a fever dream. Then, one of our classmates tried to open the emergency exit to let out some air. By this point, I was bent over with laughter. Soonafter, I ran off the bus for some cool air, only to find we were stopped in front of a a streetside hair salon. Unsurprisingly, the couple who owned the shop were very confused, but welcomed us. Eventually, the bus driver returned with some gas. When he realized that he needed a funnel, he quickly grabbed a large water bottle and a hammer and, somehow, made a funnel by flattening the bottle and hitting it against the edge of the bus. I couldn’t take it. Even after filling up the tank, the bus failed to start, so my coordinator started patting the bus and saying prayers for it to start up. In the dehydrated, weary haze, there was literally nothing else to do but laugh.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from being in Vietnam is to not take things too seriously. In a moment like a bus breaking down, it may be easy to freak out and panic – you’re stuck on the side of the road! However, laughing it off turns a hard situation into a joyful one.
So, in times of trouble, I am choosing to laugh. I am not discounting the severity of some statements or situations – believe me. However, I have learned that laughing truly brings light to difficult experiences and helps me cope in a more positive, sustainable way. For a long time, I lived my life being extremely angry. While I was passionate and fiery, it really hurt my sense of purpose and humanity. Therefore, I am actively choosing joy and a feeling of happiness. I am choosing to transform moments of negativity into positivity. I may not have everything nor a” perfect” abroad experience – but I am having an incredible experience that is only made more special by the challenges.