07.19.17: our roommates

Here is the section on roommates! And honestly it might be long, so bear with me.

So everyone who I’d talked to that went on this program before said that the roommates were one of the best parts of it all. And I guess I just nodded and thought “cool!”, but now that I’m here I’m realizing just how true that is.

I think DukeEngage Vietnam, because of the inclusion of Vietnamese roommates who are our age, offers real insight and connection to the host culture that most of the other programs just don’t. I think all the other programs offer either homestays or rooming with other Duke students on that program? And those for sure are amazing ways to connect and learn, and to clarify, I’m not putting any other program down.

But living with Vietnamese college students and doing literally everything with them (working, teaching, eating, reflections, chilling, sightseeing, etc. etc.) has proven to actually be such a rewarding aspect of the program.


From them I’ve learned more about a huge variety of things. Things ranging from the politics of Vietnam and the day-to-days of everyday life for everyday people. How the market works and how to bargain for prices. What food is good to eat (+how to eat it) and what isn’t. What normal weather in Vietnam is like. Traditional Vietnamese games and foods. More soccer rules. What travel is like and where we should go. The history and formation of Vietnam (my roommate is a Vietnamese Major at Hue University – where all our roommates attend school!). Vietnamese words and phrases and slang. Good/typical prices for things. The school system and their primary and secondary school experience. Their Vietnamese university experience. Activities to do in our free time. What’s normal and what isn’t here. Etc. Etc. Etc. x10,000.

You honestly don’t even have to be speaking to learn.


Also before this trip, I’d been making the huge mistake of grouping Vietnamese people as one group from one country. And honestly I think it’s a mistake a lot of people make. “Vietnam is not a very big country, how much difference could there really be?”. SO false. Do I expect the American South to be the same as the Midwest, or Northeast, or West Coast? Definitely not. In the same way, Central Vietnam is different from Southern Vietnam is different from Northern Vietnam. Rural is different from urban. Food is different, accents are different, lifestyle is different, etc. etc. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a country is small, or because its people look the same, it lacks in diversity. It’s a mistake I made and one I am thankful to have learned from.

Our roommates are from Central Vietnam and attend Hue University. ** quick aside: We are living in Quang Tri Town in Quang Tri Province, which is about 35-45 minutes from Hue.** They major in different things – Interpretation, Vietnamese Studies, English, etc. But they all have different hometowns – Da Nang, Hoi An, etc.


It’s been such a joy talking with them and hanging out with them and working with them. Joking and laughing. Being annoyed and exchanging glances when instructions take a long time to explain. Inside jokes. Etc. HAHA. It blows my mind that there are universal similarities in the human experience that transcend culture and distance and language. Very heartwarming in every sense of the word.

I will try to give a brief description of our roommates + 2 staff who were roommates in the same program in the past!

** also don’t be naïve and definitely take these all with a grain of salt. This is just based on their interactions with me and what I’ve seen only thus far into the program. These people are human beings (and exceptional ones at that)! They are much more than their interactions with me during the short time I’ve met them



Phuong/Jane: Jane is Robyn’s roommate. They’re contenders for the closest roommate pair for sure. Jane is so so so chill. For example, she will eat any medicine that Robyn gives her to feel better without really being all that suspicious (okay it’s not like Robyn is poisoning her or giving her things she doesn’t need though; just things like Advil or Pepto Bismol). We joke a lot – every time I go into their room for snacks (they live right next to me) and … basically every time we see each other. She is a WORKHORSE at the worksite and every time I see her, she’s shoveling, or cleaning, or opening the cement bags (she opens them so well; such a clean cut!!!!!), etc. She always “protects” Robyn whenever Robyn says “protect me Jane!!!”. Heh. We have a running inside joke in pronouncing “church”, “chair”, and “trip”. Jane has gone with us on our weekend trips and helped organize a lot of things – from where to eat/go to booking the van to go back and forth. But yes she is so chill! She goes with the flow and never complains. She is also really obsessed with KitKats.

NyNy: NyNy is Thien’s roommate. She jokes around a lot – joke-whining (huhuhu), teasing, etc. It’s funny and keeps things interesting; it’s never boring when Ny’s around. I love it. And I joke back with her. But deep down she is genuine and kind. She was the treasurer (apparently? I had no idea they gave out positions, etc.) for our overnight beach trip in Hue and spent a lot of time planning out the budget and how the money was going to be spent. After the trip, looking back on how the money was spent, she was upset that she “wasted” money on different things, but it was fine it wasn’t a big deal (you can’t predict what people are going to want/not want, etc.). SO SWEET… She cares a lot and also works really hard at the worksite. She’s also strangely obsessed with candy and asks me for it every time she sees me HAHA. This past week she got a rash and went to the doctor and apparently she has a fungus growing on her skin. So she can’t sweat (aka can’t go to the worksite) for 20 days. Poor her. But even then, she doesn’t spend those 3 hours sleeping and doing nothing. She plans for the culture show, etc.

Nga: Nga is gentle and kind. I haven’t spent too much time with her, but I’m gonna try and get to know her better these next few weeks. She’s the one on the right in the picture of her and Jeremy. She’s Erin’s roommate (Erin is from University of Nebraska – Lincoln). She teases me and I tease her right back. It’s pretty funny. I’ve asked her a bunch of questions about how to say certain things and she always tries to help me with the pronunciation. She takes her time to explain to me all the questions about Vietnamese language that I have! + She is always helpful and will try her best to help you out whenever you need it (as will basically all the roommates!). Her favorite vegetable is bamboo shoot!!!! Tasty

Linh: Linh just gives me the vibe of “Team Mom” for some reason? Not sure why. HAHA it just seems like she takes initiative and has her life together. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent too much time with her either 😦 She’s on the left of Xiao Xiao in the below picture. She takes all my jokes in stride and is always interested in learning more – she’ll actively ask questions. And I also ask her so many questions about Vietnamese and how to say different words. Her and Xiao Xiao seem to be a close roommate pair (used to be a trio until Olivia went back home). Linh is considerate and put together. She wears what look like pajamas to lunch and dinner, but declares they are not. If not seen around with any of us, you can catch her vidchatting with her boyfriend (hehe).


Quynh: I haven’t interacted with Quynh all that much either, but I just recently found out that she’s learning Korean. She asked me several questions about it the other day. She’s Rainie’s roommate. Quynh is VERY nice. UNBELIEVABLY nice. She puts herself out there for you, and always does things without complaining. If you need something, she’ll do it for you. I’ve also been working with her on the worksite more often recently. She’s funny and jokes around and has a heart of gold.

Anh: When you first see Anh (Linda’s roommate), you might think she is quiet and nice. WRONG. Anh is a SAVAGE. Maybe it’s just with me HAHA. She’s very good at English and is honestly so awesome. She’s paid for me on more than one occasion when I didn’t have enough dong (I currently owe her 210,000 dong = ~ 8 USD BUT I will NOT make this a habit). She calls me bug. A LOT. “A bug is looking at me!” “There’s a bug behind me!” HAHA so I have dubbed her Ant. It also hasn’t caught on, but I’m going to try and make it catch on. She’s helped me with lesson planning, and translating, and has been a very good friend to just talk to and joke around with.

Hien: Hien is staff and was a roommate for the program in the past. She is friendly and talkative (not in an annoying way) and our director at the worksite. She tells us where to move our piles, when we need to move onto something else, how many people need to go where, how many of whatever we need, etc. She laughs and jokes with a lot of us, and is quite good at English. Hien also goes out to all the soccer/American football games that we have and is able to hold her own even when none of the other girls go out. We banged heads (literally) a while back and joke about that a lot. She is kind and caring and I don’t know what we would do on this program without her.


Dat: Dat is excellent at English and I think he and Matt are one contender for closest roommate pair from what I can see. He hangs out with us all the time, tries to help us understand the things that are happening around us and what people are saying around us, and spends the most time with us (in my opinion) and it’s honestly very comforting. For example, during our first free weekend, 6 of us went to Hue and went sightseeing/to the beach and Dat got his friends to drive us around on their motorbikes; and he let like 15 of us stay at his house for a weekend. What even? He is willing to go the extra mile and jokes around a lot. He cares, and I am very thankful for him.

Khang: Khang is Jeremy’s roommate and the youngest of 9 siblings and grew up on a farm. I can’t even imagine having a family that big. That’s more than double my own family. You already that he’s very practical. He wants to become a priest in the future. He’s helpful when you ask him for help and is also good at English. He works hard and honestly I feel like he knows a lot/what to do. Very no-nonsense and intelligent.

Nhan: Nhan is Kenrick’s roommate. He’s also the youngest of the roommates at 19-years-old. OK also wtf Kenrick skipped 2 grades and he’s still 18 and going to be a junior? Nhan is very good at English. Apparently it’s because he watches a lot of movies? Can’t confirm. But still contender for best English speaker. He is also more “hip” in terms of the words he uses? Or like he speaks like how Americans casually do? Not exactly, but moreso than the other roommates. I don’t really know how to explain it. He jokes around a lot, but when it’s time to get serious and real he does exactly that. He’s very helpful and has helped plan the upcoming trip to Da Nang. He’s given me the nickname “Bug” because I made a really small spring roll at a restaurant we’ve eaten at before. Small enough for a bug to eat. But it’s okay because I’ve given him the name Grasshopper but it hasn’t really stuck. I’m going to make it stick before this program ends.

Minh: My roommate! The language barrier for sure is difficult to overcome, moreso than most of the other students have to go through with their roommates, but it also lets me learn so much more and learn to communicate without words. It’s crazy to me how much of communication is more than just language. Also he has so much to say about Vietnam and it’s history and culture – he knows about it after all. Minh is the type of guy to do his own thing, but also but also be present when he’s needed. He’s very into soccer and always comes out to the games we play in our free time. There’s something about living with a person that is different from just knowing them. He always helps me with Vietnamese whenever I have a question and tries his best to explain what’s going on around me or what people are saying and I will always appreciate that. Because he’s a Vietnamese culture/history major, he knows more about and is able to tell me about the different events that go on around central Vietnam. He is able to talk to our class when I can’t and has translated more than 100+ vocabulary words by now. I don’t know how I would live and function without him. Also random, but he has somehow garnered the nickname “Legend” because the actions that he does are often unexpected and something that only a “Legend” would do. HAHA.

Tuan: Tuan isn’t a current roommate. He’s a staff who was a roommate in the past. He’s helpful and I would go to him without a doubt if I ever had a problem with anything. He’s funny and easy to talk to. He always goes out to the soccer and American football games that we have, and is always involved. He’s also been playing Vietnamese music for us at the worksite lately, and now I know some BANGING Vietnamese songs. His nickname is Carrot because apparently when he was a baby he would bite and eat carrots even when he had no teeth. I didn’t realize that was possible. But it is what it is. Very grateful to have gotten to know him and have him as a resource/shoulder during this program!

Of course, from time to time, roommate tensions can run high, especially because of the language barrier and cultural differences. During class, communicating with my roommate can be hard and frustrating. At the worksite, it can be frustrating going from one thing to another, or trying to help someone/ask them to do something. But these instances don’t mean I hate the roommates or I hate my experience. This misunderstanding isn’t intentional, and I know that. I’ve realized that the tone that you use in English when you’re talking to people really helps convey your feelings – sarcasm, frustration, passive-aggression, jest, etc. And this difference in tone seems to be difficult to discern if you aren’t completely fluent in English. But honestly, in my opinion, it’s through these problems that we learn to reconcile 2 cultures and learn more about what makes us different and similar. And the very few times there ever is tension, it’s never much and it’s never a big deal.


I am honestly very very thankful for these roommates and am certain we’re gonna talk after the program. I already know it’s gonna be one hell of a difficult goodbye when we leave on August 10. Here’s to another month of savoring every day and every interaction and learning from and traveling with each other!


Very very excited for this upcoming month.

** update ^^ the descriptions are my impressions for the first ~2-3 weeks? They have changed a little since then but I am really lazy right now.

check out more of our shenanigans in the photos below:



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