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ESR reports on secondment in Vietnam

During April and May 2017, ESR Nastassia Sersté was in Vietnam for her Secondment. As already described in a previous article, she launched and managed the project coordinated by Prof. Sabine Lee and Dr. Susan Bartels about Amerasians who had remained in Vietnam after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Take the time to read below the fascinating experience of Nastassia Sersté in Vietnam.

Preparation & Launch of the project

After landing in Vietnam, Sabine, Susan, and Nastassia had a meeting with Lecturer Hang Truong of the National University of Ho Chi Minh City, Department of Anthropology, to discuss the project. They talked about the training, the management, the budget and they organized the schedule for the data collection. Following this, Hang introduced seven of her students who had been selected to take part in the project as research assistants (RAs).

The project coordinators and Nastassia led a two-day workshop to introduce the project to the RAs. They began by presenting the historical context and explaining the aims and research priorities. They analysed the survey and discussed it with the group, trying to resolve any issues before the data collection. Finally, they prepared RAs on how to use the iPad’s and the SenseMaker software. After the theoretical part of the workshop, the RAs did some roleplaying to get a better overview on how to conduct interviews related to this project and simulated particularly challenging interview situations. As evident in the photo below, the students took the training and simulations very seriously. They were interested and motivated to take part in the project, and as result their contribution to the project was remarkable.

In addition, Nastassia prepared the badges for the RAs, the study ledgers for the project and her personal camera to be ready to capture some pictures of this great experience.

At the end of the week, the RAs and coordinators met the Amerasian in-country contact Quynh Lê, born in Da Nang who lives now in Ho Chi Minh City. She helped to organize the meetings with the Amerasian participants, in Ho Chi Minh City, and in the other regions.

After the training, the data collection started in a very enthusiastic and relax atmosphere. It began in Ho Chi Minh City and was successful with 32 stories already collected by the first day!

Interviews around Vietnam

The second week began with a lecture by Sabine and Susan about their work related to the project in Vietnam, at the National University of Ho Chi Minh City. Nastassia also had the opportunity to present her research to the Vietnamese students.

Afterwards, the interviews continued without Sabine and Susan, who left Vietnam in the middle of the second week. From that time, Nastassia was responsible for coordinating the project: organisation of the in-country project finance; welcoming the Amerasians; observing the interview process and keeping a record of observations; monitoring of the data collection; checking technical aspects of the project; taking photographs; receiving feedback from the students and keeping contacts with Sabine, Susan, Hang and Laurie, our Sensemaker consultant. The collaboration with Laurie Webster was important during the entire process of data collection to ensure that everything worked with the iPads, the survey and the data collected. Nastassia and Laurie had several exchanges by emails although it was quite challenging because of the time difference between Vietnam and New York.

These interviews were not only done in Ho Chi Minh City, but also around the South and the Central Vietnam. Indeed, Nastassia, Quynh Lê and four RA’s took the flight from Ho Chi Minh City to the Dak Lak region on April 14th. Afterwards, they took an overnight coach to Quy Nhon. Then, they travelled again by bus to the port city of Da Nang, it was an adventure with not a lot of sleeping!

In each location, the group spent some days of interviewing Amerasians. Some of those had travelled more than 300km to be interviewed. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the Amerasians for sharing their stories. Others were keen on sharing personal documents. For them, it is something very important, they want to be heard and they feel the need to make their voices heard. They thanked the members of the project for what they did.

Finally, the group left Da Nang to go back to Ho Chi Minh City on April 23rd. The data collection continued until May 14th, in the Ho Chi Minh City’s districts. It was during this time that Nastassia could observe the DNA tests of some Amerasians. She also had the chance to interview an Amerasian living in the US who was in Vietnam for some vacations. What a small world, isn’t?

The official end of the data collection in Vietnam took place on May 17th. Nastassia met the students and Lecturer Hang for the last time to close this first part of the project before the analysis of the data collected. Nastassia concluded the research trip by inviting the RAs to enjoy an iced coffee or milkshake, while they provided Nastassia with important feedback about the project.

This Secondment in Vietnam within the «Life courses of Vietnamese Gi Children» was an unforgettable experience for our ESR Nastassia. As with her previous experience in the US with the Amerasians, Nastassia learned many things in the field. Nevertheless, this time was quite different. Nastassia came back to Europe with plenty of pictures about these two different experiences within the Amerasian community. Nastassia is now looking forward to interviewing Amerasians in Europe and then to analyse the data collected on these three different parts of the world.

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