Oberlin Blogs


January 23, 2024

Ariel Roberts ’25

Hoi An alley
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts

Xin chào from Hội An, Vietnam! Being here has been an absolute dream. This is my first time out of the country and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. For my third Winter Term project, I’m participating in the Actuality Abroad program where we get to work on a documentary for the month about a ‘changemaker,’ or NGO, in a foreign country. I always love Winter Term because it provides me with opportunities I never would have been able to take before. From learning a rare instrument, to singing at Carnegie Hall in New York, to now working on a documentary in Vietnam, I always get to try something new during this time, a month of expanding my horizons. It’s nice to get a break from the classic semester and get to have some fun while also learning something new and earning credit for it! There’s so much freedom so that you can really do whatever you want; the program I’m doing isn’t associated with Oberlin, but since Winter Term allows for personal projects, I was still able to do this, which I’m really grateful for. At first I didn’t know what to expect since I’ve always been on campus for Winter Term, and I always love the peaceful atmosphere and the blankets of snow, but I absolutely adore it here. It’s incredible to get to work in a completely new environment and experience a new culture all while improving my filmmaking skills.

Hoi An river
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts
Vietnamese coffee
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts

I’m especially happy to be here during the winter since the weather is perfect! It’s nice and warm, consistently around 70 degrees, but not so suffocatingly hot like it would be in the summer. At first the humidity was very strange, and it took time to get used to the sensation of everything being slightly wet, but my skin has never been so hydrated, and I love my room always being cozy warm. We’ve spent lots of time exploring the town and food, visiting famous places in the area, and enjoying the culture. Since the Lunar New Year, or Tết, is coming up, there’s been lots of preparation and celebration around town with red decorations, karaoke, and other traditions. On one of our first days here, we went on a tour of Marble Mountain and Monkey Mountain, two hubs of Buddhist temples in Da Nang, the main city next to Hội An. This past weekend we went to Ba Na Hills, a theme park in the mountains that you get to by cable car. Up above the clouds is the famous Golden Bridge, which looks like it is being held by giant hands. It was a super crazy experience being up that high. Often even more than seeing the bucket list tourist attractions, I love exploring the tiny cafes and shops in the less urban areas, where it’s nice and quiet and you find some hidden gems. Coffee is a big thing in Vietnam, with special styles such as salt, coconut, and egg coffee, so I’ve been trying a new cafe every day. I also took a class on how to use the traditional phin filter to drip coffee grounds into the strong flavor of Vietnamese brew, and I can’t wait to try it out at home so my family and friends can taste it. The cuisine is something I'm really gonna miss when I have to leave!

Golden Bridge
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts

One of my favorite things about working on a documentary is meeting new people and hearing their stories. For our first week we were given the challenge to talk to someone, find out a little bit about their story, and take their picture to share. This intimidated me at first, because I’m quite shy, and especially since this is my first time out of the country, I’m still getting used to culture shock and learning how to interact in a new place. It turned out to be fairly easy, though, if you just gave some effort to say hi and talk to people. You find out quickly that even amidst the language barrier, it’s easy to connect with people as long as you’re open, and that there are far more similarities than differences. Moreover, filmmaking, especially documentary work, forces you into close relationships with your crew and your film subjects. Even though the people in my group are from all over the world, I find they’re all akin to my best friends and classmates. They are all very dedicated, open-minded, and always willing to push the boundaries to learn and try something new. Whenever I work on a film, I’m amazed by the talent and minds of my crewmates, and the amazing stories of the people I’m interviewing. They never fail to inspire me and help me grow. It makes me a bit sad to think I’m going to be halfway across the world from the friends I’ve made here, but I’m glad I got to meet them at all.

Lady Buddha
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts

This past semester I’ve been thinking a lot about how before I know it I’m going to be a fourth-year and graduating. The thought had really scared me. I couldn’t imagine what my life was going to be after Oberlin. Oberlin has become the little world I live in, emphasis on little. It’s a small, tight-knit community, and that’s what I love about it, but it becomes easy to forget how much more world is out there. I really needed some time to travel and breathe some fresh air, to experience something new. All of a sudden my world has expanded so much. I know now that there is so much more for me to explore, to envelop myself in, to belong to.

We’re now at the halfway point of the program, and I have two more weeks here. I know it’s going to fly by, so I’m trying to enjoy every moment, even if it’s just reading a book by the river or sitting outside in the warm weather to edit our film. I’m so excited for the finished project and will cherish the rest of the time with my newfound friends. Once we finish our film, I’ll let you know all about how the process went. Until then, tạm biệt!

Hidden Beach Hoi An
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts


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