This post was written by our co-president, Priyanka Kumar. Check out the original blog post here.
In 2015, I travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam for six weeks during the summer as part of an AIESEC volunteering internship.
This was the first time that I had ever travelled abroad on my own, so I was quite nervous at the start. At the end though, I was very glad to have pushed myself out of comfort zone. I met so many different people from all walks of life, from the locals who were also undergraduates like me to interns from different countries and even older relatives of my Vietnamese friends. Having lived in Singapore for some time, I had travelled quite a bit around South East Asia, but certain things continued to amaze me during my time in Vietnam.
Here are some of the highlights of my trip:
“Designated as a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay is a spectacular scatter of islands, dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes” (Lonely Planet). It certainly didn’t fail to meet our expectations!
There was a massive storm the previous week, but luckily me and the other AIESEC interns managed to book a tour during the last weekend of our internship once there were clear skies. We got on a cruise boat and set sail to Cat Ba Island, one of the biggest islands in Halong Bay. Along the way, we got off the boat to go kayaking, as well as trekking into the limestone caves and even swimming in the sea! Once at Cat Ba, we took a bicycle tour around the island, ate some of the delicious food there (Pho Ga – chicken noodle soup) and went on a mountain hike. It was an exhausting weekend but we had a fantastic time. Overall, it was definitely the highlight of my stay in Vietnam.
I was fortunate enough to also travel to Sapa one weekend. It was established as a French hill station in 1922 and had the most breath-taking scenery I’ve ever seen in any country. It was also much cooler than the 40 degree heat in Hanoi at the time, which I was very grateful for!
We spent the weekend travelling around the mountains and witnessing the beautiful nature of Sapa, from the waterfalls and paddy fields to the cute hill station towns. Most of all though, we were able to interact with the long Hmong tribe who live in hill stations around Vietnam, Laos and China. According to the local Vietnamese, this tribe is said to practice voodoo magic and would often lure foreigners into their villages to live there forever (!). I was obviously disturbed by this, especially as some of the tribal women were talking intently to my blonde and blue-eyed friend. O.O Thankfully nothing happened to her and she returned safely with us! I felt that the tribal women were generally more persuasive in making us buy their handmade bags and purses.
Hanoi and the AIESEC experience
I thought I’ll end by sharing a few thoughts on Hanoi and my AIESEC journey as a whole. There were times when I was seriously pushed to my limits during the AIESEC experience, but I’m so glad I persevered as the benefits greatly outweighed the negatives. Mostly, I was so grateful for being given a chance to experience the authentic Vietnam lifestyle. I got to try delicious homemade Vietnamese cooking at my host family’s house. My days mostly consisted of ‘Banh Mi’ for breakfast, ‘Pho’ noodle soup for lunch and sticky rice for dinner! I also really enjoyed interacting with the local Vietnamese student population, as well as travelling to various parts of Hanoi such as the Temple of Literature and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
AIESEC is a student-run organisation that gives university students the opportunity to develop leadership skills and cross-cultural exchange through programmes abroad. My programme was called the ‘Me&WE project’ and involved preparing and conducting weekly workshops on interpersonal skills to Vietnamese undergraduate students. Overall, I had so much fun over the course of six weeks and I would highly recommend AIESEC to anyone who wants to experience new cultures and make an impact abroad.
If you have questions on volunteering abroad through AIESEC, definitely feel free to ask! It was one of the best experiences I’ve had to date and I’ll always remember this summer with fond memories.