52 hours after leaving Hanoi, I arrived safely in Akron, PA!!! :) I'll be here until Tuesday, when I'll head to good ol' Grand Rapids Michigan for a wedding and other festivities. After a couple weeks there, I will head to Colorado, where I will work for a month and a half at Rainbow Trout Ranch (and enjoy seeing the stars! and nature!!!). Then I will head to Texas and hang out with my parents for a time, before my mom and I head to Haiti for two months. (More on that later)...

So, that's the short version. Thanks for following my blog this year! But don't worry, the adventure doesn't stop here; in fact, I'm pretty sure it's just beginning. Stay posted for more...


mixed emotions

Today, I embark on a 36-hour-long journey back to the States. How do I feel? Everything!! Over the past few weeks and days, my strongest feelings were born of survival mode: I just wanted it to be over with. I wanted the packing to be done, the overweight bags, the heavy gifts that make the bags even more overweight, the goodbyes. I wanted to speed time up and then disappear like Harry Potter putting on his invisibility cloak.

However, there have been multiple times over the last few weeks when I have wondered why I am leaving. Times like these:

Watching Eclipse with Hannah, Ali, and Co Giang, our wonderful Vietnamese teacher!

Pizza and nem with our MCC coworker and surrogate mother, Co Bay!

Trying one last type of street food...

Watching the World Cup with Hannah's wonderful host family.

One last coffee date with Bac at his cafe next to our office.

Drinking iced sugarcane juice with the girls--so glad I don't have to say goodbye to them yet!

But now it's here and I am mostly excited, but also nervous. How difficult will it be to readjust to life in the States? Sometimes, I think that the adjustment can't be so bad; I mean, my life here has been pretty normal, really...

Then I realize what I have just thought and think: You thought this place was crazy when you first got here, Calah. Now you think it's normal. Yep, you've got an adjustment ahead!

But the things that I'm most worried about aren't whether I will remember how to drive a car or cross a street, but the less tangible things: Will everything be different? How have I changed? Will I find that I have changed so much that I am awkward with my old friends? Will it be difficult to share what I have learned and experienced? Will I ever get a job? Will I be lonely? Will everyone demand concrete answers to those questions that are so easy to ask but so much harder to answer--What did you take away from your year in Viet Nam? What did you accomplish?


But even with the anxiety, I am excited. I am excited about seeing family and friends and eating homemade wheat bread. But I am also excited about the plans I have for the next six months, because I have lots...

That I'll talk about in my next post. :)

See you in the States!!!
*Note: I tried to post this before I actually left Viet Nam, but was thwarted multiple times. Now, I am posting it from the lobby of a hotel in Las Angeles.... Yep! You know that 36-hour-trip I was just talking about? Make that 50 hours!! Fortunately, Ali, Hannah and I are pretty good at amusing ourselves. And, there is free breakfast coming right up! :)


beach culture

You might say that a 4-day office outing to the beach is an unheard of luxury for a supposedly diligently-serving volunteer. But allow me to plead my case with the following excerpt from 4-part, months-long editing task I finished up just before we left for the beach last Tuesday:
“He was fond of creating tiny, compact, affectionate products with the warm, soft, tasty, dark coloured surfaces and raw materials jutted through a fantastic space, all together made it noisy, untidy, lively and boisterous.”
--from “Nguyen Bao Toan—Prolonged Aesthetic Heritage”

So, while it might not often be apparent from my blog posts, life in Viet Nam isn't all weekend trips and cheap coffee; I do work sometimes, and the mid-week beach vacation was a nice break. Furthermore, being at the all-Vietnamese beach was an interesting (and often hilarious) study into the contrasting assumptions of American and Vietnamese beach cultures.

While some things are similar, like our excessive seafood consumption,
there were some marked differences. Notably:

The method of selling above-mentioned seafood.
And beachwear. At home I tend to feel like the beach is just an excuse to show off one's body while wearing as little clothing as possible. However, at Cua Lo Beach, swimsuits were more the exception than the rule, for women at least. No string bikinis here! Rather, it was not rare to see women swimming fully clad and girls walking the sands in their pajama suits. Men also do not have special swimwear, as a rule, but their choice of beach apparel is slightly less covering than that of the women: It was slightly disconcerting to run across my male coworkers lounging in the shallows in their tiny, Dandy brand briefs.

However, the most obvious difference between American and Vietnamese beach cultures has to do with preferred vacation schedule. Compare the following two schedules for relaxing days at the beach:
american beach day SLEEP IN eat brunch head to the beach mid-to-late morning lay out in the sun at peak tanning hours with short intervals for reading and swimming play ultimate frisbee or boccee WALK THE BEACH watch the sunset leave in time to catch a late supper.
vietnamese beach day GET UP @ 5 AM swim eat breakfast @ 8 am visit a pagoda eat lunch drink beer NAP return to the beach @4PM sit under an umbrella buy live shrimp eat supper drink beer sing karaoke.
At first I thought, look at those Vietnamese, they're crazy! Why would you want to get up so early to go to the beach? Why would you want to nap all day? Why would you want to avoid the sun and wear so much clothing?

But then I thought, they must be thinking, look at those crazy foreigners! They go out during the hottest part of the day! No wonder they're SO TIRED all the time! And don't they know the sun makes them uglier?

And you must admit, when you think about it logically, they have a point. Being out in the middle of a summer day in a tropical climate does make you tired. And while I appreciate my tan now, I will probably be a very wrinkly old woman someday (and am at a higher risk for skin cancer). That being said, I don't plan to change my beach strategy; I guess I'm set in my ways. But it just goes to show how many of our assumptions about the right way to do things are not necessarily because our way actually makes more sense, but because we are used to our way.

This is my boss, Anh Long, and me eating crabs and shrimp that were jumping out of the bowl 10 minutes prior to this photo being taken.