A little more than a year ago, if you were to ask someone in our family where s/he would most like to visit, you would get responses ranging from Ireland to Germany to Australia. Vietnam would not have be mentioned. So how in the world did we end up visiting there?
In 2010, during a gap year between university and graduate school, Hanna applied with Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Missions, requesting placement in a country where she had not already traveled. She was offered a position as a volunteer English teacher at Hanoi University of Science and Technology. She originally volunteered to serve for two semesters beginning in January 2011, with a summer at home in between. During that summer break, Hanna decided to extend her stay in Vietnam through a third semester.
The schedule of the Vietnamese educational system meant that Hanna would not be able to come home for the Christmas and New Year holidays. After putting her back on a plane in September, we started looking into making a visit to Vietnam.
It turned out that three months was not too far ahead to be planning a trip to the Far East. Because we knew absolutely nothing about flying to Asia, we opted to work with a travel agent, who was able to find us significantly less expensive flights than I had found on the internet. The International School administrator offered Hanna the use of his family’s townhouse in exchange for watching their cat while they traveled to the United States for the holidays. Phil requested time off work; Laura arranged to take two of her finals early and asked to be excused from basketball practice over the school break. Bosses, teachers and coaches were uniformly cooperative and enthusiastic about our opportunity. Phil’s brother made plans for their mom to stay with him and his wife. Our next door neighbors agreed to watch the dog and cat.
The trip was on! Even with all of our advance planning there were more items on our to-do list:
- We all had current passports, but needed travel visas. There are companies that handle travel visas for a fee, but this step can be easily handled directly through the Vietnam Embassy.
- A visit to the travel clinic determined that we needed typhoid vaccination, but fortunately not malaria or Japanese Encephalitis. Phil and Laura needed Hepatitis A vaccinations as well; I needed both Hepatitis A and B. Joseph was up to date on both.
- We learned as much as we could about cultural customs. For instance, we learned – among other things – that it is polite to use both hands when giving or receiving an item from another person, that one should never touch another person (even a child) on the head, not to be insulted if asked about our age, and that it is a great compliment to be offered the head of a chicken at dinner.
- When word got out that we were planning a visit, we received requests to bring along a few Christmas gifts for people that Hanna worked with. We were happy to help. Then the packages started coming and kept coming. And coming. And coming. When it was obvious that we would need more luggage space, I went shopping for big suitcases. Sticker shock quickly led me to thrift stores. Upon hearing the reason why I was shopping, a kindly Salvation Army clerk insisted that suitcases were half price, that day only. I scored two jumbo suitcases for $5.00 – for both, not each.
Three months passed quickly and early in the morning of December 22 we packed our ten suitcases and Grandma H in the van and drove to Kansas City to begin our Vietnam Vacation. My next few web log posts will address various aspects of our trip there, from travel to food and shopping to housing and infrastructure and more. I hope you’ll come along!