As I came to the corner of Vu Truong Phuong and Xie Truong, I stopped, took a deep breath, and stepped into the street. “Keep looking up, don’t stop walking” I told myself as I walked. These are the unwritten rules of street crossing in Hanoi. Motorbikes and cars part around you as you walk, like a human rock in a river of streaking metal. The organized chaos I called a “daily commute” forced me to adapt to a very new lifestyle.
On a Sunday morning two months earlier I had arrived to New York City, unsure of what to expect from my upcoming SIT IHP program. I had just spent 4 months living in a cabin in a remote area of Alaska, without electricity and sometimes running water, let alone paved roads. Transitioning from a town of less than 200, to living and studying in some of the world’s largest cities was overwhelming and uncomfortable at times, but it was a feeling I came to appreciate and “lean in” to over my semester abroad. And while the solitude and quiet I enjoyed in Alaska was harder to find, many of the issues we discussed over the semester such as access to public services and grocery stores, were reminiscent of my summer home. I chose IHP: Cities in the 21st Century because I wanted a program where I could learn by doing and seeing rather than just classroom sessions. IHP gave me that and much more. The next 109 days were filled with long lectures, long(er) flights, late nights, climbing mountains, and exploring cities, all with 25 other students who I came to know quite well; an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Our group came together for the first time in New York City, where we would live for two weeks before heading off to Buenos Aires, Hanoi, and finally Cape Town. We learned about city planning directives, immigration issues, accessibility, public transport, and how to effectively utilize the concepts in creating more fair and equitable cities. These themes (and many more) carried over into each and every city we visited, which allowed for a unique educational experience. In Argentina I observed how (lack of) access to public transport and amenities fueled discontent with the government. And in Vietnam we saw firsthand the effects of urbanization and gentrification on the poorer areas of the city. Ending the trip in South Africa, I explored the dynamics of post-apartheid segregation in the context of my semester long research project about traffic laws and civic engagement. With the city as my classroom I learned to “be comfortable being uncomfortable,” and embrace the new experiences and cultures I would inevitably encounter.
My nearly four months abroad taught me that in order to grow we need to accept the necessity of the unknown, the uncomfortable, and that which we cannot control. And that we grow most through the disruption of the commonplace, and exposure to cultures different from our own. Through all the classes, site visits, interviews, observations, and trips I gained the tools necessary to be an effective advocate for what I believe in, both as a student at Franklin & Marshall and as a global citizen.
“If you don't know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.” – Ayn Rand
David Schnoll '18
New York, NY; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hanoi, Vietnam; Cape Town, South Africa
Term Abroad: Fall 2016
Ware College House
Major: Joint in Government and Computer Science
- 2017-2018 Off-Campus Study Ambassador
- Phi Kappa Psi