During J-term 2019, 367 students and 32 program leaders participated in one of Luther's 18 courses around the globe. Each course had a different journey and a different blogger (or several). Below you'll find a student's reflection on the Stability and Change in Vietnam course. Check out the January Term 2019 Course Blogs page for more on each of the courses! The blogs are designed to provide glimpses into our students' adventures.
As I sit here writing and sipping that last of my complimentary hotel coffee packets from Vietnam, I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my experience over J-Term 2019 for Paideia 450: Stability and Change. So many of the important core life lessons are just some of the most basic things that we hear over and over but until you hear the right person say it at the right time, along the right part of the path of your life, you don’t actually hear it. Sometimes the right person, place and time lineup so organically perfectly it could never have happened better if it were planned.
Jan 28. 2019
Our very last meeting/formal educational opportunity in Hanoi, Vietnam was a visit to an art gallery. At this point in the month I was exhausted from all of the new experiences thrust upon me as is the nature of traveling and frankly, I was pretty homesick. To be honest I wasn’t all that excited about going to another museum but I knew I just had to power through. Little did I know how thankful I would be for the experience.
In Vietnamese culture there are four sacred animals: dragons, unicorns, phoenixes, and tortoises each symbolizing important values such as luck, loyalty, and nobility. As soon as we walked through the doors of this house that doubled as a museum, I saw a turtle sunbathing on a stepping stone path through a pool. Representing strength and longevity, this turtle was just a glimpse into what was hidden behind the doors it protected.
We entered this building and were greeted by a woman who I assumed owned the museum. She introduced us to the museum, her work, and a little bit about why she, an American woman, was living alone in the heart of the Vietnamese capital in 2019. After exploring the museum for a short while, a few of us began to ask Suzanne, the curator of this beautiful art, about an American’s perspective on life in Vietnam. She helped answer some of our questions that had come up over the course of our time in Vietnam but as we continued to talk and each of us grew comfortable sharing with the other, we got to see a clearer picture of who Suzanne Lecht really is.
Starting with where she was born in small town Montana, to her life in East Asia, to her love for art and life after her husband’s passing, she shared experiences of being an American living in Vietnam and the struggles she endured throughout her life. I was so thankful for the opportunity to listen to her speak about the art she curates and the important role that has played in her life. She spoke about the challenges of creating and curating art in Vietnam due to government regulations and then we started to drift off the topic of art and toward life in Vietnam and life in general. She was so open to us, a group of strangers, about the emotional hardships of her past and how she endured the darkest parts of her life and came out happier on the other side.
A fellow classmate of mine asked a question about how truly good art and literature can really only come from dark places in the life of the artist. What started out as a very introspective question turned into an answer that was the light that I needed to know I am on the right path in life. The words that she so eloquently spoke about love, loss, and learning were just what I didn’t know I needed to hear. She talked us through her experience with death and how the darkest places in people’s lives help them to be happy. In examining my own life, I have been able to come to peace with a major life change that I have made. After listening to Suzanne talk about her life, I started to feel at peace with the feelings of discomfort, exhaustion, and homesickness that often come with traveling for extended periods of time. I knew that if something so positive could come out of a trip that at times was less than comfortable, I could take on anything the world had to throw at me back home.
Turtles, in Vietnamese culture, mean longevity, endurance, persistence, and the continuation of life. Kalei the turtle was a symbol of what was to come for me that day at the art museum. Learning about my own endurance and persistence throughout my J-Term course has been a true journey for me and I am proud of myself for what I learned about myself being in another country. I went to Vietnam to learn about modernization, stability, and change. While I don’t want to diminish the formal learning experiences I had and the content of the intended purpose of the course, my most valuable takeaways were from the personal growth and clarity I achieved by traveling just about as far as a person can possible travel away from one’s hometown to learn about the person I am and want to be no matter where I am in the world.