The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Isabelle Shively

My name is Isabelle Shively and I'm a senior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in International Studies with minors in Peace Studies, Asian Studies and Anthropology. Originally from a small town outside of Seattle, I caught the travel bug after my family moved to India when I was 12. Since then I've been passionate about people, the languages they speak, the cultures they come from and the places they call home. I chose to study abroad in Vietnam because I visited once and was enthralled by everything about the country! To be honest food was also a pretty major deciding factor. 
Childlike Imagination

Childlike Imagination

It’s been a little over a week since we returned from our last long excursion to the wonderful Kingdom of Cambodia. To put it lightly, I fell in love with Cambodia and was sad to leave. Since we returned to Saigon, we’ve been pushed back into the swing of school again. With only 4 weeks left in the program, it’s crunch time.

I’ve been a very avid student throughout most of my undergraduate degree: I do my homework, start research papers early and hate missing class. I didn’t know if senioritis was a real thing for college students until this semester. With the last four weeks of my BA upon me, it is bad to say, but I feel like I have sort of checked out prematurely. Real life, adulthood (although to we ever really feel like adults?) and all that doom and excitement await me on December 8th – the long-awaited last day of class ever. Wrapped up in these strange, adult things like graduate school applications and job searching, Emily and I were given the ability to be children again this morning and it was magnificent.

After a quick walk along the obstacle course that is Saigon’s streets and sidewalks, we arrived at the bus stop just in time to catch number 14. In true Vietnamese fashion, we hopped on the bus while it was still slowly moving forward, found two empty seats towards the front of the bus and paid the bus monitor 2,000 dong (9 cents) for the ride. In front of our row sat a young girl, probably around three years old, her mother and another woman. The girl was immediately very playful with us and started right in with a lot of smiling and giggling. After sharing some waffles and playing a few rounds of peek-a-boo over the seat  with us, she stood up on the seat, her arms resting on the top of it and began making strange hand motions.

It took us some time to realize what was happening but soon the motions looked very familiar – she was playing food cart. The back of the seat became her food cart and Emily and I her customers. She would gather imaginary ingredients (her cart must have quite the variety), put them all together and then hand them to us. In the spirit of childlike imagination, Emily and I played along, taking her food, holding it up to our mouths and making ‘nom nom nom’ sounds as we nibbled on it. She was thrilled and so we continued like this for a while longer. Before we arrived at our bus stop, Emily pointed out how cool it was to be part of a Vietnamese child’s imagination. In the U.S, children would have been playing house or drive-through. This little girl’s game of choice was food cart.

Study abroad is wonderful because of the grand adventure it is, but in reality, it is these little moments that make the experience complete. It is the little girl and her food cart and all the other little things that I will remember the most in years to come. Someday it will be watching my own children play imaginary games that will cause me to remember the four months I spent living in Vietnam and that one time on the number 14 bus that I ate the best imaginary food of my life, prepared with all the love and care in the world by Vietnam’s best imaginary food vendor.


A different ride on the number 14 bus but I'm sure you get the picture.
A different ride on the number 14 bus but I’m sure you get the picture!
Kitchen Scissors

Kitchen Scissors

Since I was a little girl my mother has instilled in me the belief that kitchen scissors are one of god’s many gifts to the earth. They are the kitchen’s most essential tool. Need to cut Eggo waffles fast so you can feed your three children? Kitchen scissors. Need to cut a rack of ribs fresh off the grill? Kitchen scissors. They are so essential in fact that we always had multiple pairs: a blue pair, matching the theme of my mother’s kitchen, and a black pair with silver details that came with a fancy knife set. They are invaluable to the preparation of almost every meal, and because of their value it was a spoken rule of the house that they were never to leave the kitchen. This rule was of course not always abided by, and it was common to reach for them only to find that they weren’t in their proper resting place. This moment of disappointment was always followed by a desperate plea of ‘Where are the kitchen scissors?’ and then followed, hopefully, by the return of the scissors to their appropriate home: the kitchen.

Whilst studying abroad my junior year of high school, I discovered that human dependence on kitchen scissors was also present in Italy. Within the first week of arriving at my host family’s house in Vicenza, among other crucial vocabulary words, I learned the Italian word for scissors (forbici). My Italian grandmother even commented one afternoon on the universality of scissors when the mystery of the missing kitchen scissors stuck once again. She yelled, ‘Dove sono le forbici?’, before turning to me and asking if this was a problem that households had in the United States as well. Last year while staying with my boyfriend’s family in Bordeaux, the third French phrase I learned was ‘Où sont les ciseaux?’. Scissors are life.

A few weeks ago Binu, a friend in the program, suggested I try a street vendor who sells bún thịt nướng outside our dorm early in the morning. Eager to switch up my breakfast routine I wandered out of Bach Khoa early around 7:30am. I waited in line for a few minutes and when it came time for the vendor to make mine, she pulled out an old pair of kitchen scissors and went to work cutting lettuce and slicing spring rolls. Suddenly in a world full of unfamiliar utensils and food preparation methods, I felt at home standing on the street watching her skillfully use scissors to fill a to-go container with lettuce, herbs, and bean sprouts; then piling it high with rice noodles, fried spring rolls, grilled pork and finally garnishing it with pickled carrots, radish, and peanuts. This woman got it, she understood the importance of scissors and, just like that, I was hers and her delicious bún thịt nướng was mine.

It is safe to say that kitchen scissors are a global phenomenon and each time I watch bún thịt nướng lady prepare food I am reminded of my own mother and her yellow and blue kitchen that greeted me each morning. To me, kitchen scissors are a consistent and peculiar reminder that people everywhere –  regardless of a million different factors like language, nationality, and religion – are really all just the same.

Bún Thịt Nướng
Bún Thịt Nướng





Travels Galore

Travels Galore

This past Sunday we returned from a 10-day long trip around Vietnam’s north and central regions. It was the first major trip in the program and will be followed in another week by a short excursion to Cambodia. Instead of giving you a comprehensive rundown of the entire trip, I’m imparting short snapshots of each city to you:

Hue: After a long day of touring Hue, a city in central Vietnam that was once home to the legendary Nguyen dynasty, a group of us tracked down a Mexican restaurant on TripAdvisor called Jalapeno.  To our surprise upon entering the restaurant we found a different group of Loyola students half-way through their meal – in the spirit of group travels we combined tables and took over half the restaurant.  Happy hour at Jalapeno meant BOGO margaritas and free beer with any main entrée – an offer none of us could refuse. After receiving our chilled margaritas, we toasted to a happy day and to Emily’s last night as a 21-year-old. Pha, our waiter, overheard the birthday wishes and quickly rushed to the side of our table for more details: whose birthday was it, how old were they and how did you spell their name. Emily did the honors and for the next 30 minutes, as plates of enchiladas and nachos came and went, all of the staff snickered, giggled and whispered. Finally, the moment of truth came. The lights dimmed, the doors shut and a cake with numbered 22 candles and ‘Emily 29.9’ written in red frosting was delivered to the table (not one of us had the heart to tell Pha that Emily’s birthday was actually September 30th). What followed was Emily’s worse nightmare: 4 different renditions of happy birthday and an impromptu dance party in which Pha and her coworkers made us dance to, among other songs, Gangnam Style.

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue
Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Hoi An: Hoi An, another city in Central Vietnam, is known for its quaint architecture and old style. It’s vaguely reminiscent of a small, peaceful Italian town which left Emily and I feeling very at home. After visiting My Son Cham ruins, Emily, Kelsey, Binu, Vien and I rented bicycles to visit a nearby beach. I have no words to explain how wonderful those few hours were. The weather was perfect, the water warm and the waves just enough to inspire the greatness of the ocean in you right before the water set you back down gently on the sandy ocean floor. At one point Emily instructed us to take a good long mental picture of the moment in our heads – it was something we would want to remember the next time we were dozing off in class.

Beach just outside of Hoi An
Beach just outside of Hoi An

Da Nang: Surprise! Da Nang is another city in central Vietnam. For most, Da Nang is known for modernity and cleanliness (apparently, it’s one of the best places to live in Vietnam).  For me, Da Nang is known for the worst mango smoothie. By mango smoothie, I mean to say sugary milk, chunks of mango and a few ice cubes garnished with a random piece of mint. To be fair we only spent about an hour and a half in Da Nang and so please know that I am judging a book by its cover. So please do me a favor and return to Da Nang in order to write your own snapshot that does the city justice.

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang
Dragon Bridge in Da Nang

Hanoi: In Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, we were greeted by delicious northern delicacies such as bun cha and not so friendly Vietnamese northerners who lived up their reputation of being more closed off than their southern counterparts. We found a sweet little place called the Polite Pub where the majority of us Loyola students shared a few glasses of half price wine before a traditional water puppet show. I adore Hanoi for its small streets, large trees and old feel. I sincerely wish we had spent more time there.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Sa Pa: Sa Pa is a glorious small town up near Vietnam’s border with China. We spent only one full day here but it was a wonderful place to relax and its magnificent mountain views do make it worth visiting. The only catch is that to get there you must take a 6-hour bus ride in a sleeper bus. For those of you who haven’t yet encountered the world of sleeper buses, this means that the seats are essentially like beds. For those of you who have encountered the world of sleeper buses, you can probably relate to me when I say this is wonderful except when your seat is broken which leaves you lying flat for 6 hours. The ride up to Sa Pa was fine but it was the ride down that left me a little shaken. After loading up the bus in Sa Pa our driver proceeded to pick up hitchhikers along the highway, stopping (and I mean slamming on the breaks) every 20 minutes to pick up new folks or drop others off. He drove at the speed of light so we get could to Hanoi and drop off the other illegal passengers but still get us to our drop-off location early. This entire experience was made even more complete by the odor of urine and the stench of cigarettes that left my hair smelling as though I had spent the past 6 hours in some shady European discotheque. This was a wonderful experience and although I may not ever repeat it and I am sure I will cherish it for years to come.

Sa Pa in all its glory
Sa Pa in all its glory

At the end of all of this, I was so happy to return home to Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a curious and beautiful thing to feel that you are returning home after only having known a place for 7 weeks.


Saigon’s Top Ten Sensations

Saigon’s Top Ten Sensations

Living in Saigon is existing within a context of complete sensory overload every day, all day. Although many sensations tend to not be so pleasant, there are also those that make sensory overload one of the most invigorating parts about living in Vietnam. Below, for your viewing pleasure, you will find a short list of my top ten sensations and feelings:

1. Peeling all of your clothes off your body at the end of a very long, sweaty day in the comfort of your cool air-conditioned BK dorm room.

2. Sensing the release of anticipation and the subsequent rumble of traffic when the stoplight’s countdown reaches 1 and turns green.

3. Biting into a fresh Banh Mi and watching the bread crumble all down the front of your shirt.

4. Finally itching that bug bite after quietly debating with yourself over whether you should or shouldn’t. For your information, you probably shouldn’t but it just feels so good.

5. Walking into a bathroom, remembering you’ve forgotten to bring toilet paper and then seeing toilet paper sitting there in all its papery goodness (it might be wet because of the spray hose but at least it is there).

6. Recognizing where you are in the city on the back of a GrabBike.

7. Jumping onto (or off of) a still-moving bus and completely sticking the landing.

8. Stepping out into a stream of traffic after deciding that you’ve waited long enough to cross the road.

9. Feeling the cool breeze that sweeps through Saigon just before a monsoon downpour.

10. Taking that first cool sip of iced jasmine tea at basically any street food stall across the city.

Saigon's beautiful colors
Saigon’s beautiful colors


Word Intentionality

Word Intentionality

Three years ago my family and I visited Vietnam during Christmas break. In preparation for the trip, my father purchased a series of books on Vietnamese history and culture. Among these was Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried, a semi-autobiographical novel on his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War, or the American War as it is called in Vietnam. It is a novel that will change you whether or not you think the conflict took place in Vietnam, and much of inland Southeast Asia, was warranted. It is piece of art that effortlessly explains the complex realities of war, love and humanity.

I began the book on the way to Thailand after finding that my Spotify had conveniently decided not work. Towards the middle of our stay in Chiang Mai, I came across a chapter in which O’Brien recounts the story his fellow platoon members greeting the corpse of man who had died in an air strike. Fairly new to the war, O’Brian refuses to follow the lead of his platoon members when they each shake the man’s hand:

“…I didn’t go near the body. I didn’t even look at it except for by accident. For the rest of the day there was still that sickness inside me, but it wasn’t the man’s corpse so much, it was the awesome act of greeting the dead…They proposed toasts. They lifted their canteens and drank to the old man’s family and ancestors, his many grandchildren, his newfound life after death. It was more than mockery. There was a formality to it, like a funeral without the sadness.”

Awesome? Describing such a morbid moment as awesome seemed out of the scope of what the adjective awesome can and should describe. In a brief moment of wanting to prove the word choice of a phenomenally brilliant writer wrong I looked the word awesome up:

Awesome /

Adj. extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear: the awesome power of the atomic bomb.

<SPECIAL USAGE> INFORMAL extremely good; excellent: the band it truly awesome!

Here I was 21 years into life thinking that the meaning awesome was limited to its informal usage. Some of you may already know what awesome means (in fact, I am almost sure most of you do) – but for me this discovery has changed the way I experienced the rest of Thailand and how I hope to experience Ho Chi Minh City where Emily, myself and seventeen other students arrived Wednesday. For me, awesome is no longer taking a really nice hot shower or a sarcastic response to a question.

On our second full day in Chiang Mai Emily and I visited a sanctuary for elephants about two hours north of the city. We got there in the back of a covered pick-up truck and proceeded to spend the next five hours loving, feeding and bathing elephants (baby elephants, too!). There was absolutely no riding, as all riding even if it is bareback is bad for their backs, and we were even taught about the realities of life as working elephant and rehabilitation. It was honestly one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Holding a banana in your hand, screaming ‘BON BON!’ and feeling the earth rumble as elephants stampede towards you – that is awesome.

Soon we left Chiang Mai and found ourselves and a tiny little AirBnb in rural Bangkok. The guesthouse was situated right on a series of canals and Pao, the guesthouse owner, set us up with a boat tour on our first night. The next morning after breakfast he came running upstairs and said, “Big boat. Special surprise. You are lucky!” We grabbed our cameras and ran downstairs to hop on a larger boat then the evening before. Some amount of time later we were in a different village at a bridge blessing ceremony (although this was only discovered after finding someone who could explain what was happening in English). Seeing a crocodile in some rural Bangkok canal on a rickety wooden boat – that is awesome.

Now we are in Ho Chi Minh City where we will be for the next three and a half months. The food is delicious, the temperature is hot and the rain is torrential. We’ve spent the past two days getting to know each other, learning how to count ridiculous quantities of dong (Vietnamese currency) and napping. This morning at orientation we were reminded that our time here will in fact include school. This is the first time that all of my fellow study abroad companions have been to Vietnam and I am amazed at their willingness to put themselves out of their comfort zones. Leaving home for a new country and city they’ve never been to before – that is awesome.

I in no way want to make it seem like these experiences even slightly compare to the awesomeness that O’Brien and his fellow soldiers experienced in Vietnam. But with that said I believe that words are powerful and that using words in a purposeful and deliberate way is important. The vocabulary we choose and how we choose to use it says a lot about how we perceive and interact with our daily lives. For me the word awesome has forever been changed by Tim O’Brien, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, random boat rides in Bangkok and my fellow Vietnam Center students.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary - Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Pho - Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Pho – Bangkok, Thailand
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ten Days till Vietnam!

Ten Days till Vietnam!

Batu Caves - KL, Malaysia
Batu Caves – KL, Malaysia

It’s around 5am in Chiang Mai. I’ve been up for the past two hours listening to the pitter-patter of monsoon rain as it falls on the green plastic roof of our guesthouse. This first blogpost has to happen eventually so it may as well happen now – in the dark on a moist chair cushion outside my room.  

I’m outside because I don’t want to wake Emily, a fellow Loyola student and one of my dearest friends. Emily and I met our freshman year at Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center. Both Rome Start students we lived in adjacent rooms and became friends over a bagel and cream cheese one fateful November morning. The rest is history. We both decided to study abroad in Vietnam for different reasons and it was a wonderful bonus that we just so happened to get to share the experience together. Both of us has saved up for this for the past two years, ever since we returned from Rome. It’s all been leading up to this and now we’re about five days into a two-week long trip to Malaysia and Thailand before our program in Ho Chi Minh City starts on August 24th! Having been in Rome we watched students jet off every weekend to different countries and both of us valued our quiet weekends getting to know the city of Rome. We wanted to travel before the program because once we get to Vietnam we would like to spend the weekends exploring the diverse country and HCMC as much as we can!

The start of the trip was rough. Emily was almost refused entry on our flight from Seattle to Taipei and then Taipei to Kuala Lumpur because she didn’t have the credit card the flight was bought with (i.e her father’s card). It took her three hours to successfully check-in and then we stumbled upon another little issue. Emily found a wallet in the bathroom, we couldn’t find any airport employees and a cranky TSA women told us she wouldn’t help and that we had to call the police. Thankfully, the woman had an AT&T bill in her wallet so we were able to call her up and do a rad wallet-pass-off through the security gates via a different TSA agent as she had already left for baggage claim (thank goodness EVA Air didn’t want to let Emily on the plane!). After 24+ hours of travel we arrived at our AirBnb in Kuala Lumpur and had no idea how to turn on the hot water so we both subsequently took freezing showers after having cooled the room down to a chill 18 degrees Celsius. We learned after that all we had to do for hot water was flip a switch on the bathroom wall. Later, I found a pack of exploded Goldfish in my checked bag that had turned to delicious cheddar sand all over my clothes and shoes. Things shaped up in KL: I had some tasty nasi lemak, watched a monkey steal apples from a man and listened to the call to prayer (a sound that reminds me of my old home in New Delhi, India).

Petronas Towers - KL, Malaysia
Petronas Towers – KL, Malaysia


I did not wake up this morning at 3am because I am jetlagged but rather because I am anticipating breakfast, this entire day and the next four months. I woke up this morning because I have so much to look forward to and I literally could not sleep. Also who can complain about waking up at 3am when you get to watch the sun rise over the lush greenery and rooftops of Chiang Mai? How wonderful is life.