“I focused on learning as much about the local culture as I could and being open-minded about all the new possibilities in Hanoi.”


Jennifer DuMond is currently finishing the first year of her MS in Public Health at Yale University, focusing on epidemiology and global health. Before starting at Yale, she spent eight weeks at the “promoting HIV/AIDS awareness” Volunteer Abroad project in Hanoi. Having worked as a research associate at UC-San Francisco, as a volunteer she analyzed data and wrote reports on public health issues in Vietnam. This summer Jennifer will take on a different UBELONGchallenge: she is spending two months volunteering at the “assisting in public health education” Volunteer Abroad project in Accra. Just two weeks before flying to Ghana, she shares her experience in Hanoi last summer.

What motivated you to seek a volunteer opportunity in Hanoi?
I had been looking for international volunteer opportunities for a while. I was looking for flexible and low-cost volunteer opportunities in the field of public health during the summer to prepare myself before entering Yale. I could not find the right organization until a member of the UBELONG team contacted me on Facebook. I did my research on UBELONG and decided that the HIV/AIDS project in Hanoi was exactly what I was looking for.

What was most frustrating or challenging to you during your volunteer placement?
When I first arrived at my hosting organization in Hanoi they did not have a clear idea of what I was capable of doing. At the beginning I was asked to edit documents, which wasn’t particularly satisfying to me. However, pretty soon I was asked to analyze survey data on female sex workers and write a research report. There were lots of mistakes in data collection and data entry and I did not have much help because everyone at the office was busy. I was left to figure out the analysis with a problematic dataset. It was a challenging assignment but I learned a lot from it.

I was struck by the concept of time in Vietnam. It’s very different from what I am used to. For example, my host organization did not have strict expectations about what time in the morning we were to arrive at the office. Things are not always carefully planned out and unexpected events often cause delays.

What did you learn about yourself during your experience?
I learned a lot about my ability to face new situations and not be terrified by it. When I arrived at the San Francisco airport I was really scared. However, by the time I landed in Hanoi I decided to take things as they came and I convinced myself that everything would work out. I found patience within myself to see good even in the most frustrating situations. I always tried to see the positive side of things, unlike other volunteers who did not understand the culture and felt disrespected, or complained about things like traffic or dirty streets. I focused on learning as much about the local culture as I could and being open-minded about all the new possibilities that opened up to me in Hanoi.

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Related post:
Meet Jonathan Thompson, a SUNY grad and HIV/AIDS awareness advocate, who volunteered with UBELONG in Hanoi, Vietnam on the HIV/AIDS Awareness project.