tab 2018 (14)

I'm not ready, but it's time to say goodbye..

It’s time to pack! I look back at the past 3 months and I can’t believe how this journey is almost over. It feels like not too long ago that I was preparing to come to Vietnam, and now I am packing to return back to Canada. I reflect on the time I spent in this country, and the numerous lessons I have learnt along the way. I wanted to explore Asia for a while, and TAB ended up being the perfect opportunity to work on my skills as a teacher, while also getting to know this country and its culture. Thank you Vietnam! For your hospitality, for the people, for the warm smiles, and for the beautiful beaches! I will never forget the crowded streets, with bikes and cars honking continuously, and having to look our around all corners when riding my motorbike to get to school. I will never forget the confused look on people’s faces when I tried to ask something in English, or the confused feelings I felt when someone would try to speak to me in Vietnamese. I will never forget the positive and uplifting attitudes of the people that had experienced hardships in their lives, but still chose to look at the brighter side. I will never forget the memories I shared with my roommate and other TAB members, and the way we supported one another. I will never forget my students and the lessons they taught me along the way.

I never thought I will be celebrating my birthday in Vietnam, let alone Sapa. I had the most authentic experience, surrounded by the beauty of the nature and fresh air, I couldn’t help but be appreciative for this experience. I joined tab with the intention to grow, explore the world and myself, and advance my practice as a teacher. I can say that, this experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone both personally and professionally,, whether that be having to create lesson plans to teach students who speak minimal to no English, to riding a scooter in between two massive trucks on my way to work during rush hour. I learnt to adjust, to be flexible, to be patient, and one thing I know for sure is: I am not leaving here like I came! 

(Picture of a few TAB members in front of Da Nang University)

(With a few students after our presentation on Canada at Da Nang University)

(Singing the Canadian anthem at Da Nang University)

(Presentation on Canada and its culture at Da Nang University)

(A few TAB members and our liason Jade wearing Ao Dai)


(Having fun taking pictures with our liason Jade in front of the Primary School)



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Differentiation in classrooms..

Teaching has officially begun! Immediately, I can't help but notice how the educational system here is different than Canada’s. The students were so excited to see us! One my first day of teaching, once I entered the classroom, the students greeted me by singing the “Hello teacher” song. They are excited to learn and have a great sense of appreciation for learning, unlike Canada, where education is often taken for granted. One of my Grade 3 class has nearly 40 students, all wearing white shirt uniforms with blue shorts or skirts. My specialization is English Language Learners (ELL). After observing the various classrooms, I noticed how no differentiation techniques are applied when teaching the content to students. Students have a range of learning levels and needs, all differing from one another. The lesson plans, however, are taught quite standardly, with the teacher delivering the information at the front of the class, and students being the recipients of such information. Due to a lack of technology, I had to rely on props, such as the use of puppets and the blackboard, to deliver my lessons. I also modelled exercises for the students before splitting them up into groups since an explanation in English often did not suffice. It was difficult to communicate with the students since their English levels were quite low, but they definitely did not lack the enthusiasm and excitement, which made the lessons fun!

The classes consisted of the teacher pronouncing conversational sentences, such as “How are you?”, “This is my friend Linda”, etc. and students repeating them over and over again. Students would memorize these sentences, but while doing walk-arounds and observing students, I noticed how some required the extra support and resources to be able to learn and understand English. I decided to speak to my partner-teacher about whether I could use scaffolding techniques to teach students. She said that, with classes being 40 mins long and the heavy content to be covered each time, she wasn’t able to cater the lessons to accommodate students’ various needs.

I couldn’t help but think of the educational system in Canada, and how, I am so grateful that in encourages differentiation to ensure all students are able to reach their maximum capability. My experience in Vietnam has helped me develop more empathy, patience, and understanding for English Language Learners. Students have skills regardless of whether English is their first language or not. It’s important to me to notice those strengths and use them to enhance their confidence. Teaching in Vietnam has been a great opportunity for me, and my students have taught me so many valuable lessons that I look forward to applying in my future classrooms.


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A reflection and a farewell tour

I’m back in Canada now, getting used to everything that felt so “normal” before I left. I’m realizing that I missed many things about Canada that I didn’t expect. One of these things is how amazing it is to be able to have fluent conversations with almost anyone I interact with, whether they’re my friends, a cashier at a grocery store, or my Starbucks barista. I didn’t realize how much I love interacting with people until I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Many people in Vietnam speak a fair amount of English, but I wasn’t able to have the same quality and depth of conversations that I’m able to have in Canada. I really wish I had taken more initiative to have learned some Vietnamese before going. I’ve already talked about the warm Vietnamese hospitality and sense of community and had I been able to communicate with more people I know that these things would have been even greater. When I’m in a ride share or taxi in Canada I love asking the driver about their life and hearing some of their stories. I spent quite a bit of time in taxis in Vietnam but wasn’t able to do that, and I feel like that was a large missed opportunity about learning so much more about Vietnam and its people. I’m very grateful that the people I was able to have relationships with in Vietnam worked hard to develop their English so that we were able to communicate. I learned so much from them.



Finally, I wanted to talk about the last day we spent at the primary school we were teaching at. Our liaison, Jade, made the day so special, and I was overcome with emotion at how much the students valued us. It once again really spoke to community and closeness. Jade took us around to each classroom (even the ones we didn’t teach) to say goodbye to the students. It meant a lot to see everyone one final time. The students in the English club made us cards and drawings that I will treasure. I will miss all the students and they will always have a very special place in my heart. It was evident that our partner teachers enjoyed having us and it was such a pleasure to have been paired with them. I learned a lot from their patience and classroom management. It was hard for me to say goodbye. I wasn’t quite ready to leave Vietnam and I will miss it very much.  

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Settling in Da Nang and exploring Vietnam!

After 25 hours of travel, I finally reached Da Nang, Vietnam! I landed around 10pm and I surprised to see how hot it was! As I get to my apartment, my landlord informed me that Holly and Adrian (two other members of the TAB group) will be my neighbours. I felt tired but I was so excited to finally get there, that I barely slept that night. I woke up early, and although jet lagged and tired, I was ready to get the day started and settle in. I wanted to explore so Holly and I decided to explore the beach, which was only a 5 minutes walk from our apartment. A dream come true. I was just in awe with the beauty of the sea, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Our liaison got in touch with us and schedule a meeting to meet with us the following Monday, which meant we had a few days to explore the city, which is exactly what i did. I had a lot of energy with my and I was craving my independence, so I made myself a list of places to visit in Da Nang, and I began my adventures!

Having travelled to India before, I was familiar with the chaotic traffic and car/trucks/bike horns coming from all directions. I had moved from Italy to Calgary in 2007, so I felt I’d feel a similar culture shock. Well, this time it was a bit different. The biggest thing being the language barrier and inability to understand Vietnamese or speak English with the locals. I noticed how I quickly reverted to using my body language using Google translate when I trying to convey a message. I realized how, living in a Western and developed country comes with a lot of benefits. For example, when driving my car I know that traffic laws and regulations will protect me in case of any accidents. Vietnam, however, was different. I had to use all my senses, and make sure I was very careful when crossing the road, or trying to get from place A to B with directions other than English was also very challenging.

Traveling to different cities, such as Dalat, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Sapa really exposed me to the distinctive beauty of Da Nang. Each city was different, and it had its own art, culture, and history to offer. I realized how, I am so grateful to be living in a city like Da Nang, with beautiful beaches and things to explore, yet still not too overpopulated as compared to other cities in the South. I felt that, Da Nang is a city that deserves to be explored more, and I was looking forward to spending the remaining 8 weeks there!

                                                                                                            (In front of a building in Hue)

                                                                                                 (View of My Khe beach and Da Nang)

                                                                                                                       (Ba Na Hills)

                                                                                                         (Elephant waterfall in Da nang)




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Catch ya Later Australia

Hello Readers!

As the tab program comes to end I am both sad to be leaving but am grateful for my experience. I have decided to compose a list of things I have learned while here in Australia. Hope you enjoy.

1. The weather in September and October is not the sunshine paradise I expected and packed for, but rather quite cloudy and cold. This brings me to another thing I have learned, homes in Australia do not have central heating but instead little space heaters.

2. Australians LOVE 90’s music. It plays at the grocery store, on the radio in the uber, and on the beach. As a lover of all things 90’s this was one of my favorite things here.

3. The Australian go with the flow attitude is a real thing. Some of the teachers explained they follow a 10 step policy for their lesson planning… 10 steps from the staff room to their classroom to plan their lessons. This laidback attitude also means that Australians have a great sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.

4. Australians love their slang, this means shortening words and sometimes adding a ‘y’ or an ‘ie’. Here are some examples:
                    Avo - avocado
                    Pracy – student teacher doing their practicum
                    Brolly – umbrella
                    Lollies – candy
                    Chuck a u-ey – make a U-turn
                   Maccas – McDonalds
The list could go on and on, I hear new slang everyday.

5. I learned a lot about Australian’s Indigenous history after the 6 and half hour road trip to Kalgoorlie where we visited a school with a primarily Indigenous population.

6. If your friend gets scratched by a monkey in Bali you need to take her to the doctor to get some vaccines.

7. Australians are very friendly and welcoming. I was never afraid to talk to someone, whether it be for directions or where to find the best deal to rent a sand board.

8. I don’t like vegemite.

9. I could not have asked for a better group of people to have been on this journey with. I cannot wait to reminisce with the other girls about all of the fun times and shared experiences.

And lastly…

10. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and trying new things may be scary, but is totally worth it.

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Vietnamese Hospitality

Vietnam has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, the culture is rich, and the food is delicious. But the thing I’ll most treasure about Vietnam is the people and the hospitality they have shown to me. Throughout my travels here I have been treated like family at the various hotels I've stayed at. My most recent experience was in Cat Ba Island where I stayed in a family run hotel. From the moment we checked in I was made to feel important and valued. They invited us to eat dinner with more than 15 of their friends and family, serving us what seemed like an endless amount of food and making sure our glasses were always full. After dinner we wanted to head into town, so they let us use their personal motorbike. It was a small gesture, but it really meant so much to me. We had a tour booked the next morning and they made sure to wake us up and serve us a Western breakfast (which is somewhat rare to find in Vietnam). Again, seemingly small gestures but it made us feel valued and important.

This experience has not been uncommon for me here. One of the teachers that we work with at the primary school, Jade, has made us feel incredibly welcome and shown us such kindness. She’s invited us out to coffee and dinner, and even had us over to her sister’s house for lunch; cooked by her mom, her sister, and her sister’s friends. It was a very special afternoon. Overall the hospitality I’ve experienced here has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I think this is due to the fact that Vietnamese people really value their family and friendships. I love that. A big part of Vietnamese culture is eating together family style. It’s one of my favourite things about being here and I’m going to miss it a lot.

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Chapada dos Veadeiros

Last night we arrived back to Goiania after a hard, enjoyable, difficult, frustrating, and hilarious camping trip. Our Brazilian friends in the program with Macy and I invited all of us Canadians on this camping trip about a month ago to Chapada dos Veadeiros. Chapada dos Veadeiros is a beautiful national park about a 5 hour drive away from Goiania, and we had been wanting to visit it since before any of us had even arrived in Brazil.

We took an overnight bus on Thursday night to arrive to the town of São Jorge (where the national park is located). This is when our adventure first started. About two hours into the drive, our bus broke down at a truck stop on the side of the highway. We all piled out of the bus, hung out in the truck stop diner, gorged ourselves on the buffet food, and waited for a part for the bus to be driven out to us from Goiania. While we were waiting we played music, danced in the parking lot, and spoke enough Portuguese to make our heads explode. And this was all before we even arrived to our destination.

Once we arrived at 6:45 am, we were introduced to our hilarious campsite. Since most of us have camped a lot in Canada, we were expecting to camp among nature in the national park – like how we’ve done so many times in Banff or Jasper or Vancouver Island. However, we were dropped off at a square, gravel compound between four brick walls with not a tree in sight to give us any shade. We all set our tents up as closely together as we could in order to try to fit everyone in the compound. Before we could lie down for a rest, we were off to go hiking for the day.

We walked about two kilometers down dirt and gravel roads to reach the entrance to the national park. We’re not totally sure if we were extremely ill prepared for this day because of the language barrier, or because the Brazilians don’t mind the heat, or because they didn’t know what was in store for us. But even though we saw some beautiful things on our hike, we suffered. We were under the impression that we’d only need to walk a little bit and then we’d arrive at some swimming areas, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We didn’t pack enough food and we REALLY didn’t pack enough water for the hike that awaited us. The hike itself wasn’t that hard – it was fairly flat save a couple spots of scaling up some rocks and some uneven ground. However, it was long and it was HOT, and we all ran out of water.

When we arrived at the swimming hole we felt like we had died and gone to heaven, except for one thing – we were all burnt to a crisp and there was no shade in sight. We explored around the waterfalls holding towels and sarongs over our heads and shoulders in order to protect our skin from the sun. We decided we should head back earlier rather than later because we had ran out of water, and it wouldn’t be safe to stay out there for long. So, we tackled the tolling hike back with no water and it definitely tested me physically and emotionally. I’m both so glad its over and also so glad I did it.

We spent the whole evening eating delicious pasta and tasting local craft beer and playing Eu nunca… (never have I ever) with our Brazilian buddies. We spoke a lot of Portuguese and a lot of makeshift sign language and utilized the power of pointing. We spent an outrageous amount of money on aloe for our sunburns and tiger balm for our aches and pains. We became friends with the shop owners in the town and exchanged stories of previous travels and what our lives in Canada are like. It was truly a magical night and a magical town that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

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Acts of Kindness



Six weeks in, there have been days where I have felt homesick and frustrated. However, one of the biggest pieces of advice I have received in life is to focus on the positive and to remember to be grateful. On that note, I have been reflecting on the acts of kindness I have experienced and doing that helps make my heart so full that the homesickness and frustration is abated.

There have been countless acts of kindness, but I want to reflect on a few:

  • The man at the airport – My flight coming to China was delayed by 10 hours in Vancouver, which resulted in me missing my connecting flights in Nanjing. I didn’t know how to speak any mandarin and the flight attendants did not provide any information on what to do once I was in Nanjing other than to go find the checkin counter. Once at the checkin counter, a lovely man noticed how I was struggling to communicate what I needed, and he made sure that I understood what was happening using his own limited English and kept me under his wing as we kept moving locations.
  • Our fellow trapped Kangding travellers – as my other China TABBers have detailed in their posts last week, being stuck on a mountain was almost fun given the kindness and joy that our fellow traveller brought to our trip.
  • Our partner teachers – My first lesson here was a struggle and I came out of it disappointed and displeased with how I ran it. The partner teachers took this as a moment to share their own frustrations and times of difficulty, and I found it so comforting and encouraging that instead of critiquing what I did, they shared their own experiences.
  • My lovely roommate – There is a lot to navigate in China from obtaining a laundry card, to eating at good restaurants, to knowing if toilet paper is toilet paper, to shopping, and booking rail tickets. My lovely roommate is consistently sharing her own knowledge, her own experiences, and going in the middle of the night with me to make sure that we 3 Canadians can have access to Wechat money.
  • My supportive classmates – In our language classes here, it is sometimes hard to not feel overwhelmed in classes. But in kudos to the teachers, they have built such a nice environment that if I am struggling, my classmates will mouth the answer to me or take the time to explain to me when I am confused. There is also a chorus of “zao shang hao” (good morning) every time that anyone enters the classroom, that I would love to have emulated in my own classroom.
  • David & Logan – I couldn’t imagine having a better group of classmates to travel and do this experience in China with – their kindness and humor has helped so much going through the tired days. From David’s insistence and excitement in bringing in new snacks for everyone to try, their encouragement as I struggled to climb 5 steps due to altitude acclimation at Paoshan mountain, to Logan running out at night to buy a bug zapper, I don’t think later on that I will necessarily remember all the beautiful sights we are seeing, but I do think I will remember their support.

Like in travel, I think in teaching there will be days of frustration and negativity, but this practice of looking at kindness and positively is important to help keep moving forward and to appreciate how lucky I am to have the life I have and the opportunities I have.



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Bike is Life


A major form of travelling within Asahikawa is using the bus. Unfortunately, the bus system is quite difficult to figure out in Asahikawa as the website for the bus is all in Japanese and the bus routes do not show up on Google Maps (the holy grail of our trip is failing us). When we got our bikes we were so excited to not have to figure out whether or not we would have to walk home for half an hour just so we would not be lost.

Below: A bus stop sign. 

As I have been in Asahikawa for two whole weeks now, we have been blessed to be lent bikes by the HUE Asahikawa campus and I am in love. Travelling Japan, I observed that there is a big portion of the population who use biking as a major form of transportation. From young to old, there are always people biking everywhere around. This is no less in Asahikawa and it has been amazing to have my own bike that I can ride around. Because I do not ride a bike very often in Calgary, it has been quite difficult to cycle 30 minutes one-way everyday to and from the affiliated schools that we are volunteering at. At the same time, the exercise is great for all the delicious Japanese food and desserts that I have been having for the past month and a half! 

Some advice that I would give if you are cycling in Japan:

- remember to always stay on the left side of the road (travel the same way as traffic) 

- always have a reflector or light so that vehicles may see you

- having a basket is an amazing thing 

- watch for pedestrians and vehicles

- remember to lock up your bike and never forget the key!

- stay safe!

If you follow most of these you will be ready to go biking in Japan. 

Watch out Asahikawa, I'm ready to take you on!


Chuen-Xi Quek


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Nihon Go!

Our month in Sapporo was one month of Japanese (nihon-go) learning classes where we were graced with the wonderful and funny Yoshida-sensei (teacher). We learned a lot from her and I think that it was very important for us to learn some Japanese before we go off on our volunteer teaching in Japanese classrooms. At first it was quite hard to grasp the language and the pronounciation as it is quite unfamiliar and different from English. Eventually with practice and daily usage I think I picked up on some Japanese. I still have a lot of trouble with making a complete sentence and the order of the sentence structure, but with more practice I think I will get the hang of it. 

One thing that I am getting the hang of and I think that is very important is numbers! We shall go over them:

1= ichi

2= ni

3= san

4= yon

5 = go

6= roku

7= nana

8= hachi

9= kyu

10= juu

10+ = juu + __ (e.g. 11= juu +ichi)

20+ = ni juu (e.g. 22 = ni juu ni)

100= hyaku 

And there you have it! Practice. Practice. Practice. I hope that my fellow friends are practicing their nihon-go diligently so they don't forget what our sensei taught us! 

Happy practicing!


Chuen-Xi Quek


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TAB has begun!!!

This week has been an exciting whirlwind of introductions to faculty and students at the PUC University (our host university), visiting a public school, and taking Portuguese classes. The latter has been quite exciting for me as this has been my first honest try at learning a second language. And before I continue, I cannot stress how important it is to learn as much Brazilian Portuguese as possible prior to and while in Goiania. This is not meant to scare future TABers away, but more of a disclaimer that you should practice, practice, practice because English is not as widely spoken as you may think.

A great starting point would be learning travel essential phrases (i.e. greetings, asking for the bill, yes/no, etc.). From here, I would definitely download Google Translator to help you when, for example, needing to know what you are ordering off the menu or asking for specific items at a store. When it comes to the more ‘technical’ aspect (e.g. using verbs with the proper pronoun) the Portuguese classes at the host university are phenomenal! We have started with the very basics, which has made me feel confident in learning a second language. *fingers crossed*

I will not lie and say that being fully immersed in another language has not come without some hardships. It can be frustrating at some points because things we take for granted at home, such as asking for directions, becomes a lot more tedious. But I try not to be discouraged by these moments, and look at it as a learning opportunity to, for example, see things from the perspective of an ESL student. Being aware of these difficulties gives me some insights as to how I can help ESLs feel more comfortable and confident in their immersion into another language.

Thanks for reading!

Below: As mentioned earlier, we have been meeting many people thus far. Here is a picture of one of those meetings where I attempted to introduce myself in Portugeuse - with the aid of my Brazil TAB peers. 


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Voce fala inglês?

I have truly felt how scary it can be to try and communicate in a language you are not familiar with. Before coming here, I had gotten stitches that needed to be removed in Brazil. As soon as I got here I was nervous about figuring out the healthcare system in a place that I struggle to communicate. I have already had instances where I am trying to buy something at the market and I start to feel hot and sweaty because I have no understanding of what the sales are despite how hard the merchants try and explain it to me. These are low stake situations that really will not affect me if I do not quite understand, but something like finding someone to remove my stitches is a bit more serious. I was nervous and desperate and got sent to four different places. I was close to just getting my new Brazilian friend’s mother to remove them for me until we finally found a doctor. I would have never been able to do it without the help of my friend and the kindness of strangers. People have been so patient with me and eager to help when they can see that we are confused. They do not get frustrated at our broken Portuguese but teach us how to communicate better instead. This really made me reflect on newcomers who come to Canada. I cannot believe how terrifying it would be to try and navigate and understand new systems that dramatically impact your life (ex. Healthcare) while not knowing the language. I would be completely lost! I imagined what I would have felt like had the people I encountered been rude with me or frustrated that I do not understand their language; I would feel very lonely, hurt, anxious, and fearful to speak again. There have been more instances than I can count where I have seen Calgarians act coldly toward newcomers who do not have the best English, understanding of our culture, or even just have an accent. It is sad to think that some Calgarians have made these people, who are already in a difficult position, feel even worse. It is ironic how, at the same time, I have a family friend who has moved to Canada from India that ended up texting me while I was here. She told me how much she misses India and wishes she could go back; it made me sad to realize that the Canadians she was interacting with were not as warm and welcoming as the Brazilians that I had interacted with.

The kindness of strangers and some of the friends I have made here is the reason I have been having such a great experience. They have fueled me with excitement about immersing myself into this culture and learning the language. Their actions make me feel confident enough to speak, learn, and survive here. These are lessons that I want to take back to Canada and keep in mind when I meet someone who does not speak English or is just new to town. I want them to feel excited and confident as well. I want to express the same warmth to them that I have been receiving because I have had a small taste of how hard and emotional it can really be. I want to alleviate their anxiety and be a helping hand so that they fall in love with Canada the way that I am falling in love with Brazil.

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Differences in the North and South

I have been in Vietnam for almost 3 weeks, but I am just starting to settle into my day to day life in Da Nang. I started my journey in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, exploring it for a few days before flying south to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the former capital of South Vietnam prior to the reunification of the North and South in 1976. The difference between the two cities was incredibly striking to me. From the layout of the city and its streets, to the people that inhabited them.


While I enjoyed both cities it was very clear that Saigon was more welcoming to tourists, from the service I received in restaurants and taxis, to the interactions I had with people in the streets. Saigon appears to have more money being put into it as it is the commercial and financial hub of Vietnam. It is vibrant, very modern and felt like a thriving city full of life and exciting things to come.



Hanoi was an incredible city to experience as it felt older and somehow more “authentically” Vietnamese. I think Hanoi is exactly what I pictured when hearing everyone’s stories before coming to Vietnam. The streets were absolutely chaotic with motorbikes everywhere, including driving down the wrong way of traffic and on sidewalks. I loved crossing the streets, having to walk out into oncoming traffic and watch the vehicles effortlessly move around me. The food was also a fantastic experience. Everywhere I went I would walk in, point at what I wanted, and food was delivered to me within a minute or two. It was incredible that no verbal communication was required, and that they did that with every customer that came in. I never felt unwelcome anywhere I went, but I definitely felt out of place and sometimes a burden to the people that I interacted with.


While the country is united again there are definite distinctions between the North and South which I mainly experienced through hospitality in the two cities. My tour guides in the South also seemed to be more willing to discuss the war and explain how the war effected and continues to influence daily living in Vietnam. However, that might have been because of the tour guides’ knowledge and not an actual reflection of the views on the war of the North and South. I hope to be able to return to both cities to explore them further and learn more about the people and the culture! Such a great way to start my Vietnam adventure.  

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