A Year in Winnipeg

by Trần Công Minh Triết,

2015-2016 IVEP Participant, Winnipeg, Canada

I heard about MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) through my pastor and family. At first, all I knew about it was that it was some kind of working-and-learning trip to Canada or the U.S. I heard that there were two IVEP alumni from Việt Nam, but it had been decades since they had taken part in the program, so participating in the program was kind of fresh for everybody in my church community, and, of course, for me. I was young and eager enough to apply. I was soon approved to go to Canada. 

Even though MCC’s office in Việt Nam was in the north and I live in the south, they helped me through the visa process and equipped me with the necessary knowledge to cope with the foreign environment of Canada. Their training helped me understand the cultural transition I was about to go through. 

MCC was also very thoughtful to hold a second orientation for IVEP participants who arrived late, like I did, due to visa complications. This orientation time was a great start for all IVEPers, as we got to know each other and to adapt and prepare ourselves for our year of work.  

I am still very impressed and appreciative for the passion and warmth of my local IVEP coordinator in Winnipeg, Ionka. She was such a caring person to all IVEP participants in my area. I remembered it didn’t take long for us to start calling her ‘mama,’ since she sometimes treated us like first grade children. She is such a caring lady! 

During my year in Canada, I had the chance to live in more houses and work in more places than most of the other IVEP workers. I lived with a temporary host mom, Bonnie, when I first arrived. One great memory of my time with her was a trip to her family’s chicken farm. My second host family were Marie and Gordon—they were older and have enjoyed hosting IVEP participants for many years. I think I liked the church I attended with them the most of any I visited in Canada—it was small and peaceful. Later on, I moved to Steve and Janet’s house. They had a big family with many children and grandchildren, it was a nice time to play with the kids when they were around. 

Every week I’d work for three days at Sam’s Place café as an assistant and for two days at Winnipeg Harvest warehouse. I really enjoyed making drinks and food at the café and traveling around the city delivering food donations with Winnipeg Harvest. I made a lot of close friends at Winnipeg Harvest and with many who volunteered at Sam’s Place. I learned a lot from each person at both workplaces. 

I remember right from the very beginning of my participation in IVEP some of my stereotypes of the world got corrected. I saw staff on Canadian airplanes and at Canadian airports who were black or of other races—before that, I had thought all Canadians were white. I quickly learned that Canada was a diverse country with all kinds of people from all over the place.  

Throughout the year, we IVEP participants learned some Canadian history, especially relating to the oppression of the indigenous people of Canada. I also had chance to meet some Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who were refugees from the Việt Nam War. Listening to their story really touched me and helped me gain more perspective on Việt Nam’s history.

I also made good friends in Canada from attending church, and many of my church friends were really fun and very helpful. Ionka and MCC hosted a lot of activities for our group to explore and learn around the Winnipeg area. We also got time to share about ourselves and our countries with the church, our hosts, and our friends. It was a real and very rewarding cultural exchange program for us. 

The IVEP program was a highlight in my youth years. I am so grateful to God, MCC staff, Ionka, and my hosts for this opportunity. 

I believe participating in the program is a great benefit for young adult Christians, but still fairly few Vietnamese young people have participated. I really hope to see more Vietnamese people in the IVEP program in the future.