Seven months back in the US: much of them spent trying to return for what may be my final long-term sojourn in Vietnam. I knew I had left too soon; there were still things to learn, still relationships to nurture, so I came back to the same shelter, same organization, same city. (Life is letting me hit replay in more ways than one.*) However, I came back completely without expectations – who knows how these next five months would transpire?
The wheels of fortune have turned auspiciously for me: it’s been even more amazing than I could have expected. It is not as if the first two years weren’t amazing; in fact, they were monumental. However, many people have invoked the question, “How does it feel to be back this time? How is it different?” which consequently forced me to identify what the differences really were this time around, and I have been able to pinpoint the following:
1) There’s a definitive “next” adventure. This following fall, I will be entering graduate school, so it almost seems as if my (extended) time in Vietnam is nearing an end. The first two years here, while full of appreciation and love for the present, were riddled with gnawing trepidation and anticipation of the future. I had to “define” what my future would be – because goodness gracious volunteering certain CAN’T be it. Now that I’m able to articulate the “next step,” much to the relief of my parents (and much to my own excitement!), I can fully appreciate my “present” and fully envelop myself in the “now.”
2) There’s a certain sense of detachment. Perhaps foolishly to my own detriment, I was so fully engrossed in life and work at the shelter during those first two years that I could not think beyond my scope of “THE SHELTER.” It was an all-encompassing ideal, and my life had become so intermingled with this notion that the shelter and I were one, which ultimately impaired my productivity, health, and social relationships. This time around, I’ve removed myself just enough to prioritize other interests, passions, and most importantly, other relationships. In gleaning bits and pieces of wisdom from a multitude of people, I’m gradually working towards a more holistic approach to wellness.
3) There’s an inherent level of comfort. I can rhapsodize how magical life is here, but it took quite a while to achieve this level of contentment. While I love savoring every delicious moment now, I cannot forget the stumbles, bruises, and failures from the first two years. It’s almost comical to think about my “struggles” now, but they were very visceral way back when. I am no longer struggling to assimilate to a [foreign] country, learn the cultural nuances, or establish a completely new community of support. Of course, I still persistently suffer from culture shock, which is good because that means I’m continually learning and Vietnam still has many things to teach me. However, with a little bit of perseverance and a heck of a lot of time, it’s on to the fun parts.
4) There’s an incredible amount of professional & personal fulfillment. This point is probably the most absurd to me: I’ll probably never have this extreme amount of professional and personal autonomy again (which is okay!). Our [Hy’s and my] years in Vietnam have really helped steer our future career paths, and so we’re really capitalizing on these next four months to supplement our future graduate studies. Within our current scope of work, we have been able to define our roles according to whichever passions, interests, or even whims that peak our fancy. And people trust us enough to let us do this? Although I can hardly believe it, I’m much appreciative for the opportunity. Then, we can go back to graduate school and learn from professionals within our respective fields!
It’s not a bad deal, I tell you. Thanks, life! If this whole experience has made me more gooey on the inside, then I beg you, do be kind. =)