Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam

Monday, August 19, 2013

GIEU 2013- beyond a trip

It has been over a month since GIEU ended. I have learnt so much from the trip.

One of my friends said: I will not spend money on traveling to any part of Vietnam anymore, because I have done enough. Experience with GIEU could prove her wrong. I have found out that I had missed many beautiful places, which would teach me a lot about my country, and the history. I can never forget the days on which we visited Hien Luong Bridge and Renew Project in Quang Tri and Cao Dai temple in Ho Chi Minh City.

Renew Project

Cao Dai , a unique religion in Vietnam

GIEU also marked the first time I did the physical work. It was hard but happy in the end to see our effort on the completed house. The workers taught me a lot about the skill to do the smallest thing. I truly respected them and I think that their job is really worth appreciated.
The cement set of table and chair & the lesson of mixing cement
happy with our work done

paint the wall

GIEU is an amazing experience to meet amazing people. I am glad to share this experience with everyone.

It was great for me to spend my last student time with GIEU, from the North to the South of Vietnam, experiencing live of all, a student, a worker and a tourist. 
Truc, our funny tour guide, our Wikipedia, our food expert...
I cannot list all. It was lucky to be your tourist. :) 

 GIEU Site leader, Thuy Anh and Thuy Anh's Angels. You made GIEU memorable to me <3

Emily- the inspiring spirit of the group

It was fun to me to join the trip. 
We all made jokes and talked a lot about the foods, the souvenirs and shared about the cultures. 
Look at the Wonder Girls!

Working together

Visiting together

Eating together
Beach times

I will miss it when we got up (not so) early in the morning, rushing for breakfast to get on the bus. I will miss when we stood under the sun to take group pictures. I will miss Truc saying about a food, explaining a place and guiding us with his ipad. I will miss our debrief sessions after dinner every day, when everyone shared about their feelings, then Thuy Anh and Emily told the plan the next day. I will miss when we walked and crossed the streets, having coffee and ice cream and foods and drinks together. I am writing this and miss everyone a lot. I will miss all these memories in my life.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I can't believe that the 1 month-long journey across Vietnam has been gone, just like a beautiful dream. It's a bit funky to get home without other 19 GIEUers, without sharing rooms, food and drinks, without chatting till midnight, or hearing creepy complaints about geckoes, ants and cockroaches. There was no distance between Vietnamese and American students although we are half of a globe away, on the opposite sides of the world. GIEU gave me much more than I could ever expect: cultural and social exchange between Vietnam and the U.S, living experiences, valuable lessons and noticeably and expensively, friendship. 
All we had been through, laughs and tears, happiness and sorrow, difficulties and resilience, are priceless. GIEU completed my student life meaningfully and unforgettably. As I look back on my experience, I am filled with joy and appreciation (and a bit of sadness) for the countless priceless memories we had made together. 
Hey, don't forget our pinky promise that we MUST meet up again, someday.
Love you all,
Thu Lavender ;)
Let's see below how lovely your Vietnamese speaking was and how fun our time together was :)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Final Thoughts

For our final post, we asked each member of the GIEU team a question about the service , what they learned, and the overall experience to wrap up our final thoughts on our experience.

Community service:  "Transforming a cement courtyard into a beautiful memorial garden, not speaking the language but feeling so welcomed and connected by the end of our stay was when I felt closest to the work." Bailey

"I love doing service work when traveling because it allows you to give back to the community while being a tourist. I enjoyed working with locals and the range of work we did. It was great to work with kids because we'll have a lasting impact on their lives, but I also really enjoyed working in the garden because you can immediately see the effect of your hardwork." 

"The service work we did here was a challenging, and fun learning experience for me.  It was fun trying to communicate in ways other than language with the locals.  Even though the work was difficult at times, seeing a transformation was awesome. It was also rewarding to see how grateful the other workers, the children, and the family were for our help." Christina

Vietnamese culture: "During this trip, I have learned that Vietnamese culture is so much more than what we learn in class about the Vietnam War. I was surprised to learn abut the 54 ethnic minorities that inhabit the country and their relationship with the educational and political infrastructure here. I also was interested to learn about the major religions of the country, and I found that many of these faiths promote similar moral values and a positive way of living."

American culture to a Vietnamese student : " open, easy to acclimate, easy to express the emotion. Big love, warm hug, sweet smile". From Linh Fish. 

Learn about yourself: "During this trip I've learned how much I really appreciate and love having alone time. During my alone time on this trip, I've had a lot of time to self reflect, and think about everything and everyone around me. This time has also given me a chance to reevaluate my life and purpose here on Earth."

Regarding his GIEU Vietnam experience: "I have no idea what I am eating, and that is OK." Casey

"Regarding the Vietnamese culture, I was impressed by the Cham community and their rich culture. I felt so small when the more I tried to learn, the little I know. But life and the universe are unlimited. Therefore, we always have to keep learning and discovering until the last breath." Thu Duong

"I learned that it is difficult for me to be myself in large groups. However, as my GIEU experience went along, I became so comfortable and close with my group that I didn't have to think about how I was acting because I knew my group accepted and loved me for me. I will be forever grateful for that." Caroline Hickey

"There are so many things that I have learnt from both (the American and Vietnamese) cultures that I would like to continue with more trips in the future so that I can share with other groups. And I am sure there will be more to learn." TA

" To decribe GIEU Vietnam in one sentence, in my opinion, would be doing a dis-service to such a life changing experience. However, this program has shown me that love and the basic human need to connect cannot be stopped by history, language, or even distance. Love, friendship, and service is universal. Thanks for everything GIEU Vietnam." Marissa.

" GIEU is beyond my imagination and my expectation. I did not think that my personal time and space would be limited like this. On the other hand, I did not think that I would learn this much, work and help people this much, and that I would have opportunity to know lots of people and their life stories" Ha.

People response's about their favorite site:
" My favorite site was the old city of Hoi An. I enjoyed exploring the quaint of the streets and shops on our own and ending the night by setting paper lotus flowers adrift from a boat onto the river" Grace

"My favorite sites were Vinh for the community service work we did there and Ha Long Bay for its beauty! It's a real challenge to capture the atmosphere and emotions in photos for both of these places." Betul

" Bus departing on time with all GI EU members aboard (15 minutes delayed reluctantly accepted" . Our humorous guide, Truc. 

"I learned the meaning of peace. At home, I am an advocate of peace. Standing in harmony with the U.S. and Vietnamese students is an experience that I will hold on to forever. " Emily Rheaume

 What she learned about herself during the trip: "Endowed with a perfect digestive system: never get stomachache so far and poop every morning" P.C.T. Linh

"It's impossible to describe a long and action packed trip in one sentence, but I'll give it a shot: GIEU is a dynamic, exhausting, annoying, exciting, new, old, up, down, enjoyanble, hilarious but most importantly life-changing and meaningful." John Downes

"My favorite site was the fishing village at Ha Long Bay. The scenery was breathtaking, the village was peaceful, and it was humbling to see such a unique way of life." Lina Lu

"I connected with the community service work by using each project as an opportunity to learn. Whether we were visiting an orphanage for a couple of hours or spending a few days doing manual labor, I learned a lot by connecting with the Vietnames people alongside us. Such connections will last for years to come." Ellen

We would like to thank Thuy'Anh, Truc and Emily for everything they did for us. Without them, this journey wouldn't be possible. Last but not least, thank you for following our adventures on this blog! Look out for more posts once everyone reaches their destination. 

Mekong Delta

Today marks the last official day of our GIEU adventure. We took a 2 hour bus ride to the Mekong Delta, which is the base of the Mekong River. We learned that the Mekong River is the 10th longest river in the world and the delta is the 3rd largest delta in the world.

We boarded small boats and toured the villages surrounding the delta. The water appeared to be extremely dirty since it was brown, but the color is due to the rich soil located at the bottom of the river. That environment allows the soil to be utilized for farming (especially rice). Our first stop was an area where bricks were made. The materials for making the bricks were left over rice products. We took a quick tour and learning a little about the process and seeing the HUGE stacks of bricks. Suddenly, our work stacking bricks at the Social Work Center in Vinh didn't seem so large anymore.

Our boat tour continued with drinks of coconut milk (still in the coconut) in our hands. I was amazed by the beautiful green plants that surrounded the river. The next stop was a hut where the coconuts were processed and made into a variety of other things, including candy which we were able to sample as it was being made.

We got off the boat a third time and explored a small island located on the delta. Here, we saw how mats were made out of the reeds in the river. We had the unique opportunity to see the island from a trailer hitched to a motor bike. This ride took us to a more remote village where we had a delicious lunch prepared for us.

After lunch, we made our way back to our boat via smaller row boats. This gave us the chance to see the river up close and personal.

I really enjoyed our trip to the Mekong Delta and it was a great way to see how people in Vietnam use all of the resources the river provides them to make many other products.


Friday, June 28, 2013

More tunnels and religion!

On our second morning in Ho Chi Minh City, we woke up bright and early to beat the crowds to the Cu Chi Tunnel. This extensive tunnel system was built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. We had the opportunity to go into one of the tunnel systems, and it was an experience; you had to crouch the whole time in the tunnel. We got to see booby traps that the Viet Cong had set up in order to trick and keep the enemy out.  In addition to seeing how the soldiers lived, we also got to see how they made weapons. It was very different from the tunnels in Vinh Moc. After the tunnels, we went to Tay Ninh to visit a Cao Dai temple. Cao Dai is a fairly new religion that was started in Vietnam. There are currently three million followers of Cao Dai, and one million of them live in Tay Ninh. Cao Daists believe that there is one God and all religions are related.  The major teachers (Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, etc) in religions came to teach at certain times in history. Its a very interesting religion, and many students expressed interest in researching it more once they are home. The temple was beautiful. We were able to observe a prayer service at the temple, which was extremely exciting.  It was also interesting to learn that people like Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare, Sun Yat-sen, and Nguyen Binh Khiem are viewed as saints in this religion.  learning about the different religions and visiting the various temples has been a great part of this trip. 

Today was a special day; Thu's graduation ceremony was today in Hanoi! Instead of flying back early to attend the ceremony, however, Thu stayed with us. To celebrate her. If day, we surprised her with a beautiful cake and card that everyone signed. CONGRATULATIONS THU! We're all so proud of you! We're also thankful that we got to spend more time with you! We really have become a family on this trip.

Tour of Ho Chi Minh City

On Wednesday morning, we had to leave Hoi An and continue our journey south. We had to say goodbye to awesome bus drivers because we took an overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City. On the twenty hour train ride, the group had the opportunity to REALLY get to know each other a lot better.  We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at around 5:30 am, we got to rest in our hotel rooms for a little bit before starting a city tour at 9:00 am. Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon (this name is still commonly used), is the largest city in Vietnam with a population of about 9 million people.  Our first stop in the city was Reunification Palace, formerly Independence Palace.  This was where the President of South Vietnam lived and worked during the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975, Independence Palace was the place that served as the official surrender of South Vietnam, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed though the front gates of the Palace. After our tour through the palace, we visited the War Remnants Museum. This museum  featured exhibits that were hard to go through.  The photos that were displayed were so heavy and intense, it really made the war real to many of the students on the trip. For lunch, we went to Pho 2000, a small restaurant where Bill and Chelsea Clinton ate when they visited Vietnam! After our fabulous lunch, Truc gave us a tour of the Binh Tay market in Chinatown. While we were there, some members of the group bought spices, nuts, coffee, and tea. We then visited the Thien Hau pagoda, the temple for the Chinese sea goddess. Many Vietnamese go there to pray for safe travels. The GIEU Vietnam 2013 group bought and lit an incense cone for us on the trip. The incense will burn for a week as we all travel to various places. After we explored the pagoda, we briefly visited Notre Dame in Saigon. Many US students were surprised with the huge, beautiful cathedral in Vietnam. Right across the street from the cathedral was a beautiful post office. Inside were beautiful phone and ATM booths, vendors, and a post office. The building was gorgeous inside and out. After the quick tour of the city, we were given free time to explore the city on our own. Some groups got coffee, some went shopping, and one group found a jazz club. They had the opportunity to meet a famous jazz musician who invited Stephon back the next night to sing with him!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Experiencing the Champa Kingdom Firsthand

On our second morning in Hoi An, we woke up at the crack of dawn to tour My Son (pronounced Me Sun). This area is the site of the Cham Kingdom, which is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. The Cham people are an ethnic minority group living in Central and Southern Vietnam. We beat the heat and the crowd (sort of) to explore the ruins from the 4th to the 14th century. Truc gave us a brief history of the architectural techniques of the temples, which still remains as a mystery. We were fascinated by the size and detail of the temples and intrigued by the lack of mortar used to construct the. 
After venturing through the ruins and taking lots of pictures of the beautiful scenery, we gathered to watch a Cham musical performance, which consisted of dancing, traditional musical instruments, and authentic costumes. 

Visiting the Cham ruins made the Cham Sculpture Museum experience come to life. We visited the museum on our way from Hue to Hoi An. The museum featured artifacts discovered by the French in the 19th century. We also learned the significance of the Fertility Goddess that was found in many of the artifacts. 

On our way back from My Son, we made a brief visit to the Hoa Mai Orphanage. This orphanage was one of the service sites for GIEU 2010. We took a brief tour of the orphanage, helped touch up a mural, sang songs, and played basketball and badminton with the kids. Even though our visit was very short, we realized the impact of continuing the relationship between the orphanage and GIEU Vietnam.