It’s been 8 months since I first submitted my application for Leave for Change, and unbelievably, I finally leave for Vietnam tomorrow. Talk about building up the suspense!

Though I have traveled and backpacked overseas, this trip is different in so many ways – my first trip to Asia, first solo overseas, and first « professional » volunteering. Somehow the laid-back coffee eco-tourism volunteering that I experienced with the Heart of Gold Project in Los Santos, Costa Rica (population: 7,000) just doesn’t feel the same as this trip, where I will be working in a downtown office in Hanoi (population: 7.5 million), developing partner relationships, and submitting reports to a national non-profit and to VIU.


Ital life in Costa Rica
Slow life in Santa Maria de Dota, Costa Rica

Plus, when Colton (my husband) and I went to Costa Rica almost 10 years ago, the words « intercultural competence » weren’t in my vocabulary. I am so grateful to my recent work experience that has given me this framework to really dig in and reflect on how I see the world, and why.

Intercultural competence is (basically) a person’s ability to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes that help them behave and interact in different cultural situations. It is always a journey, as no one can ever be truly interculturally competent – people, context, and cultures are always changing. My work with international students at VIU builds my intercultural competency every day, but there is always room to grow.

That’s the main reason why I applied to Leave for Change. After participating in workshops and reading the theory of intercultural competence development, I quickly realized that my « ultimate people person » skill set is much better suited to gain this knowledge by interacting with other cultures directly. The opportunity to be fully immersed in a completely different cultural work environment, and learn and grow my skills on the fly, was just too amazing to pass up. I was the first applicant to VIU’s Leave for Change program; I hope my experiences will encourage and inspire other staff to apply and try this different style of travel.

I’m not normally a reflective person, especially when it comes to writing. My personal journal might have 6 entries from all of 2018, and most are one- or two-liners that say something like, « there was the most amazing sunset tonight and it had all the colours!! ». But research shows that those who reflect, analyze, and process intercultural experiences gain more long-lasting skills and knowledge. There’s a great quote by John Dewey (1910), who wrote that « We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflection on experience. » My goal is challenge myself, in this blog, to to process my roles, actions, and responsibilities while I am in Vietnam. It has the added benefit of being available for those back home to read and follow along, and help promote the program, too.

The real culture shock curve

Sounds like everything is positive – and it is, I am so excited to go. But, depending on the day, I feel like I have already ridden the Culture Shock Rollercoaster, and I haven’t even left yet! I want to use that lens of intercultural adaptation throughout the blog, to try and make sense and reassure myself that the journey is not meant to be easy. So, here I go… next post will be from Vietnam!