Vietnam trip offers insight

After spending 44 days touring Southeast Asia last summer, Professor Michelle Navarro was so impressed that she is already planning her next trip abroad.

The performing arts and history professor, along with 11 other Richland faculty members, traveled to the region on a Fulbright-Hays scholarship. Navarro held a presentation about their travels in Sabine Hall on Oct. 15.

Navarro said the presentation was inspired by the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Women making the traditional conical hats by hand in a small village near Hanoi.

Women making the traditional conical hats by hand in a small village near Hanoi.

“I went to learn for 30 days in Vietnam. I ate wonderful food in Singapore, and I learned about love in all the different forms in Bali [Indonesia],” she said.

Navarro said the research trip through Vietnam was designed to help the group better connect with students of Vietnamese descent at Richland. She discussed the typical feelings a tourist might endure including culture shock, homesickness, adapting to foreign foods and language barriers. The group traveled from the Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh City and visited Da Nang, Hue and Hanoi.

One of the activities in the capital of Hanoi included visiting the Hoa Lo prison, also known as “The Hanoi Hilton,” where American GIs, including the late Sen. John McCain, were held captive. In spite of the war that took place nearly a half century ago, Navarro said, the Vietnamese were not resentful toward Americans. She described the culture as warm, forgiving and even curious. While in Ho Chi Minh City, she developed a case of bronchitis from the pollution and traffic.

“Eventually you just learn to tune it out,” Navarro said. “It’s not a question of if you get sick, it’s when.”

Navarro said she packed a pharmacy in anticipation of possible illness. She also learned about haggling as a part of the local culture. She even shared a controversial story about the government shutting down Google and Facebook to guard against users posting online comments against the government.

When it came to Vietnamese food, Navarro described the coffee as “phenomenal.”

“It’s incredible. It’s very strong, but I loved it because there’s so many ways to make it,” she said. “There is one [dish] where they put an egg cream in it, and that one was different. I liked it.”

Navarro visited Singapore for another 10 days to do further research. She met up with her boyfriend and his son who were in China visiting family.

“This is the fourth time I have done extensive travel,” she said.