On June 14, 2015, Mark Leaman (History teacher) and Lei Williams (ESL teacher) led a group of 20 Garden Spot High School students on a 2 week trip to Vietnam. The first stop was in Doha, Qatar, due to a 17 hour layover. Steve Leever and his family (a former teacher at Garden Spot High School, who was working at the American School of Doha), picked up the group and took them on a city tour. The group then flew on to Vietnam, arriving in Hanoi. While in Hanoi, they explored the city by cyclo, took a street food tour, visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and his leadership compound during the war, and toured the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. A visit to the “Hanoi Hilton,” the prison that housed high-level prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, was thought-provoking and sobering. The students witnessed the Vietnamese perspective, revealing the struggles and abuses inside the prison when the French controlled the region.
From Hanoi, they spent time exploring Ha Long Bay, a World Heritage Site, kayaking, swimming, and floating by boat around the nearly 2,000 limestone structures.
After Ha Long Bay, the group flew to Danang and met with some Vietnamese working with individuals still struggling with the effects of Agent Orange. They spent several days in Hoi An, a World Heritage Site, near Danang. In Hoi An, they jumped on bicycles and took an eco-farming and fishing tour and the students got to water the gardens and fish using nets like the local villagers. They even got to ride water buffalo! One afternoon the group took a cooking class, learning how to make several Vietnamese dishes. After this adventure, the group flew South to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and explored the markets, food, museums, and history of the city. They ventured out several times: to visit the famous Cu Chi tunnel system developed during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong, to travel to an orphanage and work with severely disabled children, and take a trip into the Mekong Delta to experience and explore the countryside. While in Saigon, the students got to meet and visit with Lei’s family who still lives in Ho Chi Minh City. One evening, they enjoyed a meal in the home of one of her sisters.
This trip has a clear connection to the American History unit on the Vietnam war. The students visited several key sites and cities related to the war.
However, the biggest impact for the students was the exposure to the Vietnamese viewpoint of the war. They heard the account of a North Vietnamese soldier describing his experiences through the war. Most students visited the War Remnants Museum which presented Vietnamese complaints against the U.S.’s methods and tactics in the war and displayed a celebration of the global anti-Vietnam War movement. The students also heard from an American Vietnam Vet who shared about his experience in Danang during the war and his return to Vietnam to help the families affected by Agent Orange. At the conclusion of the trip, students were asked to create a presentation to bring their experiences back to the school community. The students chose a variety of topics and have been enriching classes throughout the middle school and high school. The trip was a huge undertaking, but with the support of many people, organizations, and the Spartan Foundation for Education, it was a rich, unforgettable experience for all