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Group Tours Vietnam During J-Term

By Brian Hogenson
FEB. 19, 2007--For the first time ever, a group of students from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls toured Vietnam to learn about the country that was the site of a war that impacted many of their parents while they were in college. Compared with college-aged students some 35 years ago, the trip to Vietnam was their choice--no draft, no protests in the streets, and no discussion of the conflict that divided the Pacific Rim country and the nation back home.

For Claire Kilian, a professor of management at UWRF who led the study tour, one of the goals of the trip was to get students to think of something other than war when they hear or see Vietnam.

"Vietnam has a 4,000-year-old history," Kilian said. "The Vietnam War was a very short part of that history."

The trip began as an idea from Carolyn Brady, advisor to the UWRF Asian American Student Association. According to Kilian, one of the reasons Brady thought it would be a good idea to develop a course about Vietnam because of large Southeast Asian and Hmong populations in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin. The trip would give Southeast Asian students the opportunity to visit a country that is a part of their roots.

Chee Moua, one of two students of Hmong descent who made the trip, was glad that she made the trip despite concerns stemming from her family and the political history in the region.

"A lot (Asian students) were very scared of the whole Vietnam thing. With their parents having fought in it, they were uncomfortable in going," Moua said. "I'm grateful that we went. I had the same fear but I did go and it's completely different, nothing like that."

The students and faculty who participated in the trip experienced a variety of settings and cultures within the country. They visited Saigon and Hanoi were visited, and toured remnants of the Vietnam War era such as the Cu Chi Tunnels, Sen. John McCain's cell when he was a prisoner of war, and Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.  

Commercial sites like the Bac Ha market and Mekong River were also part of the itinerary.

Vietnam is currently in a state of economic renovation, or Doi Moi, says Kilian. While Vietnam is still a communist country, its economic landscape is changing as it recently joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

"The changes in the country are amazing; they've really opened up to a free market," Kilian said, noting that the United States only lifted its embargo with Vietnam in 1994.

Kilian said Vietnam's goal is to be a developed country by 2020. "They have problems with pollution like other developing countries, " Kilian said, adding that Vietnam is growing in its industrialization.

The students observed many cultural influences in Vietnam, from the influence of the French while the country was French Indochina, to the influence of the neighbor to the north, China.

Moua think that more students will be interested in future Vietnam trip after hearing about what people experienced on the inaugural trip.

"It's not what the students thought it was," Moua said. "I think by sharing our experiences it will be easier to get more students to go."

Based on her experience, the people of Vietnam and the opportunity for reflection were an integral part of the trip for Kilian.

"Vietnam has some of the friendliest, most welcoming people," Kilian said. "It's a great trip for Americans because it makes you think about yourself and your culture because it is so different."

Photo, above: The UWRF group visits a Hmong village home. Resident Mr. Ha played the Hmong flute, danced for the group and shared his homemade corn whiskey. From left to right: Brennan Quinn, Megan Anderson, Stacy Stevenson, Adam Koski, Mr. Ha, Jaymie Stocks, Dustin Koski, Claire Kilian, Chee Moua, Jennifer Abraham, Ben Simonsen, Mr. Ha's mother, Mike Reich, Mrs. Ha, Tou Vang.


Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:08:00 Central Daylight Time


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