I finally had the experience of seeing my name on a sign as I passed through the wide doors of the airport luggage area to the crowd that was waiting for arriving passengers. Actually, there was only one man with a sign and a few people waiting, but it still felt great.
I had returned from Bangkok just in time to catch a flight to Da Lat, a city in southern Vietnam. I would be joining fellow Fulbrighters for a one-day meeting where each of us shared the progress we have made on our Fulbright projects. It was a reunion for us since we spent four days together in September for our orientation.
A Room Full of Experts
Five of the current Fulbrighters are here for ten months or more while the remaining three are finishing up our projects in the next month. Most of us admitted that we were looking forward to seeing each other but weren’t really sure how listening to eight presentations from diverse fields would be. We were pleasantly surprised.
Each presenter demonstrated such a passion for their project that it was impossible not to get drawn into their world and share in their learning, frustrations, successes, and growth while here in Vietnam. I learned about the challenges of changing the culture of English teaching in Vietnam at the policy level and the impact a visiting professor had on his business students. I heard about the progress being made in public health in Vietnam and the creative ideas for addressing the stigma associated with mental health issues. A political science professor talked about teaching his subject, which technically does not exist in this communist country. Another researcher exposed the world of researching in Vietnamese archives, which is no easy task. An anthropologist sang to us in the endangered language of the Cham people. And I was so pleased when my fellow Fulbrighters read poems on my project website and left comments for my students. One Fulbrighter even added his own poem to the site!
I am grateful to the Fulbright Vietnam staff at the US Embassy in Hanoi who organized and funded this conference. As a group, we have learned so much from each other and have enjoyed the support of the Fulbright staff.
Exploring Da Lat’s Food
Several of us stayed on in Dalat after the conference and enjoyed a few days exploring the area. The winter rains kept us inside coffee shops and restaurants for a good part of the time, but no one minded. There were many food items to try that are not even available in Hanoi. Hours earlier, any one of us would have said the food in Hanoi was the best anywhere, but with each new treat we tried in Da Lat, we began to worry about returning to the everyday “normal” food we’d grown accustomed to in the capital city.
Coffee, too, will never be the same
As with the food, the coffee in Da Lat took things to a whole new level. Not only that, but the baristas are eager to share their enthusiasm for and knowledge of coffee. I have, without a doubt, had the best coffee of my life in Vietnam (remember, I used to live in Brazil). Adjusting to coffee in the US may be the most difficult part of my reentry when I return next summer.
Mr. Flanagan takes a spin
I did it. I finally drove a motorbike. It’s the most popular way to travel in Vietnam. I’ve ridden on the back of many motorbikes since arriving here, but this was my first time at the controls. I did have a tiny mishap along the way, but that story won’t be told here (It’s really pretty boring). I’m ready for my next trip!