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Eye-opening study trip

on 23 June 2014.

Eye-opening study trip

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Admiring a mummy at the Vietnamese History Museum

The International Studies Program (ISP), Faculty of Social Sciences, UNIMAS organised a five-day study trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from April 6 to 10.

The trip comprised 25 students, six academic staffs and two family members. It aimed to provide students with first-hand experience with regards to matters and subjects relevant to their fields of study such as Malaysia-Vietnam bilateral relations, diplomatic mission abroad, the political system and ideology of Vietnam as well as looking at the impacts of history on the socio-cultural aspects of the Vietnamese.

The group’s first official visit on Apr 7 was to the Faculty of International Relations (FIR), Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH), set up in 1957 and now a member of Vietnam National University since 1996. Housing 26 faculties and departments, USSH boasted a current enrolment of some 40,000 students.

They were welcomed by Vice Dean of FIR, Nguyen Tang Nghi; Associate Head of FIR, Nguyen Thi To Nga; fellow lecturers and approximately 50 students of FIR.

The session began with speeches from Nguyen Thi To Nga and Dr Ahmad Nizar Ya’akub (Deputy Dean [Postgraduate and Research] cum lecturer of ISP, UNIMAS). An introduction session to UNIMAS ensued, presented by Noor’ain Aini, followed by a talk on “Malaysia-Vietnam Bilateral Relations” by Shafina Tatiana Zulkifli, fellow ISP lecturers.

The interactive meeting ended with performances from both sides, a modern pop song by the Vietnamese students and cultural dances by their UNIMAS counterparts, an Iban ngajat as well as a combination of zapin and joget.

The visit to USSH has helped to establish a link between the International Studies Program, UNIMAS with the Faculty of International Relations, USSH.

The Associate Head of FIR informed the group of a similar educational programme that they also conduct annually, and has expressed her intention to reciprocate our visit and make UNIMAS the destination of their next educational visit.

Next they went to the Son Ca 11 Kindergarten, a public funded kindergarten whose syllabus emphasises more on the development of social rather than academic skills. The group was welcomed by the principal, an officer from Education Malaysia of the Malaysian Consulate General, and officers from the local Education District Office.

The visit to the kindergarten exposed the students to a totally different kind of learning environment, syllabus and social upbringing of young Vietnamese.

This is because the key to understand a country and what that country is going to be is to study the younger generation as these young minds are the ones going to become leaders and shape the future of the country.
The last official visit was on Apr 10 to the Malaysian Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

The group met the Consul General, Shazryll Zahiran in a session where he briefed them on the roles and functions of a Consul General as well as the daily affairs of the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

An interesting discussion ensued, including on the roles of the Malaysian Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City in the search and rescue operation following the disappearance of Malaysia Airline MH370 on March 8 in the vicinity of the Vietnamese water. The students were excited to finally meet a diplomat and step their feet on a diplomatic premise abroad. They were able to get a better understanding of the roles and functions of diplomatic missions abroad, and also on diplomatic immunity, something that they had learned before.

The most memorable historical visit was to the Vietnam War Memorial Park in which Cu Chi Tunnel is located, a 250 km long and three-storey underground tunnel system that was first dug in the 1940s during the Vietnamese fight for independence against the French colonists.

The tunnel, then extended and used as hideouts by the North Vietnam Communist army and the Vietcongs, eventually enabled them to win the Vietnam War against the US supported South Vietnam in 1975.

The group was able to see various types of booby traps and trip wires commonly used during the war, and experienced a short “communist life” in the tunnel by crawling through some safe areas of the tunnels. The visit to Cu Chi Tunnel gave the group insight to the hardship that the Vietnamese people, army and civilians alike, had to endure during the time of war. It also taught the group members survival skills and perseverance of the Vietnamese in first, their against the French colonists and later, the United States in the Vietnam War.

The remnants of the war are still very much preserved as a reminder of their bitter struggle to be free of foreign domination and be allowed the right to their own political ideology amidst the Cold War.

The group also went to Des Lacquer Painting Factory, the Handicapped Handicrafts; a factory set up by the Vietnamese government in 1976 to provide employment for the victims of Agent Orange, who became handicapped as an effect of the use of herbicides by the US army during the Vietnam War.

The paintings were painstakingly done using crushed egg shells and pearls and coated with layers of the sap of the lacquer tree. With employment and income, despite being handicapped, the workers are economically independent and do not become a burden to the society.

Other visits included the Museum of Vietnamese History, which contained centuries long of Vietnamese historical monuments and artefacts. Next was the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, a Catholic cathedral built by the French colonists between 1863-1880 based on European Gothic architecture. This spectacular building is a remnant of the French conquest of Vietnam, though at present only less than 7 percent of Vietnamese identify themselves as Roman Catholics. The students were very excited to be able to actually ‘see’ for themselves a building with Gothic architecture, something that they had previously learned in their courses.

Apart from that, they also visited the Reunification Palace (or Independence Palace), home and office to the President of South Vietnam, which was breached by the North Vietnamese Army in April 1975, inadvertently signifying the Fall of Saigon and officially ended the Vietnam War with the reunification of North and South Vietnam under the North communist government. The opportunity to explore the ins and outs of the Reunification Palace offers a priceless experience to the students who had thus far only learned and heard of the Cold War in their courses.

They were also fortunate to secure seats to watch the Water Dragon Puppetry Theatre, a 50-minute amazing performance of puppets on a stage made of water. The show was supposed to offer an insight into the Vietnamese history, tradition and rural folklore (it was in Vietnamese language!)

On the final day, they went on a Mekong Delta trip, which included a river cruise and visits to the Bee Farm and Coconut Candy Factory on Unicorn Island. They also stopped by the Mekong folk village and listened to local entertainers singing Vietnamese folk music using traditional instruments native to Vietnam.

The trip to Mekong Delta and a boat trip through the mangrove river offered them not only attractive landscapes and unique Vietnamese cultures, but also depicted the life of locals living around the area of the “Rice Basket” of Vietnam.

In conclusion, the study trip to Ho Chi Minh City has far exceeded its purposes. The whole process of organising, preparing and implementing the trip provide students with rooms to develop social skills much needed among future graduates.

The opportunity to interact with their counterparts in USSH exposes them to international networking, and a visit to the Malaysian Consulate General put them in touch with real life career choice and experience. In short, the whole trip offers first hand and invaluable experience to students that excites them to no end.

Source: Sarawak Tribune

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