Train to Vinh. Meeting our classmates for the first time. By Olivia Allan (Senior at USFSP)

Welcome to Vinh City!

July 14th, 2013 – the beginning of a week this blogger will never forget. Our evening began with a dinner that provided a rooftop view of Hanoi. Although the approaching thunderstorm made us quite nervous we managed to fill our bellies without getting rained on. This was to be my last time in Hanoi, for this trip at least, and the evening was quite bittersweet. Off to the train station we went, beginning the next stage of our adventure.

Taking an overnight train to Vinh City was a prerequisite to continuing our journey. Originally I was thrilled to gain the experience, as this was to be my first train ride (with the exception of “The Metro” in Hong Kong). The experience proved to be not as much fun as I had imagined – for this traveller at least. Six of us crammed into a claustrophobic sleeper cabin and off we went to begin our eight hour commute. The travellers on the bottom two bunks had an easy ride, but for Blake Hadley and myself, who took the third and smallest bunks, the trip proved to be a bit more interesting. Always being a bit claustrophobic, this commute was pushing me to face my fears . . . in the form of a ceiling.

Originally, all was good. About four hours through the journey, however, my fear got the best of me. My fellow students were kind enough to talk me out of my panic and we opened the cabin door to settle the nerves. Finally, Blake and I could breathe again. Everyone drifted back off to sleep, except for me, who wandered the silent train car for the next few hours.

Soon enough we were in Vinh City!  Our companions from Vinh University were patiently awaiting our arrival at 5:30am. We exited the train to an abundance of smiling faces and helping hands. The kindness of those strangers, who were soon to become friends, is unparallelled.

It was now about 6:00AM in Vinh City and off to breakfast the group of us went. We were treated to a wonderful breakfast at a ritzy hotel, and we gorged ourselves on good food. The only thing finer than the food was the company as we became better acquainted with our new friends. We laughed and broke into song, likely becoming the loudest group in the entire hotel. After an inspirational speech by Dean Frank Biafora we loaded back onto our prospective buses and traveled to our home for the next two weeks.

Arriving on campus at Vinh University was exhilarating. My roommate, Tu Mai Le, grabbed me by the hand and dragged me up to our new room. The accommodations here are spectacular and much better than I imagined. It looks like my water purifying straw can remain in my pack for another occasion.  Before even settling into my room I was asked what the rings attached to my pack were, and I unraveled my hula-hoop. A group of us danced around and hula-hooped for a while, we even got to meet some Vietnamese students who aren’t in our class. After many more giggles and grins it was time to take a nap.

Waking up at 3:30PM I was worried I had slept the day away, but in reality it was just beginning. A 4:00PM meeting was next on the agenda, and we were able to witness the signing of a cooperative agreement between Vinh University and the University of South Florida. The document guarantees that this partnership, which has already provided dozens of students with unique opportunities for self and social fulfillment, will continue into the future. More on this monumental agreement can be found on Vihn University’s website here: http://www.vinhuni.edu.vn/En/Display/9/0/564/index.htm.

All of the students shuffled back to the residence halls in order to change into our Sunday best. The opening ceremony was to begin at 6:00PM. None of us were really sure what was ahead of us as we loaded into taxi cabs. Arriving at one of the most beautiful restaurants in all of Vinh City we were ushered into our private banquet room. The lot of us were in for an amazing feast and we already knew it. Two traditionally dressed Vietnamese women were wandering around the room and soon enough they began to sing. I can not put into words how beautiful their melodies were, but it is certain that the performance by American students that followed failed to compare. Singing America the Beautiful and Sweet Home Alabama we hoped that we had brought a little bit of our culture to the ceremony. The Vietnamese students then gathered around and sung two songs for us. The first was Tiến Quân Ca, the anthem of Vietnam. The second song, Nối Vòng Tay Lớn, translates as The Great Circle of Vietnam and was equally as beautiful as the first. The evening was a huge success and something that will remain in my memory eternally.

As the ceremony came to a close we all said our goodbyes and travelled back to our homes. I was under the impression that the night had winded down, but I didn’t know what my friends, old and new, had in store for me. July 15th, our first day in Vinh City, just happened to be my 21st birthday. Soon after arriving back to the university all of the students came into my room carrying a cake and singing. This surprise birthday party would prove to be the best one I have had in many years and I am still, and will always be, moved by my friends generosity and kind hearts. I shed a few tears of happiness, which can be seen in most of the photos from the evening. They handed me a bouquet of colored daisies, one of my favorite flowers, and a card that was so perfectly suiting. The cake said Chúc mừng Sinh nhật which is Happy Birthday in Vietnamese. After an impromptu cake fight and a lot of laughs we all gathered around and listened to some of our more talented friends sing and play guitar.

Vinh City seems to be a magical place and I can not wait to delve deeper into the culture that exists here. In a day and a half one stage of our journey has ended, but a new one is just beginning. I could not be more excited.

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