Determination in Vietnam

Determination in Vietnam

Hue, Vietnam - The Overseas Escape-3

Ask me about our trip to Vietnam and before divulging any stories I’ll quickly advise: “You must go.”

We saw beautiful beaches, devoured tasty Bahn Mi and kayaked around the famous karst peaks of Halong Bay, but one feeling resonates above the rest: we loved the people. We were moved by them.

Despite our brief stay in the former capital of Hue, we were approached more times than I can count by groups of students, ranging from high school to university, seeking to practice their English. We embraced their polite requests with a ‘good for them’ mentality. Our conversations contained your typical pleasantries – asking us about our hobbies, favorite foods, and our journey. After a pause the conversation would close with a flurry of thank you’s.

After a few of these language-practice chats, it quickly became apparent that the students’ interest to learn English wasn’t simply for a grade. They were truly passionate about learning the language as they bravely attempted similes and tiptoed carefully around those tricky idioms, “yes, navigating the city IS a piece of cake!”. Thinking back on my half-hearted attempts at speaking high school Spanish at the nearby tex-mex restaurant, I was very impressed.

One evening we were approached by two med school students, Ku and Chau. After cautiously asking us if they could practice their English (we heard that many Westerns decline these invitations), we had a casual chat with them for about 10 minutes at a nearby park bench along the Perfume River. As with the others, I was inspired by their diligence in learning my terribly difficult native tongue. Busy with their university studies, Ku and Chau don’t have time for a formal english class so they study independently with an online program in the evenings.

12087653_891620337585933_8038878724209490043_o (the picture Chau posted of Dan, Ku and I on Facebook)

The next day Chau reached out to me via Facebook and asked if she could prepare us dinner in exchange for another conversation. My heart melted. That night Chau arrived alone to our hotel, toting tins of roasted duck, rice and fish that she’d made that afternoon. The three of us dined in the breakfast room of the hotel and chatted for over an hour. After our feast Chau took her empty tins and headed home to finish studying for her pharmacy class the following morning.

Hue, Vietnam - The Overseas Escape-1

Chau’s efforts that night resonated with me, and they still do. Chau is truly determined to learn English. She had told us that a year prior she could barely form a sentence. She’d nearly given up after the first few months, so disappointed with her progress she had been in tears. Instead of quitting, she decided to dedicate even more of her time each night to studying. Drilling herself with a heap of flashcards, diligently completely English workbooks and spending time in the park practicing pleasantries with travelers.

I found Chau’s determination incredibly inspiring. I tried to remember the last time I bore down, determined to achieve something, to learn something or to improve myself. I couldn’t. Chau’s polite grit was contagious for the reason. Her resolve will undoubtedly led to her success in learning English and success in her career, though she’s not thinking about that now since she has pronouns to focus on.

We had traveled to Vietnam for street food, trekking and relaxation. What we found though is Chau’s determination and that’s what I’ll remember most.

Hue, Vietnam - The Overseas Escape-2

When is the last time you were truly determined to do, learn, see something? I’d LOVE to hear your story.

  • Chau’s determination is so inspiring!! I wish her luck in learning English and attending medical school! I don’t know if I could do what she’s doing!

    • I will definitely pass that along to her via Facebook! Though, I definitely think you’ve got what it takes to do what she’s doing if you were to switch shoes! 😀

  • What an AMAZING story! It’s all about the people you meet, isn’t it?!

    • Absolutely! Meeting people like Chau is definitely one of main reasons to travel. Personal growth, inspiration, all that good stuff! 😀

  • That’s a great story! I really wish there was more emphasis on learning a new language in American schools.

    • I totally agree on one hand, though on the other hand when European friends give me a hard time about not knowing any other languages (aside from elementary Spanish) I do have to rebut that in US we don’t have borders nearby they way most do overseas. In Heidelberg in only a matter of a few hours I could be 4 different countries that spoke quite differently. This was mind-blowing when it finally sank in!

  • Makes me so sad to hear that a lot of tourists decline when asked to spend a few minutes conversing in English. It seems to contradict almost all of my motivations to travel! Love that you got to know Chau a little bit while traveling. Those kinds of connections are definitely one of my favorite things about traveling.

    • I absolutely agree. I think the reluctance for tourists to engage in these conversations might be because they think that someone is trying to sell them something. It might feel odd to be greeted so kindly and genuinely by a complete stranger. I feel so fortunate to have been able to take part in lots of these exchanges though!

  • I absolutely loved this story! I always take for granted being a native English speaker, but this story made me want to double down my efforts to converse with locals in their language as well. It amazes me the dedication that Chau has to learn English! I wish I could apply that kind of determination to anything!

    • Amen! I’m right there with you. The things I’m determined to do lately seem to revolve around coffee and lethargy! ha

  • This is absolutely amazing. I had heard the Vietnamese were extremely welcoming to foreigners but the idea of them reaching in such a way I find truly incredible and inspiring. I agree, I don’t think I’ve ever been as determined as Chau to learn like that, at least not for a very long time!

    • I know, I feel the same way. Like when’s the last time I really cared about something enough to throw myself headfirst into learning all I could about it? Maybe when I was studying for the SATs wayyyy back when? Eh, thinking of it makes me shiver.

  • I love reading stories like this 🙂 Makes me even more determined to learn German (which is currently only a 2 hour class once a week)!

    • ah, you’re still at it with the German!? good for you girlfriend! I thought that you’d surely have shelved it while up in Scotland!

      • Class once a week for two hours! Not much but at least I hear it on a regular basis. Plus, there are a bunch of Germans studying here and they let me practice with them 🙂 xo

  • This is so awesome! I’m an English teacher, so from now on whenever I have a bad day at work (which is, thankfully, rare) I will go home, close my eye, and pretend I am in Vietnam and strangers are excited to practice English with me. : )

    This is my favorite post of yours so far. Thanks!

    *runs off to practice her Spanish*

    • ha! Glad you found a little inspiration from this post! I’m sure it’d make Chau’s day if she knew she inspired a real live English teacher too! 😀

  • We have said the same thing to everyone who asks us about our trip to Vietnam! I feel bad now because the first couple people who asked us to practice their english we turned down because we thought they were trying to sell something (jaded for the streets of Thailand, I suppose). After we realized they weren’t, we loved having conversations with anyone who wanted to practice.

    • I totally understand, that was our concern was originally as well. We’re just not used to be people being so incredibly nice and… honest. I’m glad you loved Vietnam like I did, what a country! I feel certain that it’ll be the next ‘big’ destination one of these days.

  • This is beautiful! I have the desire to learn Dutch but need to get the determination too. These are are truly inspiring! I think I’ll go practice my Dutch now 🙂

  • Wow, what an amazing story and experience! Things like this are what makes traveling so special – it’s the people you meet and the stories you live, not necessarily the places you see.

    • Totally agree, dear. This is definitely why we wanted to take our time and do a bit of slow travel so we could meet inspiring and though-provoking people like Chau!

  • That is seriously admirable and makes me realize that it has been a long time I have really had to work on something. It’s really making me think!

    • glad you enjoyed it, dear! Thinking about Chau definitely puts things in perspective in terms of really baring down and working hard on something. Now, if only I could figure out what I’m passionate about.

  • What an awesome story. I love how the seemingly random encounters end up being the most moving and important part of a trip!

    Melody //

    • I totally agree, Melody. I feel so fortunate to have crossed paths with Chau. Meeting people like her was definitely one of the main draws for our long term trip.

  • How inspirational and beautiful. Having those types of interactions can really make a trip special.

  • Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story! Right now, I’m kind of in a slump for learning German and this story was just what I needed to read to kick my butt into gear 🙂