“You know how it smells after it rains? It smells like that all time,” CIEE Alumni Emily Muscat says of Vietnam. It is this country that gave her the first big dose of wanderlust and ultimately led her to study abroad in Senegal with CIEE and later, teach abroad.
Emily was lucky to experience the countries in the relatively early days of American-Vietnamese exchange. In 1995, former President Bill Clinton formally normalized relations between the two countries after 20-years of severed ties. Ever since, Vietnam has enriched the lives of thousands of American teachers and travelers.
Although the scars of colonialism, war, and poverty still linger, today’s Vietnam has blossomed into one of the most culturally rich and visually breathtaking countries in the world. The country is now known as the land of pho and fairytale landscapes, a hidden gem of Southeast Asia.
Emily remembers the country well. She spent time in the beach cities of Vung Tau and Nha Trang where she dipped her toes in crystal clear waters and explored ancient Buddhist temples. While in her base city of Ho Chi Minh, she took a spin on the always popular motorbike taxis. Anything goes on these things—chickens, families of seven, refrigerators, and anything else you can possible thing of that would conceivably carry using a motorbike! Although it didn’t exist back then, today motorbikes are used for Uber. Talk about an exhilarating morning commute!
Although she loved the energy of the cities, Emily’s favorite excursion was to Da Lat, located in the Northern region of Vietnam. The city is tucked into a lush valley surrounded by misty mountains, providing some of the most breathtaking views in the country (and relief from the high heat of summer).
Despite a once contentious relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, Emily was greeted with nothing but kindness and enthusiasm from the Vietnamese people. She has fond memories of volunteering in the communities and participating in local customs, especially mealtimes. She remembers one night when she and her group went to a local restaurant. The owners caught wind that they were coming and made a special effort to make them feel at home by preparing curry with chopped up hot dog! The gesture was sweet but she still preferred the authentic Vietnamese food. Her favorite dish was Bún chả (pictured below), grilled pork served over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs with a tasty dipping sauce. As you can imagine, Emily loves Vietnamese food to this day.
Tet holiday, the Vietnamese New Year is celebrated in fashion around the country. Generally, the cities are cleaned up and decked out with yellow flowers and awnings are hung all over the main street. The flowers brighten up the cities and put everyone in the holiday spirit! Teacher's day is also widely celebrated. Vietnamese and English teachers alike are showered with flowers, gifts, and love from their students.
Although it’s been several years since her visit, no time can erase the impressions of this country. Emily says she can still smell the rain, feel the heavy air on her skin, and picture the landscape: white sand beaches, gentle rivers, and mountainous jungles. She will always remember the captivating sights, smells, and sensations of Vietnam.