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Carrot's Journey: 2023 Vietnam–U.S. Virtual Exchange

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

A teenage girl in Vietnam
Carrot on her travels through Vietnam

Who am I?

Hi Learn2Link (L2L) Community,

I’m An Nhiên, which means peace and equanimity. As my name reflects me, I have a certain stillness in my mind, and I would love to be the one who can keep calm well. Nature is something that inspires me the most. I live in a neighborhood surrounded by greenery that can soothe the hot-tempered and anxious parts of my soul. I’m also a foodie. I love to eat whenever I’m in a bad mood and cook whenever I have free time. Not always, but sometimes, I sketch my journeys after traveling. I'm not sure if it’s true, but people often think I’m a good listener (as I want to be a little therapist for my friends). I used to think that I was an extrovert, but now I feel comfortable with the “lonely life.” Crowds and conversations are not my forte, but I aspire to do community service. My community has supported me a lot, and I think I need to act with gratitude. It’s great to see people happy and loved, which I think is the mission of my life.*

"The purpose of our lives is to be happy."— Dalai Lama

Why did I link?

My mom is the one who introduced L2L to me. When I looked over the organization’s website and saw the youth application form for the Vietnam–U.S. Virtual Exchange program this year, I asked my mom if I could apply. She told me, “If you decide to apply for any project, you must put a lot of your hard work, effort, and time into it.” I was reluctant at that time because it was my final year in secondary school, and honestly, I believed that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to the dense workload that awaited me. However, it was my informed decision to join this exchange program.

I remember what first caught my eye when I accessed the L2L website: "Let's make the future a little less disconnected, a little more peaceful, and a whole lot brighter for our next generation of global citizens.” Besides, L2L’s core values—Empathy, Collaboration, and Respect for Diversity—are also some important traits that I’m searching for in my life. The story and sharing of L2L made me feel in tune with my thoughts: “I’m a part of the young generation—the generation of integration and cooperation. Therefore, I find it boring just to be confined to relationships where I live. I want to look for new opportunities to meet, share, and learn from the different countries with different cultures to broaden my mind.

A teen girl in the U.S. and Vietnam sharing a video call
Riley and Carrot during L2L's 2023 Vietnam–U.S. Virtual Exchange

What have I learned?

Lesson 1: Sympathy can soothe a troubled soul

Participating in L2L’s virtual exchange program for half-a-year is an experience that I will never forget. It has been a long journey with many changes in me that, without joining it, I don't think I could have taken on my own. At first, everything seemed so messy. I was circling around, having trouble arranging time between my work at school, homework from extra classes, and my dedication to the virtual exchange program. Being spread so thin worried me and made me lose control of my emotions. To be truthful, I didn’t do well at that time. I missed many deadlines and meetings. Riley is the one for whom I felt so sorry—for not being a cooperative partner. That time would have been even more difficult if I had not received sympathy from the L2L community. Whenever I apologized to Josh and Abby, they told me it was OK, and they understood. Another time, when I told Riley that I didn’t read her message, I thought she would be disappointed. But Riley was willing to listen to me and shared my difficulties. That was the first lesson I learned from L2L: sympathy can soothe someone in trouble.

Lesson 2: Deal with challenges

In the following days, everything became easier. Although I was still absent from meetings, I got used to going home early every Sunday night to join L2L via Zoom instead of going out to have dinner with my family, as I usually did. And gradually, it became my joy as well as my expectation to join. At times, I hoped the program would end quickly, but in the end, L2L taught me to deal with challenges—that is the second lesson.

NGO leaders with a youth exchange participant in Vietnam
Carrot with Josh and Abby on the day of her Link2Love workshop

Lesson 3: Stay open to diverse cultures, experiences, and perspectives

The third lesson is about cultural differences. I was surprised to see L2L’s weekly discussion folder filled with different opinions from participants from two countries, half-a-world apart. Never before has it been so easy to access another country's culture through a text message or by exchanging questions. But by sending my curiosities to Riley and answering her questions, I got to know America from a more intuitive perspective, and I learned more about my country too. Many differences were so hard for me to understand, like the way American students can drive by themselves at an early age; the fact that Americans can use guns; or the frequent occurrence of poverty and lack of social welfare in this developed country. I experienced culture shock and learned to respect diversity. L2L also opened many doors for me to deeply understand my own culture. Some of Riley’s questions made me rack my brain, in order to give her the most accurate response. Thanks to that, I took time to consider parts of my daily life that seemed trivial before. Furthermore, meetings with the Vietnamese team and listening to some views of brother Hien and Kevin also gave me more experiences and perspectives.

Lesson 4: Take time for self-reflection and mindfulness

The fourth lesson on self-reflection and mindfulness is impressive. Sometimes, I wished that my mind would be blank and thoughtless for a while, although I was always busy with overthinking thoughts. That’s why on the first days of doing the five minutes of mindfulness—closing our eyes and focusing on our breathing—at the beginning of L2L meetings, I couldn’t keep my mind from thinking. However, I’m now used to having some "blank" moments to reset after bad days. I wondered how meditation could help me in my life, and it works. It helps me stay calm in every situation that comes my way.

A youth-led community project in Vietnam
Carrot facilitating her Link2Love workshop

Lesson 5: Organize your ideas and projects to help your team succeed

The final lesson is the one I learned from Abby's work management. She kept everything neat by presenting us with new and easy-to-understand issues, creating a folder for each of us to keep track of our work, and sending us each week's to-do lists with all the necessary information regarding the program. Her efficient and smart work helped me not to miss any major ideas that were being shared, and it was a good reminder whenever I forgot things.

A youth-led community workshop in Vietnam
Link2Love Workshop: Carrot's community project

How have I grown?

Day-by-day, every little lesson through the exchange program came into my mind. Every action, every word, and every attitude here is something I needed to learn. On my growing-up journey, I am still learning to be sophisticated, to be kind, to love, and to care for others. And L2L has made my way a bit easier and a bit faster. Meeting and talking with my brothers, sisters, and supervisors in L2L once a week has helped me to become more cognitively mature. Compared to the first time I joined the program—when I was nervous about not catching onto everything that was said in the meeting, and I was sometimes hasty with stuttering speech—I have now improved my English skills. This is especially true of my speaking, which is more confident and calm than before. Those things, like how to speak clearly and fluently and how to listen to others deeply, look simple but take a long time to practice. Thanks to L2L, I had the environment to put mindful communication practices into my routine.

I wouldn't call it a success, but carrying out my own community project—a workshop called “Link2Love”— after a while of participating in L2L, was the proof of what I've learned here. I was a bit more confident; I was able to present what I wanted to convey; and I was proud that the theme of my workshop, which was “how to stay connected in the modern world,” fit the mission of L2L. It was my happiness to see people connect, talk, share, and work together that day.

It's a pity that L2L has come to an end. I know L2L will always support and follow me. Therefore, I will take the lessons that I have learned from here as treasured experiences along the way, on my journey to explore myself and become a better person.

Thank you.

*Editor's Note: An Nhiên often goes by the nickname "Carrot."

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