The day I arrived in Vietnam, I started an emoji journal. It sounds like something a tween YouTube star would think up, but I thought that if I could try and summarize my feelings with a single word and corresponding emoji each day, I could reflect back and gage how positive or negative the Luce year had been. Turns out, it’s a lot of both and everything in between.
As one early journal entry, appropriately categorized as “dizzied,” put it, “the rollercoaster of culture shock is subtle and exhausting.” In my first few months in Ho Chi Minh City, some adjustments were expected, from navigating new foods to quite literally navigating the roads on and around motorbikes. Other dynamics took me by surprise. Time in a new city with few acquaintances meant learning to be alone; suddenly, gregarious and constantly programmed Andrew learned to embrace some introversion and solitude. In a single day I could hit many peaks and dips: one morning I reveled in the triumph of ordering my carrot and orange juice and banh mi completely in Vietnamese, only to spend the afternoon soaked from a downpour desperately trying to navigate my way home with my Grab driver. And yet an entry a few weeks later affirmed that “I managed to embrace the down time instead of let it overwhelm me.”
One motivation for the emoji journal was to counter my perception that things sometimes feel more negative than they really are. Glancing back at the preceding weeks’ emojis illustrated the reality that every day is different, but rarely consistently negative. Every confused, anxious, or lonely update has been counterbalanced by an accomplished, triumphant and even zen day. Often, my positive days were filled with time with my fellow Luce Scholars. Whether hiking in Chiang Mai to a mountain-top Buddhist temple before Mexican dinner on Christmas Day or narrowly avoiding decapitation on a canoe ride in the caves of Ninh Binh, strutting the Krabi runway with absurd t-shirts from across Asia or watching elaborately choreographed drag shows in Phnom Penh, my Luce loves remind me always how special this opportunity is.
What pleases me most, though, is that many of my great days started with my own small steps. Chatting up a cutie in a banh mi shop (my journal does note “My gaydar’s still got it!”) and driving my motorbike for the first time all made me beam. Hustling to propose new initiatives at work and seeing our amazing students in action at Fulbright University Vietnam affirm that investing my time is well worth it. Maybe most notably, each time I whiz around the city, life here now feels remarkably familiar. My day to day often mirrors life back home; I spend most of my time at work, try to make it to the gym most (read: some) nights and socialize on the weekends. I’d go so far as to say that often, my life can be just as quotidian as my weeks back in New York. But mixed in there are a few more motos stacked with gravity-defying deliveries, street-side vendors with bygone recordings blaring, and noodles, rice and coconuts to consume.
Turning towards the next few months then, I imagine there will be some more confused, dazed, and exhausted days. But along with them will come more content, “deliciously joyful,” and “tired, but wow” kind of days. Or as I like to say, here’s to some ☹, a little ¯\_(:/)_/¯, and a lot more ☺ !