Dear Wellesley: Alexandra Beem ’18 and Zoe Matticks ’18 Write to Us from Hanoi, Vietnam
In the second installment of our 2017 Summer Postcard Series, Alexandra Beem ’18 and Zoe Matticks ’18 write from Hanoi, Vietnam, where they are participating in a Global Citizenship Internship through Wellesley’s Career Education. Alexandra’s internship is supported by The Harold B. Black and Barbara J. Sherlock ’72 Pacific Rim Endowed Internship Fund and The Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 International Internships Endowed Fund for Students. Zoe’s internship is supported by the Susan Rappaport Knafel ’52 Internship Fund and The Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 International Internships Endowed Fund for Students.
We landed in Puerto Princesa, Philippines, on June 1, excited to spend the next two months working for Roots of Health (ROH), an NGO run by Amina Evangelista Swanepoel ’02 that provides maternal and reproductive health services and conducts youth advocacy programs. Over the next few days, we dripped sweat, DEET, and mango juice as we explored our neighborhood, hailed tricycles to work, learned a few words of Tagalog, and bonded with the incredible ROH staff.
But after our first week in Puerto Princesa, we awoke to news that our internship could not continue, due to a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory for the island. We were shocked that the summer we had anticipated for months changed so abruptly; we said hasty goodbyes to ROH and boarded a plane to Sydney, Australia. While Career Education worked tirelessly to find us a new internship placement in the region, family friends took us in and supplemented our tropical wardrobe by lending us sweaters and gumboots (tall rain boots) for the Australian winter. Six days and an expedited visa later, we were en route to Hanoi, Vietnam, to intern with the Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam (HAIVN), a collaboration between Harvard Medical School and two of its affiliated teaching hospitals, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Broadly speaking, HAIVN coordinates various internationally funded projects that provide support and technical assistance to both outpatient clinics and public medical schools in Vietnam. We are here at a time when foreign aid to Vietnam is starting to be rolled back due to the country’s rapid economic development and the resurgence of “America first” foreign policy. This summer has given us insight into the role of cross-sector partnerships in global development and the importance of sustainable health infrastructure, especially given the high rate of hospital-acquired infection in Vietnam and the emergence of new or resistant infectious diseases like the Zika virus.
Our projects contribute to the larger goal of health care sustainability in Vietnam. Alexandra is working to improve medication adherence in patients with HIV, while Zoe is strategizing the roll-out of online medical English courses for students in Ho Chi Minh City.
The HAIVN staff generally leaves the office for lunch, joining the droves of other well-dressed professionals who slurp up a bowl of phờ gá, miến ngan, or our favorite, bùn chả, outside local eateries. We squat at miniature plastic tables, chatting over the cacophony of passing traffic as the commotion of life in Hanoi unfolds around us. Vivid displays of merchandise spill out from storefronts onto the sidewalk, distracting the view of passersby from the peeling paint on French colonial architecture behind them. Boutiques, cafés, and food stalls are interspersed with heavily guarded, orange government buildings, a compromise of sorts between the values of capitalism and socialism. Impossibly thin apartment buildings tower above us, adorned with improvised rebar balconies and laundry hanging limply, drying in the hot, humid air.
Our time abroad this summer has allowed us to explore the broad discipline of global public health while getting a glimpse of life in Hanoi. Dodging motor bike traffic in the morning, buying kilos of lychees after work, and going out on Sunday mornings for the strong, sweet iced coffee that Vietnam is known for have become part of our routine. Twenty-minute bursts of torrential rain that flood the streets, battles with the cockroaches in our apartment, and occasional (read: constant) upset stomachs from food vendors have also been a part of our narrative.
While this summer hasn’t been what we expected, we’re happy to say that we’ve handled the continual bumps along the road with humor and patience; this experience has truly tested our resolve and adaptability.
We are so grateful to Career Education for all of their support as we’ve bounced around the globe (TY Rocío!). It’s hard to imagine Wellesley’s lush, serene grounds in the midst of our hectic summer and bustling life in Hanoi. Nevertheless, we will return to campus this fall, passports a little fuller than expected and bringing more perspective into our senior years.
See you soon, Wellesley! We miss you.
Alexandra and Zoe
Alexandra Beem ’18 is a biology major, and Zoe Matticks ’18 is a neuroscience major with a minor in health and society. Both are also pre-med. They will be taking over Wellesley’s Snapchat account Monday 7/24–Friday 7/28 and sharing details about their daily life and internships in Vietnam. Add Wellesley on Snapchat to follow along.