Sunday, March 29, 2009

Celebrate! Celebrate!

And you could even add “and dance to the music” because there’s definitely music playing in the background. This is a majorly big weekend in Hue and at Hue University. March 26 was the 34th anniversary of the “liberation” of Hue, that is, when the Americans evacuated in 1975. This weekend also marks the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Student Union at Hue University. The students are celebrating with an enthusiasm, fervor, and school spirit not commonly seen at the university level in the States. Sure, you see school spirit at a sporting event, but you don’t see all the students there, nor are they basically working to put on the event. This is like an elementary school fun fair, but all the booths have been put together by university students. Many students are wearing shirts that identify them by their major program; those in the advanced program in physics are wearing the orange t-shirts that we brought with us.Those in the regular (that is, not the advanced) program in physics are training to be physics teachers, and I absolutely loved their shirts. You may not be able to see it in this photo, but the atom on the front of the shirt has an apple as the nucleus—an apple for a teacher, even here in Vietnam. And there’s no mistaking the statement on the sleeve. There were some other interesting shirts as well. Did it hit you, as it hit me, that the slogans on the shirts are, for the most part, printed in English? I asked the husband about this, and he said that he got the impression in his meeting with the vice rector of the university that all students at Hue University are required to study English. In the advanced program in physics, much of the first year of study is English instruction, so that when the professors come from the US to teach the physics classes, the students have some degree of English proficiency. It is probably similar here to what we heard from one of the husband’s Norwegian cousins when we last visited there 19 years ago. Norway is a small player on the world stage, so people there can’t expect people in other countries to learn Norwegian. If Norway wants to deal with other countries, they need a common, global language, and English is the closest thing to that at least for now. No, English is not the most widespread language in terms of native speakers, but as a second language, it may get you the farthest.

Students have been quite inventive in the decoration of their booths Yes, that is a giant AK-47. I couldn’t find out exactly what student group had put it up, but the booth had something to do with the anniversary of the liberation of Hue.

The students were also very creative in the design arena, crafting a full-sized stage out of hundreds of desks linked together. When we first arrived, just as the celebration was starting at 9:00, we checked on the physics students first. Their booth featured a dart game in which you tried to predict the sum of the three squares that your darts hit. And here’s the husband trying to explain what a University of Virginia “Cavalier” is to one of his Vietnamese students after being asked about the crossed swords in the UVa logo. Walking around the celebration, we were something of a novelty. It’s probably safe to say that most students were not expecting to see an American family enjoying the celebration. We were the first patrons of the psychology majors’ coffee shop, where we enjoyed coffee with sweet milk and one of the citrus fruits I’ve enjoyed here but never seen in the States. We got a very large round of applause when we departed. We got invited into most of the booths we passed, with some students being more creative than others in ensuring our attendance. Two young ladies just sort of grabbed the husband at one point. I don’t know what this group is majoring in, but they were selling pieces of bamboo stuffed with sticky rice. They got a big laugh when they realized that we didn’t know that the bamboo had to be whacked against a tree to “open” it so that the rice could be picked out. We also bought some dragonflies being sold by one of the physics groups. They illustrate to concepts of center of mass and center of gravity by balancing, in this case on one of younger son’s toes. Finally, the husband played another dart game, winning me two packages of these
Prawn Crackers, which are 3 percent shrimp and actually very tasty. It turns out that older son had tried these before in the States, though I’ve certainly never seen them there.

It all made for a very interesting day. The excitement and school spirit of these students was unlike anything I’ve ever seen from an American college student. I’ve read that in the States, the bachelor’s degree is becoming what a high school diploma used to be in terms of the basic job entry requirement. Although there are still some students in the States who are the first in their family to attend or graduate from college, college is not nearly the big deal that it is here. I don’t know the percentage of college-aged people who are actually in college here, or in the States for that matter, but I imagine that it’s much higher at home than it is here. That may explain some of it, but it probably doesn’t explain all of it. I thought for a while about whether the students here might have a non-worldliness or innocence that the students at home have lost, but I don’t really know if that explains it. Of course, the fact that we get HBO, CNN, ESPN, Discovery, and the National Geographic channel on the TV we have in our hotel room in no way implies that the students get them or watch them. I just know that it was incredibly refreshing to see the students’ excitement.

At the same time, it felt very strange to be so much the center of attention. The husband said that he wondered if that’s what celebrities felt like, with everyone competing for their attention. Older son pointed out that that was why celebrities had entourages and bodyguards, to put up a wall between them and the people who wanted their attention. While it certainly felt funny to have students actually applaud us (literally, as in many hands clapping) when we thanked them and moved on (this happened at several places, not just the psychology coffee shop), it also made me happy that our presence could cause that. I know that sounds incredibly juvenile and hokey to say, but it’s true. It was just kind of nice that our presence had that effect.

1 comment:

Debi said...

Oh my, you all will treasure this trip forever. Couldn't help but smile all the way through this post.