by John Hustedt
In Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, the introduction and widespread use of motorcycles is both a blessing and a curse. Throughout the last fifteen years, motorcycles have changed virtually every aspect of social life in Vietnam. Consequently, in the years prior to 2005, many studies were conducted on transportation. Fortunately, there was a gap in the research, as relatively few studies addressed the social consequences. When an opportunity to work on cutting edge research in Chiang Mai with the Kennedy Center’s volunteer program presented itself, I was excited to do work that clearly had policy implications that could help Vietnam in the future.
The topic I researched on my initial visit to Vietnam was the effect of transportation (especially motorcycles) on social change in Southeast Asia, which became my honors thesis that I presented at the Pacific Sociological Association. After the volunteer program, I set out to conduct research in Vietnam before heading home for classes, lingering in Vietnam for about a month. During that time, while looking for advice at the Institute of Sociology, one of the staff members was impressed with my language skills acquired during a mission in Dallas, Texas, and invited me to return and study at the institute after I finished my undergraduate training.
That research commenced in May 2006, and I have since joined an advanced statistics class on SPSS, STRATA, and other computer statistics programs. The best part is that it only costs about fifteen dollars—talk about great tuition prices. During the day, I discover interesting things about Vietnamese society by reading books, perusing other studies, and picking at the brains of intelligent people. At night I teach English to children ranging in age from five- to thirteen-years-old but find that I am more frequently teaching conversation and pronunciation classes to adults and teenagers. Finally settled in a rented top floor of a house in town, I bought a motorcycle from a friend, and am finding my way around.
I have been trying to attend as many cultural events as possible, visiting museums, traditional art shows, jazz clubs, and the opera house. One Saturday I saw the Vietnamese National Orchestra in the historical opera house building, where I met the American ambassador and other local leaders. On a recent trip to the beach with the Institute of Sociology, I got sick, but it gave me time to think, read, and catch up on things I had been neglecting in the midst of the excitement of being here.
When I first arrived, I was not affiliated directly with any BYU department, but since then I have begun working as a fellow for the BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Previously, I had served as a translator for several of the annual conferences the center hosts, and, therefore, knew (and conveniently worked in the same building with) many of the Vietnamese religious officials they needed help contacting. I am now helping them contact, interview, and receive information from officials and academics in Vietnam. Through my research and experiences here, I hope to contribute in some small way to the knowledge base the local and foreign researchers have already built. During my time in Vietnam, I have seen the need for assistance in dealing with public health issues in the community. That eventually lead me to seek out a partnership with the Hanoi School of Public Health. With the experience and knowledge I have gained here, I hope to positively impact the lives of the people in Vietnam.
Hustedt plans to live in Vietnam until at least May 2007. Following his return to the U.S., he plans to complete both a master’s and a PhD in public health beginning fall 2007.