5 Lessons From Vietnam


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Vietnam, a place of growth.

Vietnam, a place of growth.

Leaving a place is the perfect time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned. Here are my top 5 from my Vietnam.

Smiling is a universal language.

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera expressed the human desire to be seen. When words fail, a smile says, "I see you." While I still don't speak Vietnamese, I have mastered smiling. 

Make friendship a priority at every age.

A lot of people complain that friendships wane after college. Life gets busy with marriage, kids, and jobs, each vying for attention. Though it seemed counterintuitive, when I moved to Vietnam, I invested my time in new friendships. When life eventually became tough, as it often does, I had local friends to lean on.

There is no such thing as a perfect city.

Dating people is essentially trying to understand another human. When we take the leap at love, we also learn more about ourselves. The same goes for a city. In Hanoi, I learned that I thrive when working with people in the community. Or that I am all about the small-town vibe. Cities can teach us what we don’t like, too. I require fresh air and trees or I will wither! I also must live somewhere where I can be civically engaged. Things Hanoi doesn’t quite offer. Just like people, there is no such thing as a perfect city. Just figure out what you love about the place you call home and you’ll be happy.

Give time before money. 

While many people write checks to nonprofit organizations, few offer a more precious gift: time. Before I moved to Vietnam, I was the center of the universe. My body, my career, and friends all needed tending. In Vietnam, the center shifted. My career lost its appeal, and I craved human connection. I began volunteering with Vinh, a young, bed-bound woman. She quickly became a little sister to me. Through her, I was able to access to Vietnamese culture. Life became robust. Twice a week, we communed. Mostly, we talked or ate together. While that doesn’t seem remarkable, remember what I said about Kundera? 

Find the heart of the matter in your life.

I’ve lamented the need for downsizing before, but Vietnam schooled me on the concept. Marie Kondo has her spark joy, but I needed something less conceptual. Here’s my method for crafting a meaning-filled world.

A purchase of something nonessential only happens if I respond positively to at least two of these questions:

  1. Did I see it being made?

  2. Is it made by an artist?

  3. Does the object mean something to me?

Becoming in-tune with a place allows for greater growth, but to do so requires slowing down and making time for reflection. Even if you’ve lived in a place your entire life, or never plan to leave, each of these lessons can benefit you. Which lesson will you put into practice today? — M W

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