My trip so far has been full of cultural exchange. It has of course included trying a lot of Vietnamese foods, listening to new music, having new experiences and interacting with people in a new way. Not only this, but living in the VPV house, which is full of international volunteers, has given us the chance to educate each other about our own cultures. Twice already we have had a culture night, where different groups put their cultures on exhibition. The Irish were first… It meant playing the Bodhrán, Irish dancing (very badly), and singing Irish songs (even worse).
More recently, I had the opportunity to teach some Vietnamese young people gaelic football and hurling – not all learning can be done in the classroom. It was two days of drills and training followed by a match to test out the skills that had been learned. There was also time for some more Irish dancing, songs and even some early preparation for St. Patricks day. They loved it! I loved it! It was great craic and good to share some Irish culture so far away from home. Following the weekend, those involved went for dinner together. As soon as we arrived at the restaurant you could tell this was no McDonalds. We sat in a room with sliding doors and windows all the way around. We sat on the floor with our shoes off around a table that was sunk into the ground so our feet could go under. While there, the food just kept coming. It was a great chance to taste as much Vietnamese food as I could – I was in my element.
I’ve really enjoyed learning about Vietnam’s culture and teaching others about my own. The Vietnamese also seem to really enjoy cultural exchange. Many take any chance they get! A common story told in the VPV house starts off in the city by Hoàn Kiếm lake, it continues on to explain how roughly 5 Vietnamese people, young and old, came up to say ‘hello’ and ask ‘Can I speak English with you?’. They are mad to meet foreigners, to practice English and to find out about other countries.
An event with the Irish Embassy in Vietnam, which I was at recently brought to mind the importance of cultural exchange. The event was a pre-departure training for Vietnamese students that have just received scholarships to study postgraduate courses in Ireland. At the event, the role of the embassy in fostering ‘human connections’ was talked about. The role of the embassy was being achieved using education as a tool to enable these connections to form. These connections lead to wider perspectives and encourage us to consider ourselves global citizens, with links around the world. I think we should encourage more of this as it plays an important role in education. The phrases ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘education’ should be synonymous. Many of the most important things to be learnt can be done by experiencing the world through another person’s eyes.
Cultural exchanges also allow us to embrace our differences, exposing the similarities that can unite us. I definitely find that being in an environment alien to home brings out the sense of identity in you. I blare Irish music and speak more Gaeilge than I would at home. I’m proud to wear my county colours and even prouder when someone asks… ‘what’s that?’. I wear a cheesy t-shirt with sheep on it that says ‘Ireland Rocks’ and even pretend to like Westlife (apparently the best thing since sliced bread over here). I wear my Irish identity on my sleeve and the best thing is that so do the Vietnamese.
For me, the cultural exchanges in which I have been a part have helped to show me how far the world has come. My experience in Vietnam has challenged my preconceptions about this beautiful country and allowed me an insight into its rapid changes in all aspects of society. I’m aware that we are a long way off where we should be, but finding out that the world is probably in a better position than I thought is fairly inspiring. For me, this opportunity for cultural exchange has changed the way I think about the world. I think that it often does the same for others…the more of it the better.
About the Author:
Name: Daire Hennessy
Age: Over 18
Applied for: Global Awareness Programme Award