The prompt: How do you think your intercultural competencies have grown/changed since you first took the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) survey?

The short: It’s hard to say because we always overestimate ourselves, right?

The long: “Wow! So beautiful!” “You know, women are beautiful when they wear the ao dai.” (traditional Vietnamese long dress/tunic with high slits worn with pants).  I will often then ask, “If females wear ao dai on special occasions to look beautiful, what are the men doing to look handsome?”  Usually, the response is met with, “Umm ahh…well, they wear a tie?…Nothing special, just the usual.”

People here almost always look put together.  And here I am, coming from an environmental science and biology background, as well as having countless past comments that I tend to dress like a tomboy.  So, I generally find myself better able to dress for field work or any manner of athletic or outdoorsy endeavors rather than a professional environment. I sometimes…often…always? feel like I’m not dressed as femininely as my local teacher colleagues.  They do a good job looking good.

For me, the ao dai, in a sense, levels the playing field.  It’s used as a uniform of types, as all female staff at the university and high school here have one with the school’s colours and pattern.  And the ao dai (usually a white one) IS the uniform of high school girls, and some university faculties.  Wearing the ao dai, as one female international colleague of mine points out, feeds into the “impossible standards of beauty for women” here, but on a different note, it also gives me the opportunity to easily dress formally/professionally as well as become more comfortable dressing femininely.

On other topics:

I think I’m doing a really good job of fitting into the cycling culture and road ‘rules’.  I feel very comfortable riding my bicycle to and from school every day and moving fluidly with the traffic that at first, from a western perspective seems to have little order.  I like the fluidity.

I’ve started accepting spoons when people offer them as opposed to saying, “No thank you, I’m okay with only chopsticks.”  See, I lived 1.5 yrs in Japan and used mostly chopsticks only, none of this ‘spoon stuff’ so to speak…so here I’ve actually been learning how to incorporate spoon use into my eating habits.

I am also learning to trust others more and let go of what I think might be ‘right’ from my own past experiences.  Learning to trust their suggestions, where to go, how to get things done.

Six months can be both long and short, and perspectives can shift in a moment or gradually over time.  I am curious to see what else has changed in my perspectives when I reflect back on my time here.  I suspect I may not notice subtle differences until a particular situation brings them to light, perhaps in some form of ‘reverse culture shock.’ : )

About the author:  Steph just finished her B.Ed. and is putting it to work teaching environmental topics to students from Grade 6 to Grade 11 at the Laboratory School, a K-12 under the direction of Tra Vinh University in the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnam.