By Natalie Carri
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Paul Strickland for providing me with the opportunity to participate in the 2017 Vietnam study tour and campaigning for me to be one of the Recipients of the New Colombo Mobility grant. I would like to also acknowledge Monica Hodgkinson and the Equality and Diversity Centre for providing me with Celeste & Jasmine who were my interpreters for the entire duration of the tour and guided me throughout. I owe a deep sense of gratitude to Paul for campaigning for me to be fully supported by the qualified AUSLAN interpreters. I was fortunate to have shared this unforgettable experience with a great group of students. I am proud to have been the first deaf La Trobe Uni Student who went on this Study Tour and thank you for believing in me to help me achieve this once in a lifetime opportunity which truly was a morale booster for me.
I’ve always been challenged throughout my entire schooling life, but it’s always humbling to know that La Trobe University prides itself on supporting students with disabilities to help overcome the some of the barriers they are faced with. I have consistently been dedicated to bettering myself throughout my schooling and being a part of this experience has helped promote self growth and has pushed me both academically and socially.When I found out about the Vietnam study tour, I was interested from the very first moment as I knew it was going to be a valuable learning experience for me. I am immensely grateful that I was accompanied to Vietnam with such experienced staff members and if I wasn’t given this opportunity by the University, I don’t think I would’ve ever ventured to Vietnam on my own. This study tour gave me the opportunity to explore Vietnam and its beautiful surroundings with such a welcoming group of students with whom I have developed close friendships with. Sharing this experience helped connect us through those testing moments where we all felt home sick, frustrated with the humidity/heat or longing for a home cooked meal. This study tour offered the chance to be exposed to the hustle and bustle of city congestion, sample signature Vietnamese delicacies, enjoy popular street food, visit War battlefields that were used during the Vietnam War, participate in authentic cooking classes and participate in guided tours of historical temples and iconic landmarks throughout the beautiful towns of Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and UNESCO World Heritage Ha Long Bay. This was a valuable learning experience and by being immersed in the culture gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of Vietnam. Everywhere we visited we were always greeted with a warm, welcoming friendly smile from the locals and our three tour guides were always keen to share many informative stories with us.
Thanks to ‘Reaching out’, I got to meet some amazing deaf Vietnamese locals. This was by far one of the most rewarding encounters. I was fortunate enough to visit a Deaf Cafe known as the ‘Reaching Out Teahouse’ which is run & managed by hearing & speech impaired people. The Teahouse is also an art & craft shop which practises in accordance to The Fair Trade principles & helps support people with disabilities and integrate them into the community. Although I found this to be a wonderful cultural experience, it proved challenging not to be able to communicate because AUSLAN differs greatly to the Vietnamese sign language. However, with patience and perseverance, we were able to overcome this by communicating with each other through the use of gestures and mime. I was inspired by the set up and felt that we could learn from The Reaching Out Cafe, and apply some of its principles to the already existing Trade Block Cafe located in St Kilda, VCD (Victorian College for the Deaf) which is run by deaf VCAL students.
I have learnt a lot about myself from this trip as it has allowed me to open my mind and embrace opportunities that require me to take more risks. I have gained so much knowledge through this experience and I cannot emphasise enough the importance of not allowing my disability hinder such an opportunity. Having Celeste and Jasmine, the two amazing interpreters interpret for me during this trip, ensured that I didn’t miss out on any details or information and I was privileged to have been given this wonderful support and funding.
This study tour will stay with me for years to come and has opened doors to new possibilities by being immersed in a culture so diverse to mine. The two weeks that I spent on the study tour helped me acquire greater knowledge of Vietnam’s rich history and culture and I felt that my independence and confidence grew and strengthened during this trip. Receiving this has definitely motivated me and I look forward to giving back to the community beyond my studies. I would highly recommend this enriching experience to all students at the University and in particularly encourage deaf students to broaden their knowledge to embrace a new culture and diverse experiences if given the chance.