Archives for August 2016

Davidson’s Liberal Arts Preparation for Teaching

When I arrived in Hong Kong, I felt vastly unprepared for what the summer had in store for me. I had never taught before, had never been to Asia, and was still quite unsure about the structure of the program itself. I did not even know how I was going to get from the airport to my hostel. Luckily, an administrator of the program picked me up and put me in a cab, and started explaining the logistics of how the summer would play out. What I learned over the next 8 weeks was that Davidson College had actually prepared me for this journey as well as it could have by giving me the tools to tackle things that I could not prepare for.


From creating curriculum, to employing it, to adapting it based on the response, it takes a lot of hard work and flexibility. Going into this summer, there was no way for me to have known the level of English or the personalities of the students I was going to be teaching. Therefore, I was well aware that the outlined curriculum I had planned was subject to change. However, I did not realize just how much it would have to change.


My Davidson experience equipped me with the ability to be flexible and adaptive to whatever my students threw my way, persistent in my commitment to my students, and holistic in my approach to understanding my students’ backgrounds. Whether that was making my curriculum more engaging, incorporating a topic they wanted to learn more about, or accommodating more learning styles, my class was constantly evolving. There were several students who were quite difficult to deal with at the beginning of the program. It would have been very easy for me to think they did not want to learn and ignore them in an effort to accommodate the other students. However, by meeting many different people from different backgrounds at Davidson, I learned there is more than meets the eye. Taking a holistic approach was invaluable to reaching my students.


Many of them had to wake up very early to travel several hours to get to school. Many were unable to afford a good breakfast to start off the day right, so they had trouble staying awake and focusing. Some students were either disinterested or acting out and making jokes because they had trouble understanding the language. For these students, it was essential not to discredit their desire to learn, but to be persistent and work even harder to engage and simplify the material so everyone could thrive.


My liberal arts education at Davidson prepared me for this summer, and equipped me with the skillset to adapt to whatever challenged I faced.



Summerbridge Hong Kong Island School Teachers 2016


Summerbridge Hong Kong Island School Staff and Students 2016

Mong Kok Markets and Other Impressions of Hong Kong

When I arrived in Hong Kong, my eyes were glued to the sky. Space is scarce so instead of building outwards, they build upwards. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere, and life seems like someone pressed a fast forward button. One of my coworkers described it best as, “New York City if it were shoved into a space half its size.”


After being picked up at the airport by my roommate (a Hong Kong native), he took me to the night markets in Mong Kok to buy a phone card and to look at whatever else they had to offer. As I walked through the aisles of shops, I was astonished at the variety and sheer quantity of the objects they had to offer. Being a sports fan, a shop with basketball jerseys immediately caught my eye.

In an instant, the small, friendlyshop owner pointed at the jersey and got it down off the hook. Urging me to take it, she held it out in my direction. After asking if I liked it, she offered me a price. After a brief period of contemplation, I declined and kept walking until over my shoulder I heard her start to lower the price. I looked back in confusion, but then continued on my way. She lowered the price once more, but I had already committed to leaving. After lowering the price for a third time, I looked back to see her standing in the aisle of the markets watching me walk away. I kept my path for a while until I thought I was out of her gaze. However, as I looked back I was captured by her stare once again. This interaction scarred me for the rest of my trip, and made me terrified of small, aggressive Mong Kok market vendors.


During the rest of my 8 weeks, I made some other general observations about living in Hong Kong:

Property and cars tend to be very expensive. Luckily, even though there are so many people, it is relatively easy to get around with plenty of accessible transportation. The major mode of transportation in Hong Kong is the MTR (similar to the subway). There are several connecting lines that run through most of the heavily populated areas. Due to the sheer amount of people and inevitable contact, people don’t even bother saying “excuse me” when they bump into each other because they would be spending too much of their day doing so.



MTR empty, a rare occurance


Hong Kong is quite a diverse place, and because it was previously under British rule, almost everything is written in English as well. Therefore, you could survive without knowing a word of Cantonese (I was lucky in that I had several friends who were fluent).



The humidity of the air is incredibly high. I could feel the thickness of the air and I just felt sticky whenever I was outside. In addition, all of the buildings blast the air condition in full force, so it’s essential to carry a lightweight jacket at all times to put on when indoors. The weather was quite sporadic, and could go from being beautiful to a torrential downpour in the blink of an eye.


Even though the days went from scorching to freezing, dry to wet, and open to crammed between strangers in an instant, I fell in love with Hong Kong and all of its culture. I got to see the different faces and the different personalities of each MTR stop, and walk in the shoes of someone on the other side of the planet. I won’t be forgetting my experience any time soon, and I have a feeling I’ll have a hard time staying away from Hong Kong for too long.

TST at Night


P.S.: I ended up going back to the Mong Kok Markets toward the end of my trip and bought this sweet kimono for about 6.50 USD.

Mong Kok Market Kimono


Summerbridge Hong Kong: Why It Matters

With Hong Kong back under Chinese rule, Mainland China is trying to unify both locations by forcing Hong Kong to teach Mandarin as a second language as opposed to English. Therefore, English standards in Hong Kong have been continually decreasing in recent years. Furthermore, due to the massive amount of people in Hong Kong and the scarce number of universities, only 18% (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) of students end up furthering their education past secondary school at a government-funded institution. This creates an immensely competitive, test-oriented atmosphere within the Hong Kong educational system. This is why Summerbridge Hong Kong is so important. Summerbridge HK is a non-profit English-immersion educational program that fosters English language development as well as personal development among kids from economically disadvantaged and single-parent households. These kids do not have the same resources as others, and therefore don’t have the money to afford extra tutoring for the standardized tests. Summerbridge HK aims to teach these students English, while showing them that they are worth more than their test scores, and that there is so much to love about learning beyond a number on a paper in red ink.


The program emphasizes students teaching students, with all of its teachers in college or finishing up high school. Many of the teachers were born and raised in Hong Kong, and several were even students in the programs themselves. We were given full autonomy to create a curriculum that was designed to engage the students and get them to speak English as much as possible. Class topics ranged from Spoken Word Poetry to Human Biology to Creativity. After a week of Staff Orientation on the program itself and how to create a curriculum, we were ready to start classes. The program was held on Monday-Friday from 8:15-3:30. A typical schedule was structured roughly as follows:


8:15 – Get off the bus and all-school meeting

8:50 – Period 1

9:40 – Period 2

10:30 – Period 3

11:20 – Period 4

12:10 – Lunch

1 – Family time

2 – Sports and electives

3 – All-school meeting

3:30 – Back on the bus


During classes, the students are speaking English all the time, actively participating in discussions, and taking part in activities that show them that learning can be fun and valuable even without rigorous standardized testing.


Throughout the rest of the day, they are making meaningful relationships with their classmates and teachers, and breaking out of their comfort zones. By speaking English all the time, they are immersing themselves into a new language, becoming more thoughtful with their word choice, and developing personal skills according to the Summerbridge spirits. Through Special Event Days and their everyday activities, students developed Support (Spirit Day), Teamwork (Olympics), Bravery (Talent Show), and Love of Learning (Student Teaching Day). These spirits and their corresponding Special Event Days are what make Summerbridge truly special. These spirits, as well as Motivation, English All The Time, Respect, and more, all create an atmosphere that is conducive to personal growth and restructuring their attitudes toward education and themselves.

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I am so fortunate to have been able to work at Summerbridge Hong Kong this summer, to have made meaningful and lasting relationships with my coworkers and students, and to have served as an antonym for underprivileged Hong Kong students’ normal schooling, as well as to teach them (and them teach us in return) how to love to learn, love each other, and love themselves.


My family in HK

My family in HK

My CDC in HK

My CDC in HK



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.


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.


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.


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


Me with the staff of the Neonatal Department


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.

Working at a OB/GYN Hospital: The Many Faces of Pregnancy

My internship this summer involves shadowing doctors, learning about the public health system in Ho Chi Minh, and doing research on the side. My primary workplace is Mekong OB/GYN Hospital, a private hospital that was once the OB/GYN Department of Medical University Hospital—the most prestigious medical school in Ho Chi Minh. As a premedical student, a baby lover, and a reproductive rights researcher, I truly appreciate the opportunity to spend my summer at OB/GYN hospitals/facilities.


Mekong OB/GYN Hospital, where I spend most of my 6 weeks in Vietnam, located at 243-243A-243B Hoàng Văn Thụ, Ward 1, Tân Bình District, Hồ Chí Minh

Many obstetricians told me that their specialty is unique because it makes hospital a place that brings joy to others. I can attest to this, even only after a few weeks of shadowing. I think pregnant women are beautiful and precious in their maternity dresses and I feel so happy looking at them rubbing their round bellies while talking to doctors. I got the chance to see doctors delivering babies and it was indeed magical to see the baby’s little head emerged and hear his/her first cry. Unfortunately, joy and happiness are not the only emotions that all mothers-to-be experience. Some women have to face fear, hopelessness, sorrow, grief, and/or disbelief when they lose their babies or find out their little ones suffer from genetic or development deformities. About a week after I arrived in Vietnam, while I was shadowing Dr. Phuong in the Emergency Department, I saw something that struck me deeply. A 28 year-old woman came in, complaining about horrible cramps. Dr. Phuong gave her a pelvic exam and told her to get an ultrasound. Then we moved on to the next patient. The ER is always busy in the morning; it is not rare that higher incomes pay go straight here and skip the line in the normal exam room, even for having common symptoms of pregnancy. About twenty minutes passed by, the woman walked in the ER again. She was in tears and looked like her heart was shattered into pieces, as she gave the ultrasound report to Dr. Phuong. I glanced over the report which said “no fetal heartbeat, underdeveloped fetus at 7.5 weeks.” She dropped down on a stool when her husband rushed over, asking what was wrong. Not looking at her husband, she sobbed and grasped for breath: “There is no heartbeat…” The husband shook his head and covered his eyes. Dr. Phuong, who was still looking at the report, explained the problems, said “I’m sorry for your loss” and advised them to take the pills to stop the pregnancy.

The woman later appeared in the family planning room to finish the termination of her pregnancy. The family planning room is where the hospital handles abortions and prepares patients for small procedures such as biopsies and vaginoplasty. It was a stark contrast between women sobbing for the tragedy of losing their babies versus women acting strong for choosing abortion, and many people, including healthcare providers, are more empathetic toward the former. However, as I have more conversations with women who choose abortion, I become more empathized with what they have to go through to make the difficult choice that will permanently bring heartache. So far, I have slowly overcome the fear and awkwardness of talking to women about their abortion experience. In addition, I am getting more comfortable to talk to women who are older, married, and have two children. Sometimes I also got to advise patients on how to take the Mifepristone and Misoprostol pills. These past three weeks have been really interesting; I’m learning a lot about myself and I’m excited to show up to the hospital every day, shadowing doctors, learning more about OB/GYN in general, and talking to women about their abortion stories.


Me wearing my “uniform” and name tag as a research student and standing in front of the family planning room.