Editor’s note: Herald Journal reporter Matilyn Mortensen recently finished her degree at Utah State University. One of the last programs she is participating in as an undergraduate is a study abroad in Vietnam as part of the program “Raising Voices: Global Storytelling.” During this trip, she will teach some of the storytelling skills she has learned to Vietnamese high school students and gather information to produce her own articles while she is there.
I’ve lost a day. I’m not quite sure where, but it must have been somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. All I know is a few days ago I woke up on Sunday morning in Salt Lake City and I went to bed on Monday night in Hanoi, Vietnam.
It doesn’t feel real that I am halfway across the globe, even though I’ve been planning this trip for almost a year. When my journalism professor invited me to come last summer, I jumped at the chance, but it never felt like I would actually get here.
The format of the study abroad program is a service-learning trip. While in Vietnam, my group and I will lead three storytelling workshops and complete personal storytelling projects. For mine, I plan to create an audio and written piece about a proposal to ban motorbikes in parts of downtown Hanoi.
After breakfast on Tuesday, we officially began our work by practicing our lessons. This meant learning to work through translation — a skill that will be important both for teaching and gathering information for our projects.
As we do our run-through, it takes twice as long to communicate ideas. It makes me want to speed up and speak in long sentences, but I remind myself that this would compound the issue. Instead, I slow down my speech, pausing at the end of each sentence while another voice fills the space with unfamiliar words. The pattern forces me to think of what is the most essential and focus my ideas. These phrases are the easiest to translate.
After the lesson practice, another group member and I leave our hotel to walk around Hanoi with two of the Vietnamese translators. Both of the people who come with us are originally from more rural areas and moved to the city to attend university.
Walking along the crowded streets, I begin to see why people proposed banning motorbikes in parts of the city. Drivers weave around cars and people, both across the road and onto the sidewalk. I see drivers texting and passengers making phone calls. Children with backpacks bounce along behind parents. Horns blare mercilessly to announce a vehicle is coming through whether or not something is in the way.
It’s both overwhelming and exciting. As we walk, my friend and I ask our guides questions. The four of us are all close in age, so we discuss not only the city but school and work and culture. I learn some things in our communities are similar, like children in rural areas needing to leave to find better work, and others are not, like an expectation that children will still live at home after adulthood.
Between the walking, the time change and the heat, my body gets more and more tired. However, my friend and I continue through the city with one of our guides. He takes us to a museum and touristy sights, making sure to stop and take our picture as we go.
Before stopping for the afternoon, he takes us to a road I’ve seen in numerous Instagram posts — Train Street.
This tourist attraction features an operating train track built in a tight space between buildings. The walls are so close together there is barely enough room for people to walk alongside the track, though motorbikes did drive through.
Our guide stops my friend and I and coaches us on the best way to stand so we can recreate a popular pose in our picture. As I try to balance my sweaty body and sore feet on the edge of the track, I hear music coming from a shop. I listen and realize it’s a song by the Utah band “Imagine Dragons.” In many ways, it’s one of the last things I expected to hear.
As we continue to walk down the track and back to our hotel, I’m struck by the funny feeling that some things can be both new and unexpected while being familiar at the same time.