Exchange to Ho Chi Minh City

This time, I want to share my one of my unforgettable experience in 2013: Being Indonesia’s Representative in Student Exchange Program. Before going too far, I want to tell you that the term ‘student exchange’ here is actually not the kind of student who comes to a country and being taught about some subjects. It’s quite different since we were exchanged to do a social/voluntary project.

Okay, let’s go back to the beginning of the story.

At the beginning of 2013, an opportunity came to me when my friend retweet-ed about this exchange program which is held by AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organization. The organization encourages young people to take place in both social and economic projects. I did a quick-quick-quick mini research, applied, got an interview, then there it is. I was asked to choose the preference country and topic.

I chose Ho Chi Minh City, and it took me to AIESEC Ho Chi Minh City, with the current project: Support. Educate. Prepare (S.E.P.) It concerns about sex education which is delivered to children and young people in Ho Chi Minh. Since it’s a developing country, Vietnam still needs many improvements. Parents feel like telling their children about sex as a taboo thing. On the other side, it’s totally a crucial topic because of the abortion rate in Vietnam. Vietnam is included in the worldwide top 5 countries with the highest abortion rates and ranks the first in South East Asia.

Long story short

There we were, 15 interns from Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Mauritius, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and of course youngsters from Vietnam. We gathered and made changes by presenting some sex education materials to young people and kids in Ho Chi Minh. We contributed in some workshops with 3 kinds of target audience: kids, young people, and parents. It’s so interesting since I had to learn how to differ how to deliver the actual message to different audience. We, especially me, learned a lot on how to be communicative with our audience although we faced the language gap.

We contributed in seminars in schools and universities as well. For example, we communicated with the students and explained about abortion facts in Vietnam, how to prevent STDs, and told them how to do a safe sex. One of the interesting parts is when we taught them how to use a condom. It’s so unforgettable, especially for me. I never see a real condom right in front of my eyes before and there I am, I should teach people how to use it. What on earth happened that day! :-p I got a super quick learning in the venue, my male friends from other country taught me. So I could show the students how to use a condom correctly. Before giving the preparation, we usually start the event with the dance-along session with AIESEC dance.

International interns with students from local university

We also contributed in mini workshop for a local primary school in a pagoda. It seems that the school is developed by the pagoda, so it’s hard for the kids to learn about sex education if it’s not from a nonprofit organization. We gave some basic information such as the difference of male and female, the reproduction, STDs, and of course some basic knowledge about the puberty. They’re all around 9-12 years old, so it’s important for their preparation the years ahead. Since kids love visual things, we usually start the session with game/pictures/or even dance together.

From left to right : Vietnamese student – Ly Pham (Vietnamese student who also the translator) – Loic Rer (intern from France)

I need to tell you about the place where I stay. I live with a local family, they’re so humble, kind, and so lovable. I live with the parents, the two kids, and their aunt. It’s so fun to live with them. I think they are the best family in Vietnam. They take me to culinary spots which sell Vietnam’s authentic food, and always take me to dinner and lunch together. I remember how funny it was how they eat porridge with chopstick (yep, Vietnamese mostly use chopstick when they eat). Not only about the food, they also care about me even when I got sick, it was gastroenteritis. They always took care of me and bring me to the international hospital so I could get a proper medication. I do really thank God, even until now, because they all are so kind. I wished I could go back to Ho Chi Minh one day and visit them.

Living in a foreign country is always inseparable with culture shock story. I rarely take public transportation in my country, but when I moved to there, I should learn how to take the public transportation and all of the out-of-my-comfort-zone things. I was a bit scary at first, but I learn how to defeat my fear and being independent. I can’t always count on and hoping everything will always go well like I have in my country. I learn that as a independent person, we should be able to adapt quickly with the new surroundings. I learn how to read a map, how to guess the right way to come to the venue, and how to go back home no matter what time I finish my activity.

At the conclusion, after spending time in Ho Chi Minh for the project, I think I get so many valuable things. I learn so many things like how to communicate and work with cross-cultural people. It’s exciting yet challenging, how we find difficulties in communication because of the different culture and language gap. We (the international interns and young people from Vietnam) still keep in contact to each other

I also learn about the sex education itself, since I come from a conservative country which also has lack of sex education, it makes me learn more about sex education in every workshops and meetings we held. The other thing is I learn how to raise leadership for myself. I learned how to survive and face the culture shock.

Getting a chance to come to Ho Chi Minh and doing valuable project has always been an amazing experience I’ve ever had. Living with local family, meeting new international friends, doing valuable things for local people are moments I would never regret. Thank you Ho Chi Minh for the stories you gave, and thanks AIESEC.

From left to right : Aggie (UK/Hongkong) – Bilaal (Mauritius) – Bryan (Malaysia) – Melanie (France) – Andrea (Netherlands) – Nicki (Germany) – Loic (France) – Me – Xiang (Malaysia). All of us were learning Vietnamese language in a coffee shop.
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