by Nguyễn Thị Minh Châu,
2018-2019 IVEP Participant, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
My name is Châu, and I am so pleased to share a little bit about my participation in IVEP. It is still dear in my mind.
I have been a member of the Mennonite Church since my father began working as a pastor for the Mennonite church in Việt Nam. When I left my home in Hội An to go to Ho Chi Minh City for college, the Mennonite Community there told me about MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). Though I was interested, I wanted to finish college and didn’t seriously consider joining the program at that point. Once I graduated, I wanted to discern where God would lead me in life, and IVEP seemed like a great opportunity to see some more possible paths.
God has wonderful plans and he makes them work for me. I never thought I’d have the chance to learn about a new culture or spend my time volunteering in a different country. It was hard for me to explore something so new, but as I was being encouraged to consider it by my pastor, I received more energy to practice English and learn about American culture. I was so blessed and lucky to smoothly receive a visa to go to the U.S. I saw this as a sign that participating in IVEP was what God wanted me to do at the time.
After arriving in the U.S., for a week I attended orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania. I met many IVEP and Serving And Learning Together (SALT) friends whom I became very close to from then on. I gradually learned more about what I would have to do during my next 11 months. Through those days I got to know Mennonites from around the world, participating and learning about activities and culture from many different areas of the world.
My host family was also an important part of my year. I lived with the Boehm family. They are David, Kristi, Laurel, and Lily, and their cute dog Huck! They live in Lancaster City, Pennsylvania. I loved Walking to Rossmere Church with them every Sunday. My hosts were so kind, they showed me many things typical to American culture. Although their lifestyle was very different from what I was used to, we had a lot of fun times together. I thank them for their hospitality and kindness.
I also had a great workplace in the U.S. I had a kind boss and many friendly co-workers. Getting work experience and significant knowledge from my work in the U.S. was a great part of my year. I worked at Cornerstone Design-Architects, which was a good match for my training as an interior designer. Some things were different from Việt Nam though, especially in terms of hours. In Việt Nam we take a long lunch break, but in the U.S. they did not; but, in the U.S., once I’d worked eight hours, I could leave, but in Việt Nam its normal to stay late into the evening. It was definitely a contrast from my current workplace: everything is within a certain time frame!
Besides my host family and coworkers, I still miss my friends from MCC, particularly the other IVEP participants from the East Coast. We all had a wonderful supervisor, Kim Dyer! I loved interacting with her because she always showed us typical foods, games, and cultures in the region we were working in. Everywhere we went, every community that we visited, every single moment we spent together, I felt like I was learning. It gave me a lot of encouragement and a feeling of love and peace.
In addition to these many good things, I also dealt with a different culture and language. I was often a bit shy and not as confident as people from the U.S. or Canada. The language barrier was my biggest problem. My accent is quite difficult to understand and I often still struggle to pronounce the final sound of words. Sometimes listeners misunderstand my meaning. Most people, though, understood me, and over time they taught me how to pronounce words better and encouraged me every day. I got better step by step, and even though I know my English is still not perfect, I’m glad I was able to work with friends to improve it.
The amazing but too-short journey of IVEP changed the way I see my life. In a positive way, IVEP encouraged me to slow down and more carefully observe life. IVEP helped me to understand more about the world and about the Mennonite community around the world. Mennonites, both in America and Canada, so often volunteer their time to help the world, which was inspiring to be a part of!
I’m very sad that there aren’t any IVEP participants from Việt Nam this year or next year, but I hope that MCC will not forget Mennonite Church Việt Nam. Working together gives us so many opportunities to grow. I know God will open the way for Vietnamese people to continue working with MCC and with IVEP.
Thank you for reading about what I learned in IVEP. May God bless you!