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Study Abroad in Vietnam: Lessons in war, tragedy and resilience

Jul 12, 2017

This summer as part of Dr. Michael Butler’s course “The American War: The Struggle for Independence in Vietnam,” Flagler College students visited the places and listened to the voices in Vietnam that they read about in course texts — those that shaped the narrative of the Vietnam War through the eyes of the Vietnamese.

During an 11-day tour, students traveled to a variety of sites such as the Hoi La Prison, the War Armaments Museum, the Cu Chi tunnels, Hue (the former Vietnamese capital), My Lai (the site of an infamous massacre) and the former American Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Butler customized the trip itinerary to give Flagler students the opportunity to learn about the Vietnam War within an international context, including from the Vietnamese perspective, which places “The American War” into a series of centuries-long struggles against imperialist occupiers. The course ran from early May through the end of June.

Students study abroad in Vietnam.

“The study abroad trip to Vietnam was a genuinely life-altering experience. I've studied abroad before and visited countries throughout Europe, but have never experienced anything like what I saw in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam is a divisive issue in the United States, just as it is in Vietnam; however, in either country, it is told from contrasting perspectives. The American War, as it is called by the Vietnamese, seems to be an entirely different war than what we learn about in the United States. Learning to see an issue such as the Vietnam conflict from the perspective of the Vietnamese people provides valuable insight into the minds of those who are different than me.” — Ally Pickren


Vietnam communist building

“For me, our trip to Vietnam was more than just about the war. Going into it, I wanted to experience their culture and compare it to ours. I am a Political Science major, so the political culture in Vietnam was and still is fascinating to me. Being that the country is under the control of a communist party, the entire political system and atmosphere is totally different there. Separate from this part of their culture (but no less important) is the typical way of life in the more rural areas of the country, and there are many. Because we were able to visit rice patties and the Mekong Delta, I received the opportunity to see a totally new kind of agriculture and business than what is common in the United States.” 
— Noah Camp

Sculpture at the sight of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam

“Being at the sight of the My Lai massacre was without a doubt the most humbling experience of my life so far. We had the opportunity to meet with a My Lai survivor by the name Pham Cong, who we referred to as Mr. Cong.  It was truly an honor to be in this man’s presence. There were only 36 survivors of My Lai and only eight are still alive today. Being able to interview a My Lai survivor is an opportunity that people with Ph.D.’s in our fields probably haven’t had the opportunity to take part in. Mr. Cong only meets with two school groups a year and he usually only meets with diplomats, journalists and veterans.” — Claire Mortensen


Vietnamese children wading through water

“I loved getting to experience the culture and understand the war from the Vietnamese perspective. Experiencing their culture gave me a better understanding of who they are as a people and the impact they had on our culture as well.” — Rianna Weil

A picture from a boat in Vietnam.

“It is cliché for one to say 'I fell in love with the country,' but I fell in love with the country’s story for it is a story of strength, intelligence and persistence. The fact that people had the ability to endure what occurred during both French and American occupations is a testament to their devotion for achieving independence.” — Claire Mortensen

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