23 April 2009


There is little doubt that there are certain experiences in each person’s life that have life-long impact. For me, many of those experiences took place two years ago when I spent two weeks at An Giang University in Long Xuyen Vietnam. The previous two years had established a relationship with some of the students through online dialogue and discussion groups. However, it wasn’t until my arrival in Vietnam that those relationships moved beyond the realm of the abstract into reality. Those days were spent eating pho at roadside restaurants with new acquaintances who feel like old friends and envisioning new ways for American and Vietnamese students to connect through shared experiences, both online and in person. I marveled at the spirit of optimism and hope for the future while simultaneously fearing the destruction of an entire way of life as the country rapidly enters the global economic stage. A Reciprocal hosting opportunity arose as Hue and Thong returned to study at SPI and experience live in the Shenandoah Valley. Even after the month-long experience of Vietnam and hosting during Summer Peacebuilding Institute was over, the relationships that formed and the lessons learned continue to shape my life.

Most succinctly, my desire to return to Vietnam and work with the IC3 curriculum is a desire to live it. On my first trip, I learned more than I had ever dreamed about the Vietnamese and myself. But, that understanding is incomplete and I feel an intense need to return. “They say you come to Vietnam and understand a lot in a few minutes. The rest has got to be lived. (Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.)” I want to live it.

I am returning to Vietnam because I want the next generation of Vietnamese students to continue learning inter-culturally. I have experienced the passion with which the faculty teaches the curriculum and the results within the students they teach. I have benefited from this program and I do not want it to wither away when there is so much potential for good. For the past several years, MCC has placed a volunteer at AGU to work with the IC3 curriculum. Regardless of the withdrawal of MCC support, IC3 remains an important part of the AGU curriculum. My return to Vietnam stems from a desire to see this partnership continue in the midst of economically uncertain times. With the current economic situation as it is, it is tempting to cease support of programs that seem expendable. I would argue; however, that programs that encourage the development of a deeper understanding of the other, as well as oneself are far from expendable.

In addition, I see my return to Vietnam as the purest possible expression of my Christian faith. Relationship is the first step toward understanding not only someone else, but also oneself. Intentionally cultivating relationships and developing empathy for and with people is what I believe my faith calls me to. As a follower of Christ, it is important that I seek to emulate the ways in which he lived, and that was in relationship with those who were very different from himself. Yet, while walking with them, he illustrated that it is not differences that identify us, but rather a shared humanity.

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