Vietnam: an eye-opening experience 

Having been to a South-East Asian country before and a country ruled under communism, I had presupposed views on what Vietnam was going to be. The second we touched down in Hanoi, however, I realised Vietnam was different from any country I had visited before. The people were lovely and welcoming, although the traffic and driving were more chaotic than I imagined! Hanoi was less industrialised than I would have thought, and the cars were surprisingly more modern than the cars I saw on a trip to Cuba. The vast and notable difference between the upper and lower class in Vietnam was striking. Coming from a Western country that values ‘freedom’ and democracy and believes that our way is the right way to rule a country, it is hard for me to completely understand how people can enjoy their life living under different political ideologies. 

The first night we were in Hanoi was a Saturday, and Hanoi’s walking street was open. The walking street is a collection of major roads that, on the weekend, are partially closed off to motor vehicles and open to pedestrians to walk around, shop, eat, dance, etc. When inquiring more about why Hanoi’s government decided to do this, it became clear that it was so people could enjoy their weekend and have a good time. Whilst walking around the area, all you could see were people genuinely enjoying their time with friends and even strangers. Walking in this area challenged my thinking regarding the right way to rule a country; there is no right way, and what one might see as the proper way, others might disagree.

As an American, walking around Hao Lo prison challenged everything I had been taught growing up. America’s education system vilifies communism and praises our own soldiers as heroes. Hao Lo did exactly the opposite: Communist Party leaders and soldiers imprisoned there were treated with honour and seen as heroes. In contrast, when discussing Americans in general, and specifically, the detained American soldiers were seen as villains or evil. It was the first time I had seen America/Americans being described in such a light, and it was incredibly eye-opening. Of course, I understand that the United States has committed many atrocities throughout history and should be held more accountable than they are. However, seeing the United States described in such a way for the first time challenged my thinking and made me realise that what we learn about history is not always accurate and depends on one’s perspective. This part of the trip was one of the most significant for me, and I am grateful for this. 

Another incredibly significant part of the trip was visiting the corpse of Ho Chi Minh. The way the people of Vietnam praise him is something I have never experienced before. In addition, encouraging or forcing the schoolchildren to see his corpse for educational purposes was an eye-opening experience. It gave us insight into how conformist their society is and highlighted the irony of how the political elite live a life of luxury while others suffer even to get enough to eat. 

What made this trip was being in a group full of diverse students. The addition of Vietnamese students was incredibly insightful, as they offered information on their country and life there that we would have never known without them. 

Having had this opportunity to go on this field trip and see in real-time everything we have been discussing this past semester was incredibly valuable to my education and to my understanding of the course. Just talking about a country and its development in a classroom in London is one thing, but being able to visit the country and speak with people from there, you gain a whole new perspective and learn new things that would be impossible to learn in a typical classroom setting. I will forever cherish this opportunity Dr Farhang and the University of Westminster have offered and worked so hard to make possible for us. If the opportunity arises again for me, I would one hundred per cent go on another field trip, and I hope the opportunity will remain an option for other students around the university.

Graciela Hambleton

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