The global pandemic brought about so many changes in our day-to-day lives, upending how we go about work or education, and limiting the tools and resources at our disposal which we so often took for granted. It also showed us that the fruition of long-term plans might not only be a result of our personal intentions but also impacted by circumstances beyond our control. One of the industries that has suffered the most from the consequences of COVID-19 is the travel industry, as traveling has been largely restricted, due to closed borders and quarantine regimes. These restrictions have canceled a lot of vacations, annual family gatherings, business trips, or trips made for educational purposes.
Concurrently, these changing circumstances have given rise to the need for rapid adoption of virtual technologies, as most activities were required to move to the online realm. Studying and working from home might be beneficial for some, and irksome for others. However, during such trying times, the benefits of the virtual format cannot be understated. Despite all the barriers posed by the pandemic, communities have successfully organised themselves online to carry out numerous endeavours. The Virtual Field Trip to Vietnam, organised by the University of Westminster and the University of Hanoi, is a great example of how online exploration can be as fascinating and informative as traditional forms of learning while bypassing many spatiotemporal barriers.
This field trip—normally an annual event undertaken as part of a second-year undergraduate module – has had to evolve in its scope and format substantially this year. In previous years, the aim of the field trip was to gain first-hand experience of Vietnam, enriching our knowledge about its rich culture, traditions, and its role in the global arena. This year, although it was online, we are working together to ensure that we still amassed a wealth of knowledge about different aspects of Vietnam.
Every week we have a meeting on the Microsoft Teams platform, where we discuss various topics, partake in debates and discussions, and even get to listen to fascinating talks by guest speakers and students from Vietnam. What is really special about the field trip is that it is a very collaborative effort. For example, every week different students take up the responsibility of chairing meetings and taking notes. Students also engage in different tasks, such as creating blog posts about their impressions, writing reflective essays, watching videos prepared by Vietnamese students and academics, and providing constructive feedback on such materials. The theme of the videos changes each week, encompassing a wide range of topics from the role of the UN and different NGOs in Vietnam to the virtual expedition to different museums— like the Women’s Museum, or the Hoa Lo Prison in the city of Hanoi. After watching the educational material, we write our reflections on them, identifying its importance to the sociopolitical and economic development of Vietnam and posing questions that can be answered by professionals and our partner students from the University of Hanoi. This creates a visible link between students and academics from both universities, giving everybody the opportunity to participate, use their voice, and learn from each other.
What makes this attainable from week to week is the cooperation of students and academics from Vietnam and the University of Westminster, and our collective desire to make this trip as interesting and enjoyable to the best of our abilities. By uniting people from across various regions and time zones on a virtual platform, we are able to involve a larger number of participants than ever before and discuss a wider breadth of topics surrounding Vietnam. And by using the technological tools available to us, it has been possible to learn about Vietnam and its diverse culture from a distance: although physically far away, it made us feel as though we were immersing ourselves right into Vietnam’s culture and politics.
This Virtual Field Trip has allowed students to gain a world of new knowledge about Vietnam without even having stepped foot in the country, and the fact that it all has happened online is a testament to the marvels of technology and the human capacity to work together to solve problems despite all challenges. Vietnam has an incredibly rich heritage and culture that not only means a lot to its citizens but also has considerable global significance. This virtual field trip is the experience we wish everyone could have because this is a project where you can not only be introduced to these different ideas and exchange of views across cultures, but also foster new friendships, get insights from different people, and make memories for a lifetime.
Alexandra Bukhareva and Saudamini Sigdel
Learning about different countries and cultures has always been my passion and this virtual field trip allowed me to replenish my collection of memories with knowledge about Vietnam – the country with rich culture and history. I am very glad that I had this amazing opportunity to be involved in this virtual trip, as this is a unique experience I wish everyone could have. All these weeks passed so quickly, I have met a lot of new interesting people and now I truly wish to visit Vietnam one day.
Alexandra Bukhareva, 1st Year, BA Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Growing up I have always questioned ‘how does the world work?’ Being able to study International Relations has given me the opportunity to really answer this question. The virtual field trip to Vietnam is going to be the spotlight of my question, COVID-19 has restricted us to travel there, however, we can still engage with the students and understand their culture and learn. Most of all, the field trip answers my question more specifically to ‘how does Vietnam work’. The weekly meetings and the tasks assigned always unfold new details of the country, and the students from Vietnam always elaborate on how their country works politically, socially, and economically. I haven’t been to Vietnam and not heard much about it either which is very strange but the field trip teaches me so much more than I ever wanted to know, always hearing the students from our university and over there talking about their memories makes me want to have mine too. Hopefully, I can visit Vietnam one day too, but for now it seems as real as it can, and I am enjoying every second of it.
Komal Nadeem, 1st Year, BA (Hons) International Relations, University of Westminster
I have always been interested in the different countries around the world and looking at the many features and aspects of them and so through this virtual field trip, it has allowed me to learn so much about a country, like Vietnam, that I would not have known much about. I am so happy that I have had this incredible opportunity to be involved in this virtual field trip because I have enjoyed the different activities that we have done, and it has definitely allowed me to learn so much about Vietnam. It has also been so amazing to meet and talk to the students and lecturers in Vietnam as we have learned so much from them too. I hope that I get to visit Vietnam one day so that I can explore and learn even more about the country.
Momina Nehmat, 1st Year, BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Joining the Vietnam Field Trip was something I was unsure of at first since I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but it immediately caught my eye and was something that I had to give a go. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to see Vietnam while I traveled Asia in 2019. So, the opportunity to hear from the Vietnamese students and be a part of the Field Trip was almost the personal redemption to get a 2nd chance for me. In reflection, I am glad that I did not know what to expect from the Field Trip because my experience has been a pleasant surprise – I have met like-minded people who enjoy listening and discussing with the Vietnamese students and academics their perspectives on their own country and comparing it to our own. While being on my summer break it has also kept me engaged wherein, I probably would have become quite detached from the topics that I need to keep track of over the summer. So, in hindsight, the Vietnam Field Trip has been a delightful experience and I am grateful for the opportunity it has given me to hear from the students and academics at Hanoi University.
Samuel Elsey, 1st Year, BA Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Before taking part in this virtual field-trip, I had very limited knowledge about Vietnam but from this field trip, I have learned so much in such little time. It was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of especially with the current circumstances. With the participation of the wonderful students from Hanoi University, it was as if Vietnam had come to us, we were able to ask so many questions and watch videos that the students had recorded. I’m glad that I am able to say that I was a part of this virtual field trip and a special thank you to Farhang and Hanoi University for making it happen, I hope to visit Vietnam soon and hopefully meet students from the university!
Tania Sharif, 1st Year, BA Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Being part of the Vietnam Virtual Field-trip from the module ‘Learning in an International Environment’ was a wonderful experience! I am so grateful for this experience, as I developed various skills ranging from collaboration to communication and public speaking. Other than the fact that every week there was a different chair, every member came from the different background! Some of us were from University in London whereas others were from Hanoi University and alumni. It was so interesting to hear different people speak about their experiences, beliefs and thoughts. Prior to this virtual field trip, I was not as aware of the culture of Vietnam. This is an aspect that cannot simply be googled. Discussing the culture, traditions, and international relations of Vietnam with both Vietnamese and international students really taught me a lot.
Zohra Shamim, 1st Year, BA Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Being a part of the Vietnam Virtual Field Trip has provided a unique opportunity to interact with like-minded students as well as students and professors from Hanoi University. Growing up I was always surrounded with Thai culture which has shaped my interests but I have never explored other aspects of South-East Asia. It has not only been refreshing to learn about a country that has held such a historic reputation but also vital to have the interaction and connection with people across the globe. As the pandemic continues to take lives across the world, this field trip has allowed us all to find comfort in learning.
Jamie Greenfield, 2nd Year, BA Politics, University of Westminster.
I was drawn to the University because of its great interconnectivity with other countries. I knew before even coming to Westminster that I wanted to do the ‘Learning in an International Environment’ module and so I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to go to Vietnam last Christmas. However, the virtual field trip has made up for it in some ways. I have still accessed knowledge and experience from this trip and I have met some really amazing people. I hope I still get to go to Vietnam, but the virtual trip allowed me to have an insight into Vietnam, that otherwise I would have been lacking.
Lauren Norcliffe, 2nd Year, BA (Hons) International Relations, University of Westminster
Before signing up for the virtual field-trip I was quite unsure whether I would enjoy it. However taking part in different activities such as video making, blog writing and meetings has allowed me to learn more about Vietnam. Also having the chance to directly ask questions to students and lecturers in Vietnam has been an interesting and great way of learning from one another remotely. I am very happy to be a part of this field-trip which has given me the opportunity to learn about a new country as well as meet and work with others from different levels of education.
Laila Barakat, 2nd Year, BA International Relations and Development, University of Westminster
Prior to joining this virtual field trip experience on Vietnam, my knowledge on the country was very limited, however spending time during the meetings speaking with the Vietnamese students and others who have previously visited Vietnam helped me learn a vast amount about Vietnamese culture, cuisine and ultimately the way of life. I am very thankful to have been a part of this experience, it showed me that barriers can be broken without having to reside in an area physically. I really hope I can visit Vietnam in the future.
Najaha Choudhury, 2nd Year, BA International Relations, University of Westminster
Prior to joining the field trip planning group, my knowledge of Vietnam was limited to its geographic location on a map. However, the opportunity to partner with our colleagues at Hanoi university has enriched my knowledge of the Vietnamese culture immensely, while making me even more excited for a long awaited trip to Vietnam! Thank you to Farhang and all other students and faculty involved for creating such a progressive and flexible approach to this field trip amidst a year of online learning.
Cassidy Mattingly, 3rd Year, BA International Relations and Development, University of Westminster
I had the opportunity of going to Vietnam a few years ago, and now doing the virtual field trip has freshened my mind especially towards the current issues, such as the covid-19 situation. It has allowed me to engage with the students there virtually, and has been very informative.
Mahnoor Shahid, 3rd Year, BA International Relations and Development, University of Westminster
I was lucky to be able to go to Vietnam two years ago as part of the ‘Learning in an International Environment’ module and being part of this virtual field trip gave me an opportunity to share my experiences. It has also taught me more about Vietnam! It’s amazing how students from different parts of the world have been able to adapt to the effects of COVID-19 demonstrating the resilience of both students and lecturers in educating people despite the challenges of navigating online learning.
Margaret Fernandez, 3rd Year, BA (Hons) International Relations and Development Studies, University of Westminster
This field trip opened my eyes beyond measure. I realised how important it was both spiritually and academically. I obtained wisdom that allows me to prosper and received so many gifts from Vietnamese students, the most important being their friendship. ‘I have realised how easy we can stay in contact and learn from the Vietnamese experience of managing Covid-19. This was something amazing, especially as I was there 2 years ago.’ This amazing experience has been one of the most important in my life.
Natali Usma Bustamante, 3rd Year, BA Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Having never visited Vietnam, the virtual field trip has offered me the opportunity to engage with the country and its rich history. As we are living in the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic it is quite hard to physically travel. Thus, being connected to students and lecturers from Vietnam has maximized this experience as it has allowed us to travel virtually. I am grateful for the students that have aided in keeping this field trip alive despite the current circumstances and for Farhang that has guided us through it. I am now eager to visit Vietnam as soon as restrictions are lifted to learn even more about the history and culture of the country, a prospect that this virtual field trip has definitely aided, not only for me but for many other students.
Nicoleta-Andreea Petrovici, 3rd Year, BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Being able to visit an amazing country such as Vietnam, was probably one of the best experiences in my life. 2 years have passed since then and we were given the chance to join a Virtual Field trip to Vietnam. The challenges of COVID-19 didn’t stop the students that weren’t able to travel to Vietnam from being able to learn more about the country. The thing that amazes me the most is that this learning process involves us students and our ideas, our interaction amongst each other and with our Vietnamese peers from Hanoi University. I believe that this virtual field trip was definitely beneficial in adding more knowledge on Vietnam. Finally, I love how our experience of traveling to Vietnam before Covid can be of inspiration to the people that didn’t have this chance yet, building up their curiosity towards Vietnam will help them have an amazing experience once they have the opportunity to go there themselves.
Raja Touiri, 3rd Year, BA (Hons) International Relations and Development Studies, University of Westminster
Growing up in South Asia, I have always been curious about our neighbours in the South East and Vietnam has always been a country I have longed to explore. While I hope to be able to visit someday, this virtual field trip has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about this beautiful country and equip myself with knowledge about a culture and history that I wasn’t very familiar with before. Moreover, it has been an excellent forum for discussion and collaborative teamwork!
Saudamini Sigdel, 3rd Year, BA International Relations and Development, University of Westminster
Having had the opportunity to go to Vietnam two years ago to now being a part of the virtual field-trip has opened my mind immensely. As, firstly it is different, it’s completely different from being physically there, yet at the same time it feels as if you are there. As you are still interacting with the students and lectures at Hanoi University. The second thing being that it builds you up as a person. It actually allowed me to be more part of the Vietnamese culture and the current issues that they face. As I’m learning more about Vietnam from the different perspectives that students from different years share with us. Finally, I am able to engage more and learn from the different kinds of work we do, such as writing blogs and filming videos. This leads to us being able to boost our employability skills.
Tasneem Fadel, 3rd Year, BA (Hons) International Relations and Development, University of Westminster
I am so happy that I have become a part of the Vietnam Virtual Field Trip, which allowed me to broaden my knowledge about the country’s rich culture and history. Every week it was exciting to listen to the students and lecturers from Vietnam who shared valuable insights and facts about Vietnam. I was fascinated to learn about Vietnam`s unique traditions and customs, which has made me so curious to explore the country more deeply.
I am looking forward to visiting Vietnam as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Rauf Novruzov, MA International Relations, University of Westminster
As someone who has had a keen interest in history and has studied it at the university level, I have always been fascinated by the Vietnam War and the undertones of it on the global stage during the Cold War. However, I previously had no other knowledge of Vietnam so being able to join this project has been insightful and greatly appreciated. I have loved hearing about the culture, society and politics in Vietnam from the students at Hanoi University and I truly believe I have walked away with a new found interest for Vietnam.
Chloe Coburn, Graduate and Alumni, BA (Hons) History, University of Westminster
Having had the chance to be a part of the Vietnam field trip a few years back and compare it to this year’s virtual field trip, the experience has been incredible in that I was able to connect even more with the country, its culture, and people through the virtual sessions. It has been fascinating to hear from familiar faces on their experiences in Vietnam during the pandemic as well as engage in discussion with current Westminster students as part of the virtual field trip experience.
Kate Vasiljeva, Graduate and Alumni, BA (Hons) International Relations, University of Westminster
The virtual field trip was fun and very useful for Vietnamese students. I have participated in joint activities between Hanoi and Westminster Universities, and this is the third time. Every time joining the Westminster students, I feel very happy to connect with them and exchange views. This trip is more special than all the previous ones because it was organized online due to covid 19. It did not take away the spirit and enthusiasm and working online also has many disadvantages. For example, we were able to discuss many issues including Covid-19. I feel proud to be a part of the trip. I hope the Westminster students also found the contributions and opinions of Hanoi University students helpful for you. Next year, hopefully covid19 will pass so that Westminster students can continue to come to Vietnam to do fieldwork. Vietnamese students will always give you the warmest welcome. Thanks to DEN, Dr. Farhang and Saman for letting me know about these great online meetings. Thanks to the Westminster students for interacting with us during the meetings and to the Vietnamese students for accompanying the meetings.
Pham Thi Ha, 3rd Year, BA International Studies, Hanoi University
This virtual field trip not only allowed me to connect with Westminster students but also gave me cultural and educational knowledge during the time of limited travel and exposure due to Covid-19. Though not being able to meet you face-to-face, the virtual field trip brought me different and interesting experiences. I was delighted to share my knowledge about the diverse culture of Vietnam, our country. This was a very meaningful project and would be a memorable one for me. Thank you for sharing useful knowledge and informative presentations as well. Hopefully, I can meet all of you one day.
Kim Dung, 3rd Year, BA International Studies, Hanoi University
It was an honor and valuable experience of being able to attend the DEN conference, organized by the University of Westminster. I was impressed by meeting Westminster’s students and listening to the appealing sharings about the reality during the Covid-19 period. Although we were not able to interact facially, it was still an exceptional meeting for the acknowledged and academic information. Also, I truly appreciate your welcoming approach during the conference, it helped generate a pleasant atmosphere and narrow the distance between each other. I am looking forward to the most anticipated day that we can meet in Vietnam.
Trang Pham, 3rd Year, BA International Studies, Hanoi University