For college students, summer break is the perfect time to kick back, relax, and rejuvenate our minds and bodies before jumping right back into the rigors of classwork and exams—that is, of course, if you’re not planning on taking up a summer class, an internship, or maybe even a job or two, which, let’s face it, is probably what most of us are guilty of doing here at UC Berkeley. We may be taking on more responsibilities, but we most definitely are not squandering our precious 3-month break. Sure, summer means more time to relax, but as ambitious golden bears, we’re always looking for the next challenge, the next opportunity for growth and experience.
My next opportunity for growth? A great summer adventure leading me straight into the heart of Southeast Asia. At the end of May, I had the amazing opportunity of traveling to Vietnam with 6 other members of Volunteers for Medical Outreach—a nonprofit student-run organization that sends passionate groups of Cal students across the Pacific to serve in mobile clinics, vaccination clinics, and public health demonstrations in rural areas of Vietnam, for communities without access to traditional hospitals or healthcare. After working hard all school-year long to raise money to fund 3 surgeries, 1 Hep. B vaccination clinic, 7 mobile clinics (which included covering various medicines and supplies), and supplies for 1 orphanage visit and 1 school lesson day, we were ecstatic to finally hop on our plane to Vietnam and get to work.
We visited cities all throughout Vietnam, stopping in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi Anh. In addition to taking vitals and passing out medicines at the mobile clinics, we were able to assist in the administration of vaccines and dental extractions, teach children about personal hygiene (washing hands and brushing teeth), and shadow Vietnamese doctors. We grew closer as a team, made new friends, and travelled in a country that seemed to be worlds away. We learned about Vietnamese culture, and delved excitedly into the nuances of Vietnamese society, trying to connect with the community members and trying to gain a deeper understanding of their lifestyles.
While we most definitely had time to explore the cities, enjoy great food, roam ancient temples, and climb to the highest peak of the famous Marble Mountain, the most memorable part of the trip was engaging with the local residents and learning all about their culture and traditions. The exchange was absolutely incredible, and it never fails to remind me of how privileged I am to be able to absorb all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions that course through a country to which I hadn’t yet visited. It reminded me of all the living there is to experience outside of my own bubble, and how lucky I am to live in the US, with all the amenities it has to offer.
The people of Vietnam were so incredibly welcoming, and I am indebted and endlessly grateful to them for teaching me more about the world and global healthcare. Though our group of VMo-ers came with the intentions of serving communities that may need our assistance, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that the communities we visited taught us far more than we ever could have taught them. They reminded me that I am but a small fish in a very large ocean, and I still have so much to learn about the world and how everything fits into place. I may not be spending my summer kicking back and relaxing, but if given the chance to do it over, I would most certainly choose to take this eye-opening, perspective-changing adventure over chilling out at home every time!
It’s not every day that you get to travel across the world and pursue your passions, so I’m beyond grateful and humbled to have shared that experience alongside my fellow bears.
Berkeley VMO really taught me to break out of my comfort zone and dive right into the best experiences life has to offer. I look forward to continuing to pursue my passions here at Cal, taking full advantage of all the amazing opportunities our university and local community have to offer. My next 3 years here are definitely looking promising, and you bet I’ll continue to seek new adventures along the way!