Another round of cultural exchange has ended with flying colors! This year we welcomed students from Northwestern University in the United States to virtually come and learn about our culture. We discussed, we sang, we danced, we cooked, we got to share more about Vietnamese culture and had the students experience for themselves how it is to live as a Vietnamese. Though COVID-19 made it impossible for us to meet them in person, we had so much fun connecting virtually. Let’s walk through the whole journey with us.

A brief introduction

Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) is a program provided by Northwestern University in The United States. This program offers its students opportunities to advance community-driven change in Argentina, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, Uganda, or Vietnam. You can learn more about this program here.

In 2020, 12 students from Northwestern University chose Vietnam as their destination where they joined four different non-profit organizations as interns. ABROADER, being the onsite team in Vietnam of GESI, helped organize their internships and arrange cultural engagement activities. Therefore, besides working on different projects aiming at community development, they had a chance to dig deep into the cultural session by joining weekly cultural exchanges.

What are cultural exchange activities? 

Our weekly cultural session is when we cover various aspects of Vietnamese culture. We create a hub for local students (or as we call them, local buddies) and international students to share about each other’s culture. We develop great insights into cultural diversity and make unforgettable memories filled with laughter and joy. The topics we covered include music, cuisine, Vietnamese New Year, family & International Day. Here are some highlights of the cultural exchange.

Cooking & Drinking

The second week was dedicated to our cuisine and the widely-beloved Vietnamese spring rolls and egg coffee. We had a video showing how we made these two dishes and asked the students to follow the recipe. The results came out amazing! They did marvelously!

                                           

International Day

This was when we got to share a lot more about Vietnamese traditions, customs, and culture, as well as being able to learn about Rwanda presented by one team.

Tet - Vietnamese New Year

Tet is definitely one not to be missed when learning about Vietnamese culture. Instead of just plainly present to them information about Tet, we had a different approach. We asked the students to share their experiences/views on our New Year through drawings. 

By Anny

By Caroline

All of us even got to design red envelopes for New Year 2021. It is a tradition in our country that adults give children a red envelope containing a banknote on New Year’s Day, which symbolizes adults giving children luck and blessings for a prosperous New Year. Here’s a red envelope designed by three incredibly talented students from Northwestern.

This envelope puts our thoughts and wishes into a beautiful visual. Let’s kickstart 2021 with great joy and no coronavirus!

Who makes the cultural exchange memorable to all GESI students? 

We have our local buddies to thank for contributing to the success of our cultural exchange sessions. Before the pandemic hit, these local buddies were students from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, where ABROADER is based, since they were required to be physically present to interact and connect with the international students.

However, now that almost everything occurs online, local buddies come from various cities in Vietnam, and even Vietnamese residing overseas. Having local people coming from various parts of the country helps to create a diverse hub for both Vietnamese and international students. Sometimes, they do not get to learn more about the host country, Vietnam, but also other countries the participants have been living and studying for years such as Japan, Australia or Canada.

Our cultural exchange definitely has not been a success without the help of our diligent local buddies. They are welcoming, open, and hospitable. Most importantly, they embody our vision and values and they take pride in sharing Vietnamese culture with international friends (something casual sounding)

Being an organizer for all the cultural exchange activities, I feel and I see how passionate the local buddies were when they shared about our country - Vietnam. They are not simply a volunteer but a presence of Vietnam”

Julie, ABROADER Program Coordinator

The farewell

After two months, we reached the ending of our cultural sessions. ABROADER first prepared a video highlighting memorable moments of the last seven sessions and showed the students as a recap of their eight weeks with us. 

                                           

Then, the students got to share their experience regarding their internship, the host organization, their teammates, and the local buddies. When it was time for the local buddies to take the stage, Tran did a very moving farewell speech while Trang surprised us with a wonderful drawing of the students.

The most exciting part came next. Everybody dressed up, learned how to cheer in different countries and languages, and put on some brilliant performances. The session ended with all of us writing padlets, sending our wishes and thoughts to each other: 

What did our participants think about cultural exchange activities?

At the end of our cultural exchange with students from Northwestern University, we held interviews with a couple of participants to ask them about their overall experience and their thoughts on the sessions we provided them. Let’s hear it from Alex and Anny:

“I always felt really excited. At my internship, though I did have lots of communication, there was also lots of work and I at times felt quite stressed. The cultural sessions really helped get the heavy duties off my mind and I could freely express myself. I even shared his experience with my parents, who were particularly curious about the egg coffee I got to make since putting a raw egg in coffee is not common in America.”

- Alex

“I really liked the cultural sessions. We got off to an awkward and shy start, partly due to the virtual nature of these sessions. But I enjoyed it because it was so light-hearted and I could have deep conversations with the local buddies, who were very empathetic. I especially learned something surprising about Vietnam through these cultural sessions, such as it’s not normal to date someone five years older than you in Vietnam and the egg coffee.”

- Anny

We also talked to one of our local buddies, Linh, who expressed that: 

 “I used to be a very self-contained and introverted person. When I joined as a local buddy, I was still worried about whether foreign friends like me or not, whether I was too boring or bland. But with the help and sharing from Julie and from other local buddies, and especially the friendliness and warmth of foreign friends, I opened my heart and became much more confident and comfortable. I think the most valuable part of the journey is not just about cultural sharing, but about social sharing: the process of people getting to know, making friends, and helping each other become better versions of themselves.”

Thank you to everyone who participated! We wish you all the best and hope to greet you in person in the near future!

Ready to start your abroad journey? Apply Now!

Other things to help you plan:

Browse to see opening Vietnam internship opportunities with specific job descriptions!

Learn more about our Remote internship program to go global in Vietnam virtually!

Need help with funding? Explore available Scholarships for In-person & Remote internship!

Hear from previous students and their ABROADER experiences!