Friday, January 14, 2011

Tôi là một sinh viên

Today was my first day of classes at Trường Đại học Khoa học Xã hội và Nhân văn, Vietnam's national University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. Yes, I have yet to learn how to pronounce that correctly. I'll get there I'm sure. This Monday morning's wakeup call came unexpectedly at 5:30am as I'm still suffering from a bit of jetlag. I heard at dinner the other night that for each hour in time difference, that it takes 1 day to get over the jetlag. So, if I do some basic math, with Vietnam being nearly 13 hours ahead of Wisconsin should take about twelve to thirteen days to be fully recovered haha. After finally figuring out how to use the contraption in our bathroom by turning various knobs synced to a water heater on the roof, I was able to take a hot shower, and as it turns out, I wasn't the only one from our group whose slipped and fallen as the shower itself is shared in the same space as the toilet and sink.

We all met downstairs outside the lobby area of our guesthouse, backpacks and all, and walked across the street a minute or so to school. I absolutely loved how the entire campus was pretty much outside and open. Students were everywhere sitting at tables typing away on their laptops or diving into textbooks. We entered a small room and registered at the main office, where I was handed a Vietnamese language textbook and followed a professor up four flights of stairs to a classroom high above the rest of the campus with early hazy views of the bustling alive city below.
My first hour of Vietnamese language, a 6 credit hour intensive class, was both very fun and very hard. There were just three of us, and I was impressed with our teacher, Co Han, who was so patient and dedicated to helping us learn the simplest of Vietnamese words, the alphabet, and numbers on our first day. Prior to landing in Saigon, the only word I really knew how to say was "hello" or "Xin chào," which I attempted to pronounce on my flight over after studying it in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Co Han took that greeting and added onto it by attaching a pronoun on the end. The way you say certain letters is quite difficult, for example, "a" can be said in different ways depending on the accent mark over it, which I can't figure out how to type on my MacBook Pro. I snapped a shot of an animated instructional sign next to a fire extinguisher in the university's hall to give you an idea of what the language looks like written out. All that aside, I'm excited and also anxious to learn and speak more Vietnamese, which I believe will help me get more comfortable with the strong language barrier.
After the language class, we walked out onto the main street in front of our university, Đinh Tiên Hoàng, and strolled to Loyola's Vietnam office for our Human Development class taught by the program's director and our group leader, Rylan. I'm stoked for this class which will surely be filled with great dialogue about our various volunteering projects and growing political and social issues in Vietnam. That afternoon I had a fun chat with my roommate Giang, about anything from music and video games, which to my surprise the first original Call of Duty still seems to be very popular here, to youth living in Vietnam. I think I can say that choosing to have a Vietnamese roommate will absolutely make this semester memorable and enjoyable in a much more authentic way.

Looks like we're going out to celebrate a birthday tonight somewhere in District 1 of Saigon, stay tuned for that.