Ask Australian exchange student Scott Walsh about life in this country and he will launch into stories of open-hearted Vietnamese people who have shared their food and lives with him in extraordinary ways.
“On a beach in Vung Tau I ended up drinking rice whiskey with people even when we couldn’t speak the same language,” he said.
“In a Danang restaurant I asked a man what he was eating and he offered me his duck. We had a great conversation about his family in America and he insisted on paying for the whole meal!”
The anecdotes are testament to Scott’s expansive Australian personality; he has those warm, connecting characteristics of the Australian personality stereotype.
Scott’s smiling, ingenuous approach is opening doors on his first Asian travel experience and he is absorbing every experience he can get.
On an Australian Government New Colombo Plan Scholarship, Scott is completing the final business management courses for his civil engineering (honours) and business management degree; he will graduate from RMIT in Melbourne at the end of this year.
“I’m here for one semester; after that I hope to get an internship in HCMC or in Thailand,” he said.
“I’m having a great time at RMIT Vietnam. I’m enjoying the close-knit campus where everyone gets involved in as many things as possible; I like the smaller class sizes and the ability to get instant feedback from teachers.”
While he’s here Scott wants to travel to as many Asian countries as possible and in early April attended a Model ASEM Meeting in Hanoi, a youth spin-off of the Asia-Europe Meeting, an intergovernmental forum for dialogue and cooperation.
The youth event is a three-day simulation of the ASEM Summit, providing a platform for participants to sharpen their negotiation, diplomacy and consensus-building skills, organised by the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union and supported by many international organisations.
In getting involved Scott is fulfilling his scholarship obligations to the New Colombo Plan, which aims to improve Australia’s cross-cultural relationships with Indo-Pacific countries by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.
“The Plan encourages students to immerse themselves in the local culture to strengthen their cross-cultural understanding and build long-lasting relationships,” he said.
“They talk about these experiences with their peers and use them in their careers, friendships and general life.”
“By the end of 2016 the number of students involved will hit 10,000.”
The truth is, life in Vietnam is full of wonder for Scott and he’ll have many stories to tell back in Australia – like the one about Mama, the Vietnamese woman who serves up a 50,000 VND all-you-can-eat breakfast for everyone staying at the Dalat Family Hostel.
“She’s one of the most enigmatic women I’ve met – everyone gets a hug from her,” Scott said.
“That’s true Vietnamese hospitality.”
Story: Sharon Webb