Opinion: Friendships forged in hospitable Vietnam

Peter FiorenzaGeraldton Guardian
Although a Communist country, Vietnam has welcomed the advancement of the English language since the early 1990s.
Camera IconAlthough a Communist country, Vietnam has welcomed the advancement of the English language since the early 1990s. Credit: Peter Fiorenza

During my recent trip to Vietnam, I travelled with a group of school students.

The trip was billed as an immersion, where travellers get to experience the culture of a country.

There is no doubt, the students got a real taste of culture on this journey, but it wasn’t only restricted to the sights, the sounds and the food — they had the opportunity to participate in something quite special.

As part of the itinerary, we visited a language school in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, also known by its former name of Saigon.

The college, located right in the heart of the city, has been operating for more than 60 years, but is probably more significant today.

According to our guide, Vietnam, although a communist country, has welcomed the advancement of the English language since the early 1990s.

And judging by the students we met at this college, they are taking it on with gusto.

Our group was welcomed with an excitement and enthusiasm that I could only equate with the welcome of celebrity.

And all they wanted to do was show off their ability to converse in English.

This came in the form of a formal welcome speech, a question-and-answer session with our students, and a series of general group discussion, where they could try out conversation topics with their visitors.

As I watched, I was simply fascinated by the enthusiasm of both groups.

Firstly, the excitement that resonated from our hosts as they talked to our students about their lives and Australia and, then, the way our kids were handling the respect they were receiving. It really was the meeting of two worlds.

I couldn’t help but wonder though, how it would go if this situation was reversed.

If a Vietnamese group of students visited our school in Geraldton, would we be able to converse adequately in their language?

I’m thinking that, for our hosts, this is something that doesn’t happen every day — an incredible opportunity indeed.

And this was, somewhat, qualified by the very animated discussions that were going on, coupled with smiles and laughter.

Where do you live?

What foods do you like?

What is school like in Australia? And, what music do you like?

Yes, it would seem that music is a universal language.

Before long, tunes started to fill the room from a Bluetooth speaker, and as each new song came on, there was cheering and singing.

I think some of the songs were Justin Bieber tracks and songs from the hit High School Musical. Before long, the room we were in resembled a makeshift disco.

Many of us have the opportunity to experience a new country, but much of that could be regarded as superficial, but this was different. The connections made on that afternoon in Saigon were something both groups of students, I think, will remember for the rest of their lives.

Geraldton Guardian columnist Peter Fiorenza enjoyed many cultural experiences during a recent trip to Vietnam.
Camera IconGeraldton Guardian columnist Peter Fiorenza enjoyed many cultural experiences during a recent trip to Vietnam. Credit: Supplied

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