Lynn Clarkson, parent of SIT Study Abroad alum Ethan Clarkson (Johns Hopkins University), shares her perspective on Ethan’s experience on SIT’s Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development program in fall 2012.
My son Ethan’s experience on SIT Study Abroad’s Culture, Social Change, and Development program in Vietnam was exceptional. The combination of academic and experiential learning activities and cultural immersion was a potent learning opportunity. I have two sons, both studying at highly competitive colleges, both of whom studied overseas last semester. Though both learned a great deal from their experiences, the opportunity Ethan had to not only attend classes but to also experience the culture of Vietnam through plentiful travel and activities in areas of historic and economic importance was an education beyond the norm.
Ethan’s trip was full of momentous events and the extraordinary mundane. Ho Chi Minh City was the home base for the program, and my son came to feel quite at home there. Early in the program he told us he had “the best time of my life” on the back of a motor bike, touring the city with a member of Ho Chi Minh City University’s English club.
Sa Pa made a huge impression because of the beautiful mountains, the chance to meet members of the hill tribes and other ethnic minorities in the region, and the opportunity to work on a service project with Hmong and Red Giao children. On the same trip — which also included Hue, the imperial capital — the group enjoyed a memorable night watching the American elections from a hotel room in Ha Noi.
In Hoi An they studied aspects of the emerging tourist economy, and in the Mekong Delta they observed rural life and sustainable agricultural methods, while also harvesting rice and sharing meals with the local farmers. The coordination between the academic component and travel to key cultural and historic areas deepened all aspects of the experience.
Finally, the experience hinged on people. Cô Thanh, the director of the program, and Vy Dinh, her associate, were vital to the choreography of the educational experience. As my son said, it felt like he and the other students traveled the country with what would be the equivalent of one of our US senators. Cô Thanh and Vy Dinh were able to introduce them to people and experiences of substance and importance throughout the country.
Everywhere the students went, they were welcomed. The people of Vietnam embraced my son and his classmates with kindness, generosity, and enthusiasm. The homestay experience also allowed the students to immerse themselves in the lives of their families and their communities to a unique degree. My son is a twin, and his homestay brothers were also twins, so their bond was unique. Though his host mother didn’t speak any English, she doted on him with extravagant meals and kindness. The students were often engaged by both the young and old on the street, and often celebrated; as one of Ethan’s classmates said, “We are treated like celebrities wherever we go.”
When Ethan was researching the possibilities in studying abroad for a semester, he knew he wanted to do something different from the typical European semester at a university. He certainly met his goal and more by choosing the SIT Study Abroad program. The integration of academic and experiential learning created a meaningful, perhaps life changing, learning experience. As a parent, I saw real growth in my son. I believe that his decision to study abroad with SIT was one of the best decisions he has made. Now I only wish that SIT would start some version of Elderhostel!
—Lynn Furler Clarkson