Before I begin sharing my ISP topic, I got a good traveler’s story for you. Definitely a good lesson for those are you still abroad and those of you about to embark.
During my ISP time spend in Ha Noi, I had to travel by taxi to and from the various places around the city to conduct my interviews. I usually go with the walking option because a) its cheaper, b) its a good way to get to know the city better, and c) exercise! However, Ha Noi is a enormous, so in some cases I had to take a taxi. One afternoon’s taxi ride from the hospital though has made me more cautious of traveling alone. There are many taxi companies in Hanoi than HCMC with different ranges of prices…so I decided to take a cheaper one, though I knew it was not one that that my program director recommended. I had taken the same company the night before, so I thought it was harmless. Anyways, the taxi driver struck up a conversation with me about where I was from and what I was doing in Ha Noi. In these situations, I try to give as little information as possible hoping that the driver would get the point that I was not interested in talking. Somehow the conversation lead to talking about family and relationships, I learned that he was about to be engaged. Then the conversation turned a bit sour from my perspective:
Taxi Driver: “Are you scared of being kidnapped by a Vietnamese man?”
Me: “urr…hmm..What?” I thought he was implying if I was worried about having my heart stolen by a Vietnamese, i.e. falling in love here…but…
Taxi Driver: Chuckling, “Are you scared of being kidnapped by a taxi?”
Me: With images of Taken rushing through my mind, “Well, no because I hear it doesn’t happen a lot in Vietnam…”
Quickly I pulled out my map and looked at where were we…he was going in a different direction than the previous driver and it seemed like we were going away from the Old Quarter area. I immediately asked where we were and why he was driving me in that direction. He replied that he was going to my street but had to go this way because the street was a one-way for cars. I told him that my previous taxi fares were around 80000VND and if I had to pay more I would call his company. He argued that I must have taken a different company and I told him that his company was one of the cheapest around.
I started to pull my phone out to text my roommate, but saw that he was starting to turn into more familiar streets. I made it to my hostel, he only made me pay 100000VND of the 130000VND tab, I was frustrated by that but glad to get out of the car. All in all, I have done some not-so-smart things being a single traveler around the city (Sorry Mom, Dad, and International Studies Office!) But I am more aware and cautious then before.
1. Don’t take a taxi your program did not recommend, even in the recommended ones, be alert.
2. Carry a map of the city with you, you never know when you are going to need to use it. I constantly use my map especially if I choose to walk.
3. Let someone know approximate times you are leaving and returning.
4. Be cautious about the amount of information you reveal. I have found that hearing about American students studying in Vietnam is odd especially since they hold American education on a pedestal.
5. Be familiar with the language. You can’t assume someone who drive mostly foreigners around all day knows English as well as you hope.
I am one and half weeks into my Independent Study Project period. It has been an exciting, stressful, challenging, and learning experience so far. So what’s an ISP? For you non-SITers, it is an individual project conducted during the last 30 or so days of the semester based on researching and studying a particular interest.
For my project, I decided to research the prevalence of diabetes in the urban population, particularly paying attention to the measures the Ministry of Health, community, healthcare providers, and the individual were raising awareness about diabetes. Throughout the past two months in Vietnam, I have been meeting with my academic director as well as with the many other contacts she had in HCMC to help me direct my project.
Last week, as everyone else departed from Ha Noi, my friend Sarah and I remained. Sarah is researching about the organic movement from the perspective of the farmers (neat right?). I was busy meeting and interviewing researchers at the National Institute of Nurition, the WHO Western Pacific office, and medical doctors of the National Hospital of Endocrinology. By coincidence, last week was also diabetes awareness week for the hospital. I came across a press release online about activities the hospital in partnership with a Danish Healthcare company, Novo Nordisk, were hosting at the city’s largest park, Cong Vien Thong Nhat. They had booths set up for the public to get a free screening and counseling. The awareness week concluded on the 14th, World Diabetes Awareness Day, with a walk! It was quite exciting to have some many resources and contacts at my hands especially because up until the end of the grand excursion, I really had no idea where I would be for the ISP period and who I would be able to talk to. One thing for sure is that I learned to be more flexible and assertive with asking for help and contacts. I was able to get in contact with a doctor that helped set up the event and serves on the board for the National Diabetes Prevention Program. He and the many other people I met provided me with a plethora of information that I am reading and sorting through.
In the midst of beginning our projects, Sarah and I still made time to do fun stuff around the city. Of course, trying more street food and bai hoi. Some last minute gift shopping for me. And we watched the new James Bond movie after eating hands down one of the best Indian food I have had (besides, my best friend’s mom’s cooking of course) Here a few pictures of Sarah and I hanging out with new friends in Ha Noi.
So what about all the stress and challenge non-sense? Well, besides not being sure where I was going to be for the weeks after researching in Hanoi, I came across other challenges. One was explaining my objectives and being taken seriously. Many of the doctors did not think I had the capacity to understand diabetes and its effects, nor conduct a public health research like-project since I was just an undergrad. But after breaking the ice with my inital questions, I think I changed their minds. Many of the doctors welcomed me to stay longer or at least return in the near future. One even told me to email him whenever I got married. Kinda odd but I think that means he liked me. Also, though I am Vietnamese and pretty familiar with the language, this project has shown me just how much more I need to learn and practice. Right at the end of the excursion I finally got the green light to work under the advisement of a doctor in Binh Duong province, outside of HCMC. He has been conducting a long-term study of diabetes in the community through his position as the vice-director of the Center on Preventative Health.
After returning from Hanoi, I stayed with a friend for two nights in HCMC then took a taxi out to Binh Duong. Honestly, its kinda lonely out here but that only means my ISP paper will be finished before I know it. Early Monday morning, I met with Dr. Danh and was introduced to the director and several staff members and Tram, a recent graduate of the public health school in HCMC. She is helping me over the course of the next two weeks with my case study. The past two days have been spent learning about the purpose and services of the center and translating my interview questions into Vietnamese. I feel like I have written them a billion times now. Today (Wednesday) I began my interviews! Tune in soon for updates of how my interviews and the overall case-study portion of my project turned out….
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you eat lots of turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie, etc…and look this full (see below)