Reflections on 6 Weeks in My Native Country

First, I just want to say I’m so thankful for Davidson College and the Freeman Foundation to give me the opportunity to work in the city where I was born and gain a different perspective on my native country. For the past 6 weeks, I was able to step out and step back into my comfort zone. Here, in a city of ten million peoples who have the same skin complexion as mine and speak my mother-tongue, I immediately blend in. It felt less like I’m from the States but more like I’m returning to Vietnam.

However, in a place where I think I already know like the back of my hand, I’ve learned something new every day. Toward the end of my time in Vietnam, I got the chance to visit two major OB/GYN hospitals in the city, Từ Dũ (where I was born) and Hùng Vương, watch surgeries there and observed their Family Planning Departments. I observed two C-sections; one of them is a very complicated case where the mother had many uterine fibroids which resulted in profuse bleeding. I was in awe to see the surgeons being so quick on their feet to stop the bleeding with clamps and sutures. Two winters ago when I shadowed a surgeon, I decided that I would probably never become one because of the long hours of standing. However, knowing that this beautiful baby would not be delivered safely without the C-section and the mother would bleed uncontrollably without skillful surgeons, I feel so compelled to consider surgery as a part of my physician career.

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Me “dressed up” before watching surgeries

One day was really special for me as I visited children with special needs at two facilities. Some of them were completely immobile but many were able to improve their mobility, learning abilities, and language skills over time. I was visiting with my godmother, who had worked at one facility before. One boy who has slow development and was blind in both eyes did not really like his new teacher. She was trying to get him to sit down, but all he did was scratching eyes. My godmother took care of him for a long time, and when she showed up, he hugged her so tightly and even smiled. My heart melted when she sang and he danced along with his hands. In this place, the littlest gesture can mean so much. These angels touched my heart and I’d love to have the opportunity to return to spend more time with them.

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Cute animals at one of the educational facilities for children with special needs

Among the memories created, what I cherish the most is my time at Mekong Hospital. My interest for women’s reproductive health rights stemmed from the multiple medical ethics courses I took at Davidson. The discourse on abortion is charged with controversy every where, and being bi-cultural has helped me have different perspectives on this topic. Davidson’s liberal arts education also helped me become more accepting of others’ differences and aware of the inequality in numerous aspects of life. Through the conversations with women who choose to undergo abortion on their experience and contraceptive use, I still see a marked sexism in Vietnamese society and determine to continue empowering women through my work on reproductive rights. Through my education, I am capable of critically examine one issue from different angles–for example, the attitudes on abortion can be shaped by political, social, economic, and cultural forces. In addition, the sense of community that I have possessed from my time at Davidson bring me to immediately agree to help others. About a week after I’d worked at the hospital, a doctor approached me and asked if I could teach conversational English to nurses in the Neonatal Department. I gladly said yes, and I taught English for one hour and half two times a week. I made great friends, got the chance to visit newborns, and was able to integrate more into the social lives of Vietnamese.

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My “students” and I on my last day at MeKong Hospital. 

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Me with the staff of the Neonatal Department

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My first meal at the hospital’s cafeteria. My iced tea was free because I was an employee. 

My time in Vietnam has now ended, but there is still a lot I want to do for my research. I cannot wait to strengthen my research skills and refine my research question to return next year to interview women in a public hospital, which better reflects the abortion situation in Ho Chi Minh specifically and Vietnam generally.

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