It’s been a week since I’ve been back in the United States. After 6 days of reunions, hugs, and catching up with friends and professors in Chicago, I’m back in my first home of St. Louis. My whole family is under one roof for the first time in awhile. My dad’s cooking is wafting through the house, my sister is playing the flute, my mom is hanging Christmas lights, and I’m enjoying the quiet of my room as I reflect on the past 4 months, my re-entry into American life, and all I learned going to Hanoi and back.
Wherever you go there’s a place to call home and people to call family.
The world’s longest ceramic mosaic mural stretches for kilometers along the streets of Hanoi commemorating the city’s over 1,000 year history. Throughout my time in Hanoi, I drove along it many a time admiring its colorful tiles, whimsical patterns and designs. I marveled at the expansive history it represented feeling right at home alongside hundreds of motorbikes and other honking taxis. While my time in Hanoi was a blink of an eye compared to the history of the city, for 4 months it became home. I always had Martha’s apartment to come back to after a long day and brothers and sisters in Christ at school, church, and Bible study to talk, hang out, and grow with. It’s that community and the people in it I think I miss most since returning.
When you’re uncomfortable, you’re forced to learn more about yourself, surroundings, and beliefs.
It’s not easy adjusting to a new culture, figuring out how to teach, and integrating into a community far from home. It’s difficult not being able to speak, read, or understand the complexities of the Vietnamese language. It wasn’t comfortable standing out almost everywhere I went, and I won’t even talk about the bathroom situation. But if I would have kept to being comfortable, staying in my apartment and the bubble where I felt safest, I wouldn’t be able to see my growth, and I wouldn’t feel like I’d lived out my purpose coming to Hanoi. When I was the most uncomfortable, I was learning the most.
Teaching is both incredibly difficult and rewarding.
Somedays I wanted to pull my hair out, because I’d been asked the same question over and over. Other days it seemed impossible that my 14 students would ever understand how to order decimals or whatever the lesson’s topic was. The days are long and the lesson plans all consuming. It’s not easy, but then that one student who’s never volunteered to read aloud volunteers and reads flawlessly, and the student with barely any English writes a paragraph. In the flash of a moment, any frustration is replaced with joy. I have at stack of construction paper cards my students gave me on my last day. When I read them, I can see that somehow I made a difference in their lives and more than anything that knowledge is the reward.
New experiences broaden your worldview and open your eyes to new perspectives.
Before I left for Hanoi, I knew little about Vietnam other than the one-sided history presented in American history books and the research I did in preparation for leaving. While knowing facts provided me with basic knowledge, my experiences opened my eyes far more than words on a page ever will. Living in a place where freedom of religion doesn’t exist and visiting places where children approached me again and again asking for a dollar revealed to me the blessings and excess present in the United States that are so often taken for granted or demanded with a sense of entitlement and apathy. Talking with people from all over the world showed me how we’re all much more similar than we are different.
Now, as my journey to Vietnam has come to a close, I begin a new journey as I transition back into the life of a college student and wait to find out where life will take me beyond May. The next stage in my journey is full of unknowns, but I’ve also learned these past few months that God’s plans for our lives are more than we could ever imagine, and knowing that fills me with peace.