It has been a very exciting, and reflective, time here, stateside. Naturally, social media is alive with photos that my colleagues have uploaded to their Facebook profiles, and we have been asked to complete a post-tour reflection/survey. People unrelated to the tour—unrelated to MSU, in many cases—have many questions. I think that, much like our typical greetings (i.e., “How are you?”), few people really want a response when they ask, “How was your trip?” so I suspect we’re both happy that my response to their “how was your trip?” is mostly “It was hot, but amazing. Great food, beautiful country, wonderful people, very interesting culture. And I learned a TON.”
But usually, we move on after that. It is likely just as well, since less than a week home, I’m not sure what my lifelong takeaways will be. Obviously, the technical visits were very interesting, and very informative, and I continue to be amazed to think about the pressures and opportunities that the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) places on individual schools at all levels. I sense both a percieved paralysis on the part of individual schools and their teachers, but I also sense a creative resistance, innovative ways to cope and explore despite stringent expectations and regulations. In that sense, it is a system that appears to be very much one way, a single way, even. But it is also hugely multi-faceted and decentralized in another way, in the ways that individual campuses create for themselves solutions to problems that have ben both posed to them by MoET, and identified by themselves as points of concern.
But here’s the thing: at this stage in my reflection, I am noticing that the technical visits engaged me on an intellectual level but that as I slide back into my life, it was the more visceral experiences that really stick out for me, and hint at ways in which these new experiences have imprinted on me, as a person.
For example, I can say that the heat of Vietnam has, at least temporarily, changed my attitude toward warm weather: It was sunny and 92 degrees Fahrenheit in MI, and I never once even really felt hot, even as my friends and family were positively wilting.
I have noticed how reverting to my more typical American diet has made me feel: much less fish, much more dairy, for example. Fish can be pricey here, and certainly seafood (even shrimp) is beyond my budget, but I will say that I miss eating more fish and such, and less bread…I also miss having those delicious meals prepared for me.
These may seem like really boring, basic observations, sadly low on hierarchy of needs (food and climate control, apparently). But the truth is they are the most “real” right now, not only for me, but with the people in my life who at least care enough to ask “how was your trip?” When they joke that “It seems like all you did was sightsee and eat!” I remind them that “No one wants to hear about the many hours a day I spent in a conference room!” And no one will notice that my thinking about education reform is different: but they did notice more visceral changes: that I got sun, that I’m not complaining about the sun, that I’m drinking less Diet Coke and more water than I did (for now, Justina. For now).
This soon after the tour, there are ways in which I am different, and they go beyond what I know.