An eye-opening outside-the-class academic experience
Last Sunday, I had the most extraordinary academic experience in my life. It was 7 in the evening, and I still had a decent 7 chapters of Hemingway and 1 chapter of micro econ reading due the next morning (one week in college and I already started procrastinating). My phone kept buzzing for my attention for the next event that I had promised a professor to go to: the premiere of The Vietnam War movie. Should I go to the premiere or should I just ditch it? "I have a lot of homework," I told myself. "But I promised professor Miller that I'd go and he was super excited to have a Vietnamese student at the premiere," I felt guilty. In the end, a typical procrastinator like me chose the premiere over homework, pretending that I'd be able to figure things out afterwards. I dressed up and went to the Onion. Most of the students there that night were upperclassmen taking professor Miller's Vietnam history class, so I knew none of them and felt a little bit lost, but that feeling lasted for only 5 minutes. I grabbed some pizza and sat next to a random girl who wasn't talking to anyone. Very naturally, we started talking (it's really, really easy to talk to people and make friends at Dartmouth!). She was a history major senior from California, and she took professor Miller's class during her sophomore year and totally loved it. We talked about Vietnam, about its history and our different experiences about studying from two sides of the story, about the signature pho and Vietnamese coffee. The fifteen minute conversation made me feel like I was going back home: I don't know how to explain that feeling, but when you're half a globe away from home and you meet someone who has great interest in your country, you feel warm inside. And the movie started. And two minutes into the movie, I started crying. The intro hadn't even finished, but I already had tears all over my face when I saw the photos and footages of Vietnam's rice paddies, of our old farmers with their brown ragged clothes, of the old streets in Hanoi devastated by bombs. And I cried even harder when they showed the interviews with Vietnamese veterans in Vietnamese or their clumsy English (we call it Vietnamese English back home). They all brought me back to my childhood summer at my grandparents', when it was burning hot and humid outside, and I could tell the rain coming from the fresh, earthy smell but still I insisted on following grandpa to the field, and I was playing with the wildflowers and grandpa was collecting chili peppers when it started raining so hard, and grandpa took off his sweaty shirt to cover my head and together we ran back home, and grandma was waiting at the patio with nice towels and juicy watermelon ready for us. The movie took me back to those dearest, simple day. Never in my life had I felt that much love for my Vietnam. But that wasn't the only thing I got from that night. The Vietnam War showed perspectives and experiences of people from both sides of the war that I hadn't had a chance to know about while studying history in Vietnam. We had a special guest that night, U.S Army Veteran and professor Mike Heaney, who featured prominently in the series. He was in Vietnam for five months during the war, and he shared how he felt when all of his men died and how Vietnamese veterans tried their best to help him return to that spot years later. That was the first time I felt clearly the brutality of the war, and that there was no true victory in the war: both sides would be forever scarred with the blood of the men they lost and the men they killed. After the movie, I came to introduce myself and expressed my gratitude for the movie with Professor Heaney. I told him about my grandfather fighting in the war, and how the movie was so dear and eye-opening to me, and how I felt studying about the war in America. He offered me a hug, and I cried again. I knew that my grandparents would feel proud of me when they knew that I was hugging a U.S Army Veteran. The Vietnam War premiere was so meaningful to me that I didn't regret staying up until 2 to finish my homework that night a bit. On the way back to my dorm, I posted a photo of Baker Berry on Instagram with a caption, "It was extraordinary how I could feel so much and learn so much from just a movie. It reminds me how fortunate I am to be here. Thanks a lot D <3"