Saigon vs. Newcastle: What I learned studying 8000 miles from home

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Saigon vs. Newcastle: What I learned studying 8000 miles from home

2016-06-03T14:15:18+00:00June 3, 2016|
Thanh Nguyen '16.

New Lincoln Academy graduate Thanh Nguyen ’16.

by Thahn Nguyen ’16

I grew up in Vietnam’s largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), where the population is around 9 million. I lived in a small house with my parents and a younger brother and attended a high school of over 2000 students. Most of my time was either spent at school, which starts at 7:00 a.m and ends at 4:30 p.m, or doing homework. Now at Lincoln, I stay in a dorm room with 3 other roommates, each from a different country. I am also a dorm proctor, a soccer player, and a choir singer. Over these two years, it is obvious that my life in Maine has been vastly different from home, and I’d like to share a few of those differences:

  • There are more trees than people. The tranquility that comes with Newcastle’s rural setting is certainly a pleasant novelty. There are no car engines or drunken quarrels to disrupt your sleep. Although the scene can get monotonous at times, the closeness to nature more than makes up for it. It is also hard to turn down all the outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, or skiing.
  • Fall is beautiful, while winter is long and dreary. Vietnam is a tropical country and the weather is hot and humid year-round, especially in the South. Once, the temperature dropped to 60 degrees in my city and the news made every single media outlet and everyone was in panic. Here, the different seasons not only bring about different scenery, but also require different clothing.
  • I no longer suffer from nasal allergies. The air pollution in Ho Chi Minh City bothered my respiratory system a lot, and I had to carry tissues at all times. In Maine, the excellent air quality eliminates the need for that. I don’t sneeze or have a runny nose all the time anymore. It’s much easier to play soccer without having to stop and blow your nose every ten minutes.
  • Everything closes at 5. This may be a hyperbole, but all the shops, restaurants, and stores are on the same street and only a few are open past 5 pm. However, the lack of nightlife also means there is little distraction from schoolwork and other important things.
  • You say hi to strangers on the street. In a big city, people more detached and aloof.  Walking in downtown Damariscotta, I’ve been greeted and smiled at multiple times by friendly people whom I’ve never seen before.
  • You recognize most of the people around. In such a small town, people aren’t just faces in a crowd. There is a greater sense of individuality, and it’s easier to stand out.
  • Teachers aren’t put on a pedestal. Back home, teachers don’t socialize with students and their words are law. Here, students’ voices are heard: we can disagree and are allowed to argue. Oftentimes, debate is even encouraged in the classroom.
  • The whole community is involved in school activities. You’d be lucky to find one or two people attending a high school basketball game back in Vietnam, whereas students, parents, and community members attend all sorts of school activities here, whether it is a fundraiser for a project or a sport game. The biggest event of the year is probably Homecoming, when hundreds of people gathered to see the soccer games.
Thanh Nguyen '16. Photo by Missy Abbott.

Thanh Nguyen ’16 (front left) with other members of the LA boys’ varsity soccer team.

I’m very excited to head home this summer, and then back to the US for college in the fall. While studying more than 8000 miles away from home can sometimes be a huge challenge, it has allowed me to grow tremendously, both as a scholar and a person: I can now compose an extensive research paper as well as do my own laundry. If I hadn’t come here, I would not have accomplished nearly as much as I have, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that Lincoln and Newcastle have offered me.

Thanh Nguyen graduated from Lincoln Academy on June 2, 2016. After spending the summer at home in Ho Chi Minh City he will return to attend college at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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