Mr Huang lived in a humble dwelling made of sheets of corrugated iron next door to our house in Hue, Vietnam. He had a small red plastic table and four matching chairs in front of his house. Whenever my husband, Don, and I passed his home he would insist that we sit down and join him for a cup of tea or a glass of beer, and never allow us to pay. He didn’t speak English, and our Vietnamese was incomprehensible. However, we spoke the language of friendship, and managed to communicate with gestures and smiles.
When the time came for us to return to US, we gave Mr Huang and his family our linens, kitchen utensils, and perhaps most importantly, good quality bike helmets. Mr Huang was clearly touched, but then looked embarrassed that he could not reciprocate. Then he had an idea. He climbed onto the roof of his house with a box and rickety chair, and despite being in his seventies, mounted this unsteady structure to pick up a breadfruit from the tree. With a smile from ear to ear, he bowed and presented his gift to us.
In the words of Senator J. William Fulbright, “Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of education can to the humanizing of international relationships.” This humble exchange of gifts was the very essence of my Fulbright experience.
Barbara Ellen Thompson – Fulbright to Vietnam 2014