Pre-departure day has arrived

Publish by : Tracy Vandermolen

It’s been 8 months since I first submitted my application for Leave for Change, and unbelievably, I finally leave for Vietnam tomorrow. Talk about building up the suspense!

Though I have traveled and backpacked overseas, this trip is different in so many ways – my first trip to Asia, first solo overseas, and first « professional » volunteering. Somehow the laid-back coffee eco-tourism volunteering that I experienced with the Heart of Gold Project in Los Santos, Costa Rica (population: 7,000) just doesn’t feel the same as this trip, where I will be working in a downtown office in Hanoi (population: 7.5 million), developing partner relationships, and submitting reports to a national non-profit and to VIU.


Plus, when Colton (my husband) and I went to Costa Rica almost 10 years ago, the words « intercultural competence » weren’t in my vocabulary. I am so grateful to my recent work experience that has given me this framework to really dig in and reflect on how I see the world, and why.

Intercultural competence is (basically) a person’s ability to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes that help them behave and interact in different cultural situations. It is always a journey, as no one can ever be truly interculturally competent – people, context, and cultures are always changing. My work with international students at VIU builds my intercultural competency every day, but there is always room to grow.

That’s the main reason why I applied to Leave for Change. After participating in workshops and reading the theory of intercultural competence development, I quickly realized that my « ultimate people person » skill set is much better suited to gain this knowledge by interacting with other cultures directly. The opportunity to be fully immersed in a completely different cultural work environment, and learn and grow my skills on the fly, was just too amazing to pass up. I was the first applicant to VIU’s Leave for Change program; I hope my experiences will encourage and inspire other staff to apply and try this different style of travel.

I’m not normally a reflective person, especially when it comes to writing. My personal journal might have 6 entries from all of 2018, and most are one- or two-liners that say something like, « there was the most amazing sunset tonight and it had all the colours!! ». But research shows that those who reflect, analyze, and process intercultural experiences gain more long-lasting skills and knowledge. There’s a great quote by John Dewey (1910), who wrote that « We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflection on experience. » My goal is challenge myself, in this blog, to to process my roles, actions, and responsibilities while I am in Vietnam. It has the added benefit of being available for those back home to read and follow along, and help promote the program, too.

Sounds like everything is positive – and it is, I am so excited to go. But, depending on the day, I feel like I have already ridden the Culture Shock Rollercoaster, and I haven’t even left yet! I want to use that lens of intercultural adaptation throughout the blog, to try and make sense and reassure myself that the journey is not meant to be easy. So, here I go… next post will be from Vietnam!

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