Two other TEAN students and I recently left Chiang Mai, Thailand for the second half of our comparative semester in Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), Vietnam.
When comparing Chiang Mai and Ho Chi Minh, one of my professors here, Dr. Loc, put it well: Chiang Mai is like Providence, Rhode Island, whereas Ho Chi Minh City is New York. It’s been an interesting experience having to transition from a relatively small city to such a chaotic place.
Throw in a new culture, new language, and new living arrangement, and the result is major culture shock.
One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed so far is related to academics. In Chiang Mai, I was accustomed to studying on an enormous campus (it was at one point referred to as a “mini-city”) with plenty of grass, trees, and nature.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the academic scene is quite different. Hoa Sen (“lotus” in Vietnamese) University is the epitome of an urban school: made up of multiple parts sprawled across the city, every “campus” consists of one building, each of which has classrooms, offices, and a library. The campus the TEAN students and I study on – Campus 1 – is ultra-modern and opened just a year or two ago. The building itself is beautiful, the classrooms all brand new, and the library has plenty of study space.
Another useful point of comparison is the differences between students. When we arrived at our apartments in Chiang Mai, all of our Thai roommates waited eagerly for our arrival, some holding signs, balloons, and presents. Their openness and eagerness to get to know the international students was greatly appreciated and helped to make the transition to Thailand easier.
In Ho Chi Minh City, while we don’t have Vietnamese roommates, the welcome was no less exciting.
Hosted by Hoa Sen’s Amity Club, all of the international students from the United States, Japan, and France were invited to a huge Welcome Day party. There was singing, dancing, games, and best of all, food.
Many of the Vietnamese students introduced themselves to the international students, and we’ve been getting to know the city a lot better than we would otherwise with the friends we met that day.
Back in the United States, I’d say my University is in the middle of the spectrum – not as picturesque as Chiang Mai University, and not as urban as Hoa Sen University. Reflecting on the differences, I really don’t think there’s a better option. I’m very grateful that I got the opportunity to experience such dramatically different cities and schools, and think that my study abroad experience has been all the better for it.