Part of the requirements for graduating with my bachelor’s degree includes two years of a foreign language. Portland State University doesn’t offer American Sign Language as a foreign language (don’t even get me started on this one), but after doing some checking, I found that I could test out of the requirement rather than take two years of another language. I contacted the local community college, set up an appointment and went in last night for the testing. It went smoothly and I understood everything; he said “wow good skills” before asking if I recognized him. Come to find out it was Mark Azure; a well-known face in the sign language curriculum that is used throughout the States. Geez louise. So glad I didn’t know it was him when I came in or the communication would have been a lot more nerve-wracking. The testing in done, so now I have to get the form that he can sign off on my ASL proficiency. Then today I head off to class to satisfy another requirement for graduation. It looks like I might actually pull this whole ‘bachelor’s degree’ thing off.
It isn’t very often that, as a white American, we get to feel out of our element, but when we make our way to Viet Nam, we will be completely out of our element. I’m sure it will be interesting for me, but assuredly difficult for my kids. So I’ve been contemplating ways to help them not be so overwhelmed at being the different one. I thought that one way would be to have them associate more with those who are in similar boats as we will be in. I decided that we will host two cultural exchange students, one at a time, for nine days each. Enough time to get to know them, not long enough to annoy me. The first student will be a freshman girl from a Japanese medical school. The second will be a younger middle-school boy from China. I’m hoping that the kids get along with them okay, but I also know that it will be slightly awkward for everyone. The kids (and I) will have to be patient and understand of the cultural and language differences. I think it will be a good experience for the kids and will hopefully lead to a more open response to people abroad and an understanding of how silly we will seem struggling through the most basic communication. It will prove to be hard, I’m sure, but I’m hopeful that having these exchange students will be a positive learning experience for everyone involved, including the visiting students.
A month or so ago, the organization that is handling the logistics of our volunteer trip got me in contact with another single mom who was contemplating spending some time in Viet Nam orphanages, as well. She lives in New Zealand and has a daughter a few years younger than mine. So, we’ve been chatting and she decided that she is going to go and will be heading there at the same time. -doing a happy dance- There are tentative plans to meet up in Ha Noi on 29 December and take the overnight train to Da Nang together. We don’t know, and won’t until December, whether we will be at the same orphanage/school, but just having another person there that we know (even if it is over the Internet until then) should prove comforting.
There are only two weeks left in the Spring term, that much closer to finally graduating. I was hoping to take what my university calls a Capstone course this summer that has participants volunteering in the Hmong community, but since I have to take another class on Marxist theory in English Lit criticism (doesn’t that sound thrilling, boys and girls?) and work almost full time, there is no way to fit it in and ever spend time with my kids (which will, in turn, make them angry and no fun to be around when I do find the time). So, I’ll take the theory class, possibly one American Sign Language course, too, then there will only be two more classes that I must take in the Fall. It’s so close I can almost see the diploma.
I pushed the “book flights now” button and lived to tell about it, despite my worries of a panic-induced heart attack. We fly out December 26th on a 24 hour trip to Hanoi via Seattle (WA, USA) and Taipei (Taiwan). The kids’ excitement at having both passports and tickets took (most of) the fright out of it for me.
I’ve been emailing with the volunteer coordinator in Da Nang; his name is Viet and he took a couple of the photos on our main page. He said that we could request a location and I’m quite interested in Hoi An. There is an orphanage and community center that volunteers work at and I think I would enjoy both. The orphanage is for older children (11-20 years old), many of whom are not actually orphaned, but rather that their families are too poor to feed and school them. My second choice would be the House of Affection in Hue which is the home to orphans and street children, 4-16 years old. The orphanage also runs a school for children in the area, so it might be better for my kids (the kids will be the same age).
Preparations are beginning for our garage sale next month and I am amazed at how much stuff I actually own. I’m glad I’ll be weeding out so many of our belongings; who needs all these serving bowls, placemats, candle holders, picture frames, sheets, sewing patterns, etc.? I keep shaking my head in disbelief at the sheer volume, knowing full well that we don’t own nearly as much as “the average American family.”
When I opened the mailbox and saw the return address of U.S. Government Official Mail my heart did a momentary, panicked stop. What now?! Then I opened, saw my tattered birth certificate and realized that my key to leaving this place was inside. Oh yes, it was my passport! I’m unnecessarily excited, but after all the hassle to get the filing done, it’s nice to see that it was all worth it; I have a passport for the first time in my life.
The kids were hoping theirs were hiding within the mailbox, too, but since we filed a day later for them, I’m expecting that theirs will be at least one day behind. Perhaps a bit more, though, given all the divorce papers that had to be sent along with each application.
On the learning front, I found a super deal on Colloquial Vietnamese through Amazon (and a local seller, to boot). $13.99 for the cassettes and the book; the book alone cost $45 at my college. So now I have two copies of the book (I’d thought I was buying the cassettes only), but hopefully can send one over to K for him to use. A friend of mine bought us another “learning Vietnamese” book that came with a CD. Man, hearing it sure does make a difference in pronunciation. Of course, we’re probably not even understandable at this point, but we’re trying.
We have received a few donations now (latest from an internet friend-$75); sure does make me feel better about the whole idea, especially since family support is none too strong. I also managed to score another big sewing job, so that certainly helps. Of course, it leaves me with little time to finish homework, which I’m having a hard enough time wanting to finish anyway.
I find myself wavering between frustrated and hopeful. If just one thing in my life was going smoothly, it sure would help, but life is overall chaotic right now. It’s bound to get better though, right?
Buying the plane tickets, or rather deciding about buying the tickets, has got to be the most stress-inducing part. So far, at least. Purchasing tickets for any flight has always caused me serious anxiety; life tends to throw hurdles when I least expect it and, although it has never happened, I always buy tickets expecting that something will happen to cause my trip to get canceled. The worst that has happened is that I’ve flown out with little money in my pocket (like when I flew to Boston with $6 to my name or NYC with less than $100). That absolutely cannot happen this time.
I don’t want to buy the tickets and have something go terribly wrong and not be able to come up with enough money (because it is a ton of money I have to come up with).
But then again, I don’t want to put off the tickets too far or the prices will go up drastically and I won’t be able to afford it. All price differences get multiplied by three, which adds up way quick.
But I don’t want to buy the tickets that fly into the city on the opposite end of VietNam from where K lives; it’s not critical but I sure would like to have him meet us at the airport to make our arrival slightly smoother and because, quite frankly, I miss him and want to see him again.
But K likely won’t know until July where he will be living: in Hanoi or HCMC? in VietNam? Does it even matter (to him) that we meet him? Do I put the tickets off until July in hopes that it will? should I risk losing the affordable price fares?
I just don’t know what to do, so I keep putting it off. I find tickets that I can afford, then find a reason or five to not buy them. It’s the big step that will make this whole adventure a reality and that both thrills and terrifies me. The kids are determined that it will happen, so that should reassure me, but I can’t yet get over the fear of actually buying the tickets.
Ah, if I could only put this much mental focus on my studies….