By Community Philanthropy Officer Jeffrey Vetsch
I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the last few weeks of February traveling in Vietnam as part of an educational study tour with the Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership program (MARL). Although most Americans still associate Vietnam with the war that ended 40 years ago, the country is changing fast. Over half of the 95 million Vietnamese are under 40, and were born after what the Vietnamese call their Civil War. The people we met were optimistic, forward looking and extraordinarily welcoming of Americans.
But Vietnam is still a land of extreme contrasts. In and around major cities like Saigon construction cranes fill the skyline, but, traditional ways of farming and fishing are still the norm in places like the Mekong Delta. It is a country at once beautiful and terribly polluted. A place where millions of motorbikes crowd the city streets, while nearby water buffalo plow rice paddies. Where communist propaganda and Starbucks somehow coexist!
Back home, a week after landing at MSP, I am still recovering from jet lag and seeing Vietnamese scenes in my sleep. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my trip is a renewed appreciation for the place I call home. Orderly traffic, garbage collection, a system of government that is mostly free from corruption. (Take my word for it. If there is one thing that will continue to hold Vietnam back it is graft.)
I’m happy to be home. To notice anew all the little things I appreciate about my community. To hear familiar sounds, like the geese flying overhead or the spring call of the chickadee welcoming me when I walk out the door in the morning. How good it feels to see familiar faces all around town! While I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to experience another culture, there is no doubt a comfort in the routine.
I’m sure it’s not necessary to travel half way around the world to value the little things that make our place in the world special. Many of you see these things every day. These are the things that keep you engaged and involved, the things that drive you to make your communities better still. But we can all use a reminder now and then to try and see our communities with a fresh set of eyes. Because there truly is no place like home!
To see photos and read more about the MARL trip to Vietnam click here.