My month in Vietnam with ProjectsAbroad was honestly one of the most enlightening and rewarding experiences of my life so far. I volunteered on the Care Project at Vietnam's K3 National Cancer Hospital, where I worked in the playroom on the children's ward. My role mainly consisted of keeping the children entertained during the hours of free time that they had between treatment. Most of the kids mainly enjoyed playing jigsaws and drawing with me, but there was also plenty of physical activities to participate in (toy cars, building blocks etc.) Obviously there was a slight language barrier here but luckily I had an amazing translator who did an excellent job of interpreting conversations between the children and I. I also took the opportunity to learn some rudimentary Vietnamese beforehand so that I could verbally communicate on some level with both children and adults alike - the Vietnamese people REALLY appreciated my efforts to speak their language, so I would absolutely recommend doing some learning beforehand!
The children in the hospital really enjoyed having me working in their playroom for 4 weeks. Initially, they were slightly suspicious of me and quite apprehensive to approach me - especially because of my blue eyes! - but soon enough we had formed relationships and had so much fun together as they took a break from hospital life and focused on enjoying and playing.
I stayed with a host family during my time in Hanoi - again, another amazing experience. The family I stayed with lived in a small village in the south of Hanoi which was pretty close to the hospital I worked in which made it easy for me to get to work every day. The mother of my host family actually worked for ProjectsAbroad as the cook in the volunteer house, which was great as it allowed me an opportunity to get to know and socialise with many more volunteers. I cannot begin to describe how amazing my host mum was - she was so hospitable and was always making sure that I was comfortable, safe, and enjoying myself in her house. And as you can imagine - she was an excellent cook! We spent so many nights watching football together (the World Cup was on at this point) and doing karaoke at the top of our lungs. I still keep in contact with her regularly and I am hoping to return to Hanoi in a year or so to visit her.
My host parents also had two young children aged 11 and 15 who I loved spending time with! Their English was really good and the little boy especially loved teaching me Vietnamese words and walking with me to the local shop for snacks. Staying with a host family made my experience all the more authentic and it was so cool to be completely immersed in another culture.
In terms of tourist attractions/food/nightlife, Hanoi genuinely has it all. Vietnam is enriched in fascinating history and there are so many interesting landmarks and museums to check out in the city. Make sure that you spend plenty of time in the Old Quarter! There are also so many wonderful locations not too far from Hanoi where you can spend your weekend - places like Ha Long Bay (an absolute must) Sa Pa, Ninh Binh etc. Make sure that you cram as much as you can into your free time - you will not regret it.
As well as the Vietnamese host family I lived with, I also made so many other friends during my time with ProjectsAbroad. It was such a great opportunity to connect with people from all over the world. I now have friends in several parts of Australia, Switzerland, France and across the UK - not to mention the staff at ProjectsAbroad that I networked with in Hanoi and many other Vietnamese friends I made during my project.
This project was rewarding in so many different ways. It is such an excellent opportunity to do something worthwhile in another part of the world, to make new friends and to immerse yourself in a different culture. Vietnam has such a special place in my heart and I cannot wait to return one day.