Tam Bièt to Vietnam, Xin Chào to America

For the final blog of our enthralling trip through Vietnam, both bloggers have chosen to give independent reflections on our trip. We hope you've enjoyed following along with us on our journey!

Halle Haedtke '17

We somehow survived the long flights home and have finally landed in Chicago! After spending the past thirty-six hours on airplanes or in airport lounges, most of us are in need of a nice hot shower and a long nap. However, as we think back on all that we have experienced throughout the last month, and prepare the stories that we will tell family and friends, it is evident that it is going to be nearly impossible to describe the dynamic country of Vietnam.

Although we are truly amazed and thankful for the experiences that we have had, I think it is safe to say that we are happy to be headed towards home. To understand what the class has missed the most, I took some polls. There is no doubt that we had phenomenal food throughout the trip, but when asked, nearly everyone admitted that they are most looking forward to food that could not be found in Vietnam. The most common of these were nachos, tap water (clean!) and peanut butter. Much of the group stopped at a Burger King in the Hanoi airport despite authentic Vietnamese options. At several of the places that we stayed not only was it essential to purchase all water for drinking, but we were also warned to not use the water for brushing our teeth. Coming from the United States, where clean water is fairly abundant, we quickly realized how often we take such a simple amenity for granted.

We have been sharing many of our high points of the trip as we have travelled. However, when asked at the end of the trip, most of the group members did not pick a specific day or event as a favorite. Instead, a majority of the group felt that the greatest part of the trip was exploring a new country that they would have never encountered under normal circumstances.

We hope all of you have enjoyed following our journey through Vietnam. Each of us have looked at and learned about the world in new ways, and it has challenged us to want to learn more. Many of us hope to return to Vietnam in the future to see just how much it evolves and changes, but for now we are happy to take on the cold and snowy Midwest as return to our homes.

Mickey Callen '16

As we go forth after landing in Chicago, each of us in varying states of delirium, it seems appropriate to directly apply the title of our course, Stability and Change [in Vietnam], to our experiences as a group. Each of us are returning home with physical evidence of our trip - clothes, trinkets, and gifts of all kinds - and some, like myself, a few extra pounds on our waistlines. However, the most intangible thing that each of us gained may be the most significant: the connections we built with each other.

When we all gathered for the first time as an entire class at the beginning of the month, none of us knew quite what we were getting into. For most of us, this was our first foray into Asia. In my case, it was my first time leaving North America. We knew our dollars would go far, we knew it would be hot in Ho Chi Minh City, and we knew that the Communist Party was still in power. Other than that, we were in the somewhat unstable situation of being at the mercy of Vietnam.

Our peculiar situation brought our group together by design - just as Vietnam continues its quest for political, economic, and cultural stability after over 1000 years of almost-constant colonialism and conflict, we immediately searched for, and found, stability in each other. As stereotypical of young Americans as a selfie might be, there was a constant desire to document not just what we did, but who we did it with, through our various devices. The closeness of our student group was facilitated by a Facebook group message thread that was partially used for logistical planning but just as much for outright comedy and bonding (the "nickname" feature was utilized heavily and irreverently). The smiles flowed freely, and there were several instances where some sort of a plan was made by just a few people in the group - and yet, when I'd step into the hotel lobby to meet up, there would be over 20 of my newest friends ready to go and experience new things and places.

I believe that all of us departed Vietnam irrevocably changed by what we experienced. We experienced a natural beauty unlike anywhere else, we interacted with locals that were so much more friendly than we could have expected, and we found our surface level assumptions about Communism and its role in Vietnam challenged to their core. But most importantly, our social connection with each other provided stability to adjust to our changing environment. As we shared dinner with a group of alumni that began traveling through Vietnam right as we we finished our journey, there were conversations about group gatherings for students' birthdays; or for a post-trip class gathering at Luther over steaming bowls of pho; or even for a post-graduation trip back to Vietnam to reunite with each other and our new Vietnamese friends.

There is no doubt that we are ready to be at home in our own beds with our usual comforts. However, the memories we built together in Vietnam have left their own special mark on all of us, and I am confident that we left our own positive mark upon Vietnam.

These Norse are sailing home.

To our friends in Vietnam: Cám on, tam biêt!

Our final walk through Hanoi as we leave the city and head towards the airport.
Burger King meal to start our journey home had to include french fries... (due to the French influence in Vietnam, of course)
We have landed safely back in America!