We are currently 1:05 minutes away from landing in Taipei. I’m already tired, my only salvation being the copious amounts of weak and milky coffee on the airplane. We’ve been traveling for exactly 23 hours. It seems already so far away that thirteen other students and I set off from Hawken in a charter bus towards Toronto, bright-eyed. I gaze across the cabin now looking at these same people, eyes now weary and fatigued. It‘s a 16 hour plane ride from Toronto to Taipei, followed by a 4 hour layover and finally a 2 hour flight into the northern Vietnamese city of Hanoi. The traveling is long but I am certain worthwhile. It keeps me going right now, imagining the beauty of Vietnam. Right now I am envisioning my first bowl of pho on the ground in Vietnam, the luscious steam enveloping my senses and the warm broth inviting me in for more. But right now it’s back to the drudgery of the airplane. It’s honestly not awful. The plane is awesomely large. There have been three meals, orange and apple juice, tea, coffee, and aromatherapy mists in the restrooms. It is not these creature comforts that will be memorable on this trip, but it’s worthwhile to mention it in the interim.
I’m more excited about being without the creature comforts, without the control that I am so accustomed to. Being lost in a busy Vietnamese market, unable to communicate and hungry, but being OK. Perhaps that is what I’m most looking forward to, developing my resilience to the unfamiliar situation. I predict that this will be Vietnam’s greatest gift. Besides that, I am enthusiastic about immersion in a new culture with different customs, ways of living, food, and societal structure. As well as Facebook, I will try to provide updates here periodically, with pictures, of course.
The rain fell mildly outside the sports building, an omen for the day. Inside a group of French and American students huddled, mentally postponing the reality of departure. We laughed, hugged, and some of us cried. This moment marked the end of a one week exchange program with students from Lille, France. I hosted Mathias, my new best friend, a gentleman. He truly was a social chameleon. His English was fantastic, and that improved the entire experience. And oh what a good week it was.
The most partying I've done in one weekend: costume parties, gatherings large and small, ice skating, etc... We even went jet skiing on Lake Erie with wet suits. It was 45 degrees, raining, and overcast. I have to put this memory to writing to remember. Maybe there's some embellishment, but adrenaline does that: Mathias drove first and I, holding on in the back for dear life had some of the most fun I've ever had. The experience was underpinned by the extreme desire not to tumble into the icy drink. With that in mind, Mathias punched the throttle at the bottom of a wave, shooting off of the top. I heard the engine rev up while we were in the air, then the jet ski crashed back into the chop. I was laughing hysterically, and we did it again.
It is experiences like this that will serve as bookmarks for the short week that 20 students from the Marcq Institute spent in Cleveland. And yet I find that the experience was more than the sum of the parts. The beauty of a cultural exchange, however short, is inimitable, the bonds formed between American and French students irreversible. It is these emotions that clouded, or perhaps cleared, the departure this morning. Fondly I said goodbye to my new best friends, recalling fondly all of the fun that we had together. Au revoir les enfants.