Their love for Vietnam
Before they arrived in Vietnam, they had a quite superficial view of it. Most of what they knew was related to the American War there. Three Boston-area residents: Andrea Paquin, Jacob Daniels and Elizabeth Hollingsworth said they chose to teach in Vietnam because they were all interested in the South East Asian country. Their perceptions of Vietnam changed dramatically after they were integrated into life there.
Paquin resides in Lowell, Mass., where about 20 percent of the population is of South East Asian descent, primarily Cambodian and Vietnamese. Right after receiving a master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Boston University in 2011, she came to Vietnam as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She is teaching in Long Xuyen, a city in the Mekong Delta 40 miles from the border with Cambodia.
“I wanted to learn more about the culture, history and values of these cultures because I was interested in immigrant issues and wanted to better understand the adjustments they had to make to life in the United States,” said Paquin in an email.
Like Paquin, Daniels, who comes from Wayland, Mass., also chose Vietnam when he applied for the English Teaching Assistantship of the Fulbright program, which every year sends 10-15 American students to Vietnamese universities. The Connecticut College graduate, who majored in government, taught in Hai Phong, north of Vietnam in the 2010-11 school year.
Before that, Daniels had a chance to travel to several of its well-known tourist destinations on vacation while teaching in Cambodia.
“I really enjoyed myself when I traveled in Nha Trang and Sai Gon. I wanted to explore more. That’s why I chose Vietnam.”
Meanwhile Hollingsworth, of Concord, Mass., decided to teach in Vietnam after attending a seminar in Hanoi in the summer of 2008 on the history of the American War.
“I had the opportunity to make Vietnamese friends as well as travel throughout the country, and I fell in love with Vietnam,” said Hollingsworth, who taught in Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta, in 2009-11 via a non-profit service program Princeton in Asia.
“I loved the hospitality and vitality of the country, and I wanted to return after graduating from college.”
As a history major at Princeton University, she studied the history of the United States’ involvement with Vietnam but she said, “I knew little about modern Vietnam.” She said she felt nervous about going at first because she anticipated encountering anti-American hostility as a legacy of the war.
However, her worry turned out to be unnecessary.
“I was quite pleasantly surprised that, even as an American, I was welcomed with open arms,” said Hollingsworth, whose uncle participated in the Vietnam War.
So was Paquin.
“I have met very few people who talk about the past. No one has shown any animosity to me as an American, which is something that most people at home tend to be surprised by,” said Paquin. She also has an uncle sent to fight during the war.
Daniels also agreed.
He said Vietnamese people “were unbelievably friendly, kind and generous, and accepting me as an American into the inner circle of friends and families.”
“I was very happy of how I was treated in Vietnam. And that changed my ideas about Vietnamese people and culture,” Daniels said. No one in his family participated in the American War.
He said he wanted to go back. “I really love Vietnam and I really want to go back as a businessman. I am building my experience in America in order to get back to Vietnam and get back to my people in Vietnam,” said Daniels, who often talks to his Vietnamese friends on Facebook since he left Vietnam last summer.
Similarly, Paquin hopes to come back to Vietnam within the next five or ten years.
“It will be very interesting to see how this country continues to grow and change. It is changing so quickly. And of course, I will want to see my friends and students again,” said Paquin, who will complete her teaching program in Vietnam in September.
Hollingsworth also planned to revisit Vietnam in the years to come.
“Vietnam will be part of my life forever. I want to continue to learn about Vietnam, and I hope to study Vietnam in graduate school,” said Hollingsworth, who now has deep and long-lasting relationships in the S-shaped nation.
“Also, my time in Vietnam awakened me to the critical need for U.S.-Vietnam cultural exchanges, and I feel a sense of responsibility to promote this relationship. I hope to work with Vietnam in some capacity for the rest of my life,” said Hollingsworth, who learned Vietnamese at Harvard University before she came to teach in Vietnam.