Tying Loose Ends

My practice experience… it was amazing.  It was difficult at times, and now I feel like I don’t remember all of it, but I would never trade it up for anything.  I was in a foreign country for the first time in my life.  I met really great people.  I explored the country.  I was able to see my family.  It was amazing.

But, I don’t know if my practice experience was what it should have been… actually, maybe it was… I don’t know.  Let me me think it through.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I am a GPP peer advisor, and it is just in the nature of my job to think about the practice experience a lot.  Then, I do the readings or write the reflections or have discussions for 196, all about my practice experience.  In every kind of outlet, my practice experience consumes my thoughts sometimes.

And, honestly, even though I have thought about it a lot, I don’t think I could comprehensively explain what it is / was in just a few sentences.

This is what I said before I went off to Viet Nam:

I will be working for the Center for the Environment and Community Assets Development, an environmental NGO that does community-based development in rural communities in Vietnam.  I will conducting research by going to the project site, identifying resources, and interacting with the local people.

Something along those lines.

Then, when I was in Viet Nam, I couldn’t really tell my family members or my friends what I was doing.  Honestly, I was doing less and less hands on work (interacting with local people) and doing more behind-the-scenes / desk / administrative work.  Because this was different from what I thought I would be doing, I started to question whether I messed up my practice experience.

While I was there, this is how I described what I was doing:

I work for the Center for the Environment and Community Assets Development, an environmental NGO that has a project site in Hoa Binh province.  I do a variety of tasks like make posters, write grant proposals, and meet with other local NGOs.

I honestly didn’t think I was doing much for CECAD, probably because I was taking things day-by-day.  I did not feel like doing anything meaningful for them, but I was learning a lot about Vietnam, Doi Moi, grassroots democracy, tourism, and policy advocacy because of the work that CECAD is engaged with.  I did a lot of reading, mainly their annual reports and previous grant proposals.  I participated in some project planning meetings, where I learned how grassroots democracy / community-assets development can be applied to the Muong population.  I learned about the market structure as it relates to organic produce and clean vegetables: Muong farmers are having trouble selling their produce because there the don’t have negotiating power with the sellers of their inputs or consumers are skeptical about safe vegetable quality (it’s a very complicated problem).  The point is, I learned a lot and I want to know more about the systems that make up Viet Nam.

So, coming back to the US, I was very sad because I felt that my work in Viet Nam was not done.  I did not interact with the local people as much as I wanted, and I was working some projects (that are actually being implemented now) that I had to leave because my time was done.

For the first few weeks being back, I still had the sentiment that I didn’t do my PE “correctly” because of a lot of reasons–reasons that I learned about as I was training for GPP peer advising.  But, I think the primary reason was because if you took me out of the CECAD office, I was mainly writing grant proposals, making posters, and doing administrative tasks–tasks that I could do pretty much at any NGO.  The difference was that my NGO deals specifically with impoverished people in rural areas.  I also thought that I came at a bad time because CECAD was the middle of projects and not many activities were being implemented in Hoa Binh at that moment.

Then, I thought about it again.

Well, a PE doesn’t absolutely have to deal with poverty (and people that live underneath the poverty line).  Poverty problems permeate through many sectors: economics, education, health, fair trade, policy, etc.  But, I think I learned a lot about the poverty and inequalities that are present in Vietnam.

The practice experience is very hard to be defined, and there is no “right” way to a practice experience.  That’s why GPP students are asked to see a GPP advisor for “approval” and there are several steps (forms) you would have to fill out to lock one down.

Let me try to relate back to my PE.  By the nature of an NGO, they are always looking for ways of funding, so grant proposals are very important for the survival of the NGO.  There are always critiques about how effective NGOs are because they, in general, simply don’t have the resources that would make them capable of tackling problems on a large scale.

[This reminds me of a Ted Talk!! – Do what you will with this.]

This is one of the things that I learned on my PE, and it is something that comes along with doing development work and working in an NGO.  I learned a lot about the poverty, inequality, and policy.  I got to see how the laws of demand and supply, which I have learned in my economics classes, are manifested in the real world.  I got to experience the culture.

No, I didn’t interact with poor people everyday, but I did things that contribute to the work that CECAD carries out, which ultimately serves their underserved community.

This is how I describe my PE now:

My practice experience took me to Ha Noi, Viet Nam to work with the Center for the Environment and Assets Based Development (CECAD). CECAD is a non-governmental organization that focuses on environmental protection and improving the livelihoods of the Muong ethnic minority in Hoa Binh Province, a province outside Ha Noi.  On one hand, I was doing some “behind-the-scenes” tasks: making posters, writing grant proposals, meeting with an international organization about partnerships.  On the other hand, I was able to see how the Muong people are impoverished and observe how they participate in decision-making processes to develop a socioeconomic development plan.

Well, something like that.  I still feel like how I describe my PE is different every time I try to explain it.  Maybe in a few years, I’ll have come up with a way to explain it succinctly.

So, the title of this post is a little misleading because I’m not “tying up” anything.  I still feel like I’m processing what I did in those nine weeks, but sadly, my memories are starting to fade.  I don’t have a lot of things to conclude about my PE besides the fact that I learned a lot and that I still feel like I’m not done.

I definitely feel like my PE has made me consider doing international work, and that’s really saying something.  I hope that in the future, my life takes me back to Viet Nam.

Leaving Viet Nam, flying over Sai Gon - I wanted to use this picture as a metaphor of looking at my PE in its entirety...
Leaving Viet Nam, flying over Sai Gon – I wanted to use this picture as a metaphor of looking at my PE in its entirety…

Over and out.

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