Last year at this time, Kendall Van Sistine ’16 (Oshkosh, Wis.) was probably driving around Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on a motorbike. She especially enjoyed doing so in the late afternoons, when “the heat finally subsided a bit but the sun would shine through the trees and skyscrapers.”

An International Studies major with a concentration in Community and Global Health, Van Sistine wanted a study away program that focused on public health. Although the program she chose—CET Academic Programs: Public Health and Service-Learning in Ho Chi Minh City—was not on Macalester’s list of preapproved programs, her special request was accepted.

At first she felt “completely overwhelmed” by the change in environment—the difficult language, the extreme heat, even the lack of crosswalks, says Van Sistine. But soon enough she settled into a rhythm. She was placed in a guesthouse (“essentially a hotel with a mini-fridge”) with four other American students enrolled in the program, plus five Vietnamese university students. The local students drove the Americans around on their motorbikes and introduced them to local restaurants and tourist sites, says Van Sistine.

She spent nine hours a week taking intense Vietnamese language classes. During one class, her teacher took her to a market to test her speaking skills by making her barter for vegetables. Many of the vendors laughed at the American woman’s attempts at their language, but one asked Van Sistine if she was half-Vietnamese. “I think she was kidding, but it definitely gave me more confidence to speak the language,” she says.

The program also included two public health-related classes, as well as an internship for the service-learning component. Van Sistine was placed in a local elementary school to work as an English teacher. “At the beginning, the students didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Vietnamese,” says Van Sistine. “But by the end of four months we met in the middle and could communicate in a hybrid of the two languages.” A year later, she still misses watching her students improve, getting just as excited as they did every time they made progress with English.

Although Van Sistine chose the Vietnam program in part because of its public health focus, the school internship led her to realize that her real calling was in education. After graduation, she plans to move to Washington, D.C., to pursue a joint teaching fellowship and master’s degree program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 21 2016

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