This week we are featuring an article by Jen Louie. Jen joined our faculty member Christoph Giebel's 2015 summer study abroad program Viet Nam: Building for Peace in the Wake of War. The 2017 application for this program closes February 15.
By the time the egg coffee was in my hand and the sun crept above Hoàn Kiếm lake, sweat began to drip down my back, motorcycles slowly filled the streets, and elderly Vietnamese women finished up their morning aerobic exercise in the park.
Last summer, I spent nearly six weeks studying Vietnamese war and history and volunteering with PeaceTrees in the Quang Tri Province of central Vietnam through a UW Comparative History of Ideas program. To view the blog I kept, please click here.
Everyone boasts about the glory of studying abroad; being immersed in another culture and gaining unimaginable unique experiences. And these clichés proved true throughout my time in Vietnam. I played soccer barefoot on concrete slabs between busy streets with a team of local Vietnamese boys, painted playgrounds in schoolyards tucked away in the countryside, and ate endless bowls of freshly picked fruits unique to South East Asia. I enjoyed the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises, endless rolling rice fields, and mountainous backdrops.
But study abroad isn’t always the enjoyable eye opening adventure it’s made out to be. It is consistently challenging in all regards: mentally, physically, and emotionally. I can confidently say that those six weeks ruthlessly questioned my perception, pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone, and questioned years of personal values and beliefs more than anyone or anything has before.
Throughout the volunteering portion of our program, my awareness of voluntourism was brought to a whole new level. During this trip, Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions” became one of my most valued texts. What Illich’s discusses remains the basis of a perspective on international social issues, necessary for anyone interested in social impact. Our group discussions on white man’s burden, poverty porn, voluntourism, and sustainable community programs were difficult to have.
But they were some of the most important conversations I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of.
Professor Christoph Giebel was an inspirational mentor and the Program Directors of PeaceTrees carried an admirable passion for service. These people crafted a space for constructive unconventional conversations to be had without obliterating my idealistic hope for the future of social impact.
To read the full story, click here.