The air outside of the Hanoi airport felt like a sauna. As we moved farther from the airport air we had grown accustomed to in our 24 hours of travel, the wall of warm semi-damp air seemed to engulf us all. On our walk to the bus with our site team leader, Ngan, she informed us that it was a pretty cool night in Hanoi: I immediately knew this summer would mean a glistening face and frizzy curls. Despite the discomfort that 90 degree heat and 85% humidity at 11pm was a “pretty cool night”, I am excited for the entirely new space I just entered. My awareness of just how different navigating this city will be grew on our drive to the hotel (as part of our transition to the program, we will be spending a few days with our site team in Hanoi getting acquainted with the city and our internships). Though the bus clock said 11:45pm, the streets were full of people riding motor bikes, navigating markets full of flowers and fruits, and laughing together around many bia hơi. Dark street corners would suddenly illuminate with bright LED signs advertising products in Vietnamese. I would squint my airplane-dried eyes at these bright lights and try to sound out the signs (I am really hoping my six class sessions will be a strong foundation here!). Many shops in the narrow streets were shuttered for the night, making me eager to discover just how lively the city might be in the daylight.
In addition to my excitement for the new spaces I will be in this summer, I feel a sense of overwhelm. Perhaps this is because I have been traveling for many hours, but I think the recognition that this city is incredibly unique stands out as well. I cannot imagine feeling a sense of home in Hanoi within this short time. However, maybe that is okay! Maybe not everywhere needs to feel lik home. As my time with GESI, and in Vietnam, begins, I am eager to redefine the sense of home, of understanding just what it means to go with the flow, and to engage in deeply intentional and supportive community work. Though I do not know what these weeks hold, I am looking forward to redefining my experience every step of the way.