Semester-at-Sea Students Relish Stay in Ho Chi Minh City

The Explorer cruiser brings the international students to the Ho Chi Minh City in their semester at sea.(Photo:TK)

A popular university studies program known as the "Semester at Sea" (SAS) recently brought more than 700 international students by ship to the port of Ho Chi Minh City, kicking off a five-day tour of the major parts of Viet Nam.

The program, put on each fall and spring semester by the Institute for Shipboard Education and sponsored by the Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, takes more than 700 students around the world on board the Explorer, a 24,000-ton ship that includes classrooms, a computer lab, a student union office, two dining rooms, a swimming pool, and a fitness center.

In Ho Chi Minh City participants were treated to a water-puppet show, a cultural tradition dating back to 11th century Viet Nam, at the National History Museum.

At a home for children suffering from exposure to agent orange

The visiting students sit with the children, shaking hands and singing songs to them. (Photo:TK)

On Tuesday, the second day of the trip, a group of 14 students from the US and China made a courtesy visit to the Thien Phuoc (God’s Happiness) rehabilitation centre for victims of Agent Orange and Disabled Children in Ho Chi Minh City’s outlying district of Cu Chi.

Daniel Russell, the leader of the group, said it was really wonderful to be welcomed by the children with beautiful and touching songs. The visiting students also sat with the children, shaking hands and singing songs to them.

The center’s nine full-time staff and many volunteers work together to help disabled children from three local communes. Almost all children at the centre are victims of Agent Orange used by America during the war. The centre currently provides treatment for some 60 disabled children, of whom 52 have been so seriously affected that rehabilitation is simply not an option.

Many of the American students raised questions about the children’s lives and education. Apart from rehabilitating the children physically, the centre strives to educate and improve their young minds. Many are either deaf or dumb, however the most serious cases involve brain damage and paralysis.

Semester-at-sea students join bamboo dances with the local volunteers. (Photo:TK)

According to Sister Ti, a long-time employee at the center, classes are regularly held for five students but unlike most schools, it is very tough to carry out the classes since the children can not remeber well what they were taught.

"Treatment is a major burden for some of the children’s families since they come from poor farming communities and don’t have the means to pay for their children’s therapy," she said.

With the city’s youths

In the afternoon, the delegation also visited a vocational training center in District 3 to exchange information about voluntary activities, culture and customs with young Vietnamese volunteers and disabled youths.

"I really appreciated the sympathy of the Vietnamese youth" said Chinese student Zhing Mi, 21, "We had really enthusiastic tour guides and local residents were very generous with their hospitality".

The visiting students and the city's disabled youths at their vocational training center (Photo:TK)

The visitors were introduced to the training center’s programs for disabled youths, joined a computer class at the center, played games and participated in bamboo dances organized by local volunteers

During their stay in Ho Chi Minh City, the students will experience Vietnamese culture first hand on field excursions to the Cu Chi Tunnels, Cao Dai Temple, and Mekong Delta.

They will also take a trip to My Tho city in the southern province of Tien Giang to visit the floating market on the banks of the Tien River, where they can go shopping by boat for fruit, vegetables and flowers sold from small bamboo boats.

The Explorer plans to bring Semester-at-Sea students to Viet Nam twice a year. This year, the spring voyage departed from Nassau in the Bahamas in February and traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Salvador, Brazil, Cape Town, South Africa, Port Louis, Mauritius, Chennai, India, and Penang, Malaysia before reaching Ho Chi Minh City.

By Trong Khuong

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