Alumni Spotlight: Samantha Bergman

Samantha is a senior at Smith College, where she studies East Asian Studies and Anthropology. She has studied abroad in China, Vietnam, and South Korea. After graduating from college, she hopes to pursue a career in the international education field.

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose CET Vietnam because I wanted to completely immerse myself in Vietnamese culture, but still have a supportive network since I had never studied Vietnamese before.

I was also drawn to CET Vietnam's traveling seminars and local roommate components. Finally, the public health and development courses complemented my academic and personal interests.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The CET staff were very supportive throughout the program. They provided me with key information about health and safety, gave me tips on the best food stalls and cafes, and organized all of the housing. Also, whenever something was broken or I had trouble communicating in Vietnamese, the CET staff helped me to solve the problem.

Since the program does not include a food stipend or meals at a university dining hall, I had to make my own budget for food and other expenses.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

When you study abroad, you will inevitably encounter physical challenges. While I was in Vietnam, the main challenges I faced were the heat, insects, and food poisoning. I believe that the key to overcoming these challenges is being prepared with helpful items and maintaining a positive attitude.

I highly recommend that you pack or purchase light, long pants (not shorts!), insect repellent, Pepto Bismol + Immodium, Benadryl anti-itch gel + Benadryl anti-itch stick, a fan, a face towel (for wiping sweat), a heating pad or hot water bottle (for food poisoning cramps), and a cooling towel. These items made my experience much more comfortable. However, getting mosquito bites, feeling really hot, and getting food poisoning will happen to you no matter how careful or prepared you are.

The key thing to remember is that all of those issues are temporary and that all of the other amazing experiences you will have in Vietnam will make everything worth it. Plus, your room and classrooms will have air conditioning (a true luxury!) and if you feel really sick your roommate or the CET staff can help you go to the local clinic. Finally, if the Benadryl anti-itch cream doesn't work on your bug bites, try using toothpaste. It works like a charm!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

On an average day, I would wake up and go eat breakfast at my favorite banh cuon or banh mi stall. Then I would go to Vietnamese class. After eating lunch with the other program participants or my roommate, I would either have one of my elective classes (public health, development) or I would go teach English at the May 15 School for my internship. Then I would usually go to a nearby cafe to do homework and hang out with friends.

At night I would get dinner with my roommate and then we would hang out together in our room before going to bed. The great thing about this program is that there is a lot of time to explore and spend time with your roommate. I really enjoyed discovering fantastic food stalls and cool cafes, as well as attending events such as Mundo Lingo meetings and a world cultural festival.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear for this study abroad experience was the language barrier since I arrived in Vietnam without any Vietnamese language skills. There were definitely times that I felt frustrated due to my inability to communicate with local people. However, the language teachers at VLS are fantastic and I was able to start ordering food and exploring the city independently soon after I arrived.

If you have never studied Vietnamese, you can still have a great experience in Vietnam because the CET staff and VLS teachers are always there to support you and give you recommendations for cool things to try and interesting alleys to explore.

Since the language class sizes are so small, I was able to ask as many questions as I wanted. This enabled me to learn a lot of practical vocabulary that I could use on a daily basis, such as how to order my favorite foods and how to ask for directions.

What was your favorite part of your experience abroad?

Never take your roommate for granted! Having local roommates is one of the best aspects of doing a CET program. My roommate, Quỳnh, is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met, and was my best friend in Vietnam.

CET does a great job of pairing you up with a roommate who has similar interests. Quỳnh and I traveled all over Ho Chi Minh City to find the most delicious foods, sang Alicia Keys songs together, practiced speaking Chinese, and did numerous other fun activities together. She was incredibly patient when helping me with my Vietnamese and taking me to cool places on her motorbike.

All of the local roommates apply to participate in CET because they are committed to making international friends and learning about other cultures. Spending time with your roommate is truly an invaluable opportunity to practice Vietnamese, learn about Vietnamese culture, and have fun. But remember to think about your privilege and be respectful of both your roommate and Vietnamese culture. You are a guest in Vietnam and the best thing you can do is be open-minded, not entitled. Try your best and have fun!