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

 

Source: http://www.eua.be/eua/jsp/en/upload/Panel_Leung.1112699548801.pdf

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.

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.

Ad_Mekong

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.

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

Hello Vietnam

First impression and feelings as I arrived on July 1st, 2016.

After a day flying across the Pacific Ocean and having about five airplane meals, I finally stepped my foot on Tan Son Nhat Airport. It was 11PM when I arrived, and it took me about half an hour to get through the custom and get my luggage. Perhaps the fact that I got a Vietnam passport and an acquaintance working at the airport made the custom process go through smoothly. It was about 11:30PM when I eagerly walked out of the front gate. To my greatest surprise, I saw hundreds of people packed tightly outside, all waiting for their friends and families. A little separate from the crowd were four of my aunts and uncles waiting for me. I was so happy seeing them after five years long. Beside my parents and my sister’s family, they are my closest relatives. I started giving them hugs and soon remembered people in Vietnam don’t do that, even though I know they all appreciated my affection as much as I their presence. After asking me if I was tired and if the traveling was alright, everyone quickly hopped on an empty Mai Linh(1) taxi because it was rather late and also to avoid the heated and crowded atmosphere. I regretted to not capturing this memory with photos, though.

If the sky was not dark, you would not realize that it was almost 12AM in Saigon. The streets were busy and lit up with thousands of motorbikes’ lights. I was excited to see motorbikes everywhere for the first time in years. Of course I have watched scenes and impression of Saigon’s traffic on YouTube in moments where I miss this place, but nothing could describe my feelings when I see motorbikes and mopeds millimeters apart. A mixture of anxiety, thrill, annoyance, confusion, and familiarity twirled together inside me. It did not bring me to tears, though, because I was also busy looking at my aunts’ and uncles’ faces and listening to their voices and feeling that I was truly home somehow, despite my parents, my sister, and my adorable niece and nephew were now half a world apart from me.

Waiting at my youngest aunt’s house was the first item that began the series of delicious food and drinks: bánh mì, one of the celebrities in Vietnamese cuisine that is world-famous. For those who have not got the chance to try it, bánh mì is a sandwich comprised of a variety of ingredients, including slices of Vietnamese pork sausage, strips of pickled carrot and white radish, cilantro, cucumber, all placed on paté spread and mayonnaise sauce, between two halves of a 6-inch baguette, an influence from the French during colonial time. Mine was delicious. There is a Vietnamese saying that goes, “Căng da bụng, chùng da mắt,” which is roughly translated as, “When your belly skin is stretched, your eyelids relax,” or more frankly, “When you’re full, you’re sleepy.” It was right, but at that moment, I would like to add one more clause to the saying: “When your belly skin is stretched, your eyelids go down, and your mouth corners go up,” because I was definitely smiling while thinking about the next one month and a half.

(1) Although there are a lot of taxi brands in Vietnam, Mai Linh and Vinasun are the most trustworthy ones. Other companies’ drivers can take a much longer route, go to road with heavy traffic, or do other scams to take your money. So please be aware when you have a chance to visit Vietnam

On my grandparents’ house:

The next day was a Saturday, so we all went to my grandparents’ house. Although my grandparents passed away years ago, three of my dad’s siblings and their families still live there together. The house is located at the dead-end of an alley. Built in 1969, it has seen many people from multiple generations living here, leaving, coming back or visiting. It is where we always gathered on the first day of Tết (Vietnamese New Year), whether my grandparents were present in person or now in spirit. As I walked along the narrow alley, flashbacks of me being squished at the tip of the motorbike’s seat and my mom sitting behind my dad, who was weaving through people and dogs, rushed through my mind. Everything looked and felt amazingly familiar, even though I had been distanced from it by a complete different life in the United States.

On me not being ideal for Vietnamese standard beauty:

People’s impressions of me, as they say a lot about Vietnamese standards and expectations for beauty, especially for women, remind me why I have always paid particular attention to certain features of my body. As I had expected, my relatives questioned why I still look the same even after years living in the US. Then came the rhetorical question that I’d anticipated in half farcicality and half gloominess: “Have you not been drinking milk or playing sports in the United States?” Like an instinct, I blurted out the response matter-of-factly: “Yes, I do drink a lot of milk and I do exercise sometimes but I have my mom’s gene.” I was prepared because I knew this question or something similar would come up again and again during my time here. Second to comments on my modest height—one OB/GYN I would be shadowing called me “đẹt,” meaning “a body that is squeezed/tiny”—were those on my skin complexion and style. “Oh, you’re from the US but you look so simple,” or “I thought you’re just a normal Vietnamese,” or “Don’t you use whitening cream in the US? You look so dark!” After that comment, another nurse was trying to save me some pride by saying: “But Americans love to get tanned, don’t they?” These judgments are very common here, and as I’m getting used to them, I hope I won’t get too snappy.

Unlike other stereotypical Western features (e.g. tall nose, big eyes, double eyelids) desired by many East and Southeast Asians, the obsession with white, pale skin had already existed hundreds of years ago: fairer skin was an indication for higher status because people from rich and powerful families did not have to work in the field under the burning sun. Now, the obsession intensifies, only for women, though, as people believe they can whiten their skins through efforts: Korean cosmetic products, plastic surgery clinics, and recently, TV shows featuring makeovers sponsored by Korean surgeons, have gained popularity. A complete set of traveling gears that would protect one woman from the dreaded sun and pollution include: the legally required helmet, a cap or a sun hat, sunglasses, a (surgical) mask, a jacket, gloves and leggings or socks, and/or a leg-length piece of rectangular fabric that wraps around the waist when a woman wears a skirt or a dress. Key: skin = not seen

hinh bit kin mit

On food, drinks, and entertainment:

I’m lucky to have my wonderful mother, who is one of the best Vietnamese home cooks in this world, as I wholeheartedly believe. So unlike many students abroad, I did not die waiting to come back for the food. However, I have to say, nothing can compare to eating Vietnamese food on the streets of Saigon. For my friends who have never visited Vietnam, no matter who you are, you would fall in love with at least one food item here. From take-away stalls, tables and stools on the pavement to high-end restaurants, from authentic Vietnamese dishes to other nations’ food, from rice dishes to noodle soups, I promise you will find something good. Prices have gone up significantly (two or three-time increase) from five years ago, but they are still cheap. For example, a decent bowl of phở typically costs 60,000 VND (2.70 USD), bánh mì 20,000 (90 cents), and a glass of coffee 15-25,000.

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A bowl of phở, special size (55,000 VND) at Phở 99 – 214 Nguyễn Trãi, Bến Thành, Dist. 1, Hồ Chí Minh

Five years ago, sushi and udon seem to be luxuries (xa xỉ) that were only to be served in high-end restaurants at the center of district 1. Now, I can spot a Korean or Japanese restaurant every 5 minutes, and the prices are quite affordable. Boba tea and Starbuck-style coffee shops spring up everywhere and have become the favorite hang-out spots for young people and students. It is not hard to notice the multi-story shopping malls, supermarkets, and bookstores, where lots of people enjoy the cool air for free and look at thousands of stuff. Since its completion in April, 2015, Nguyễn Huệ Pedestrian Street, which is located at the center of Saigon, has been a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike. Groups of performers come here to show their talents to others, while tourists want to get a full picture of the French-built Ho Chi Minh City Hall, which is at one end of the Street. Its main sell-point, though, is hoverboard rentals. In the evening, hundreds of people come here to try hoverboarding for the first time or to strengthen their skills.

anh_zing

All in all, the food is cheap and delicious, but you have to make sure to avoid unclean, ill-prepared food. There are a lot of things to discover in a city that never sleeps, and despite a few cultural disappointment, I’m excited for the next few weeks to work, eat, and play in Saigon.

Through My Eyes: A Description of Nepal

If you Google Nepal, you will quickly learn about the tumultuous political history, the high levels of pollution, and the rampant poverty throughout the country[1]. Nepal’s political unrest, the horrific natural disasters over the past few years (the 2015 earthquake, a deadly avalanche on Everest in April of 2014, and a freak blizzard that killed 41 people in the Annapurna region in 2014)[2], and effects of climate change are hindering the country’s development. Even with the odds stacked against it, Nepal keeps pushing forward.

Earthquake damage in Bhaktapur, Nepal

Earthquake damage in Bhaktapur, Nepal

But, this is not the Nepal I saw when I first arrived. The version of Nepal that is often written about in Western news sources or in short online articles is nothing like the actual country. Nepali people are some of the friendliest people I have ever met; there is a vast amount of biodiversity; the scenery is absolutely breath taking; and there are thousands of non-profits just in Kathmandu to help lift children out of poverty, empower women, raise awareness for the environment, and more.

Nepal is truly fasinating. The natural scenery is stunning, the cultural and religious sites are striking, and the range and diversity of people is amazing. Tourists from all over the world come to trek through the Himalayas or visit national parks, and I was amazed by the SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESnumber of foerigners in Kathmandu. Nepal has a lot to offer, from trekking adventures to World Heritage Sites to volunteering opportunities. Nepal has the densest concentration of World Heritage Sites in the world (7 in a 15-Kilometer radius); it is one of the best places for extreme adventures, like bungee jumping (the highest bungee jump in Asia is in Nepal); and Nepal houses several rare and critically endangered species, including the one horned rhino and the Rhododenrum flower[3]. The natural diasters, political unrest, and high amounts of pollution are just one aspect of Nepal, but they are the only feature of the country you are likely to experience if you read Western news sources and short online articles. It takes time and effort to dive into the full array of experiences and the depth of culture in Nepal, but that is why I am here this summer.

The view from my host family's cow farm

The view from my host family’s cow farm

I am living in Kavresthali, Nepal, which is about a 45 minute bus ride from Kathmandu, for 9 weeks this summer. In less than an hour, I am transported from a bustling city to an agricultural village in the beautiful mountains overlooking the Kathmandu valley. On my first day of work, almost every household we visited to survey for our water resreach offered us tea or milk, and I was amazed by their easy going hospitality and friendly nature, even though we were complete strangers.

A year ago, I had no idea where I would be this summer, but I am glad I am spending it in Nepal. With the help of a grant from Davidson, some prompting from professors, and excitement from friends and family, I am halfway across the world, learning bits and pieces of a new language and experiencing the rich and vibrant culture.

Rice planting with the local community

[1]Shafik Meghji and Charles Young, The Rough Guide to Nepal: 8th Edition (New Delhi: Rough Guides Ltd, 2015), 381-423.

[2]Shafik Meghji and Charles Young, The Rough Guide to Nepal: 8th Edition (New Delhi: Rough Guides Ltd, 2015), 6.

[3] “Interesting Facts About Nepal,” Himalayan Ecotreks & Travel – Nepal, accessed June 10, 2016, http://himalayanecotrek.com/travel-guide/interesting-facts-about-nepal/

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