Exotic experiences loom for Spencer man spending fall semester abroad
By Bob Jamieson
August 29, 2009
I never met a hiker who carried a novel under his arm. Greg Beauchamp
did. It was on a rugged group hike in July up Hemlock Mountain near
Slate Run, Pa.
The novel was Jack Kerouac's "On The Road," the acclaimed road trip
book from the 1950s. As we ascended the ravine to the summit, I
learned how far the horizons were for this 19-year-old Tioga County
resident: about 9,000 miles.
"Vietnam is just about halfway around the world," the Lockwood
resident told me. Indeed. The 2008 Spencer-Van Etten High School
graduate got there last week.
He landed in Da Nang, the country's fourth-largest city, perhaps best
remembered here as the site of a major U.S. air base during the
Vietnam War. Beauchamp was born years after that polarizing conflict
ended, but in a way, the war created this opportunity for him.
The SUNY Brockport sophomore is spending his fall semester abroad in
the SUNY Brockport Vietnam Program. He'll blog about his experiences
on this newspaper's Web site.
Kenneth J. Herrmann Jr., an associate professor of social work at
Brockport who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, created and
directs the program, which was launched in 2000.
Beauchamp is scheduled to be in Vietnam until early December. He'll
earn 15 college credits, too. That's just part of what the $9,850 fee
(according to the program Web site) will buy you. He'll study the
language, culture, politics and history of the country from
professors who teach at public and private universities in Vietnam.
He'll take trips with his classmates, faculty and local guides to
places named Marble Mountain and Elephant Falls. He'll teach
conversational English at night to area residents.
Required pre-trip reading for the half-dozen or so students going
this fall: "Lepers and Lunacy: An American in Vietnam Today," by
program founder Herrmann. It's described as an account of his
personal and professional struggles with the war.
Herrmann is executive director of the Danang/Quang Nam Fund, a
charity that describes its mission as providing direct aid to the
poor and disabled in the Da Nang area, many of them affected by the
use of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Vietnam.
As part of the program, Beauchamp will meet some of those people.
"It just seems like, for some reason, I will learn more from shaking
hands with someone who only has two fingers than I would from someone
in a classroom here," Beauchamp says.
The itinerary calls for the students to volunteer at a center for
children suffering the effects of exposure to Agent Orange. He said
he'll also go to a nursing home where he will meet Vietnam War vets
"from their side." One weekend trip, he said, will take him into the
mountains to a leper colony.
"One cool thing we are doing one day is to go to a garbage dump," he
says. Obviously, there is more to that story.
"People live there," he explains. "They pick through mountains of
garbage. Whatever they can salvage, they sell. Apparently, hundreds
of people are doing this. Most of them have medical problems."
There is lightness to this experience, though. Beauchamp and the
others will live in a dormitory by the learning center, where they
will take classes. Because Da Nang is on the South China Sea, they'll
be eating a lot of seafood, as well as rice and spicy food. He says
he has been in training by putting hot pepper sauce on everything.
But that again is all part of the campus experience. Off campus, it
appears he'll try to emulate Andrew Zimmern, host of "Bizarre Foods"
on the Travel Channel.
"I am going to be trying some wild stuff," Beauchamp says. How wild?
He wants to experience restaurants where they kill and serve you
snake, or dog, or small birds - "chickadees and stuff that they put
on a skewer."
"I'm willing to try it. I hope people don't judge me too much about
the dog," he adds.
So how does he see this experience coloring his future? "I just want
to grow as a person by dealing with certain situations, because of
stuff I learned in Vietnam, especially uncomfortable situations," he
says. "I am sure there will be slip-ups. I just want to be good at
keeping my composure.
"Most of the world is not like the U.S. There is a lot of poverty. I
just want to come back and have a better appreciation for things I
have in my life now."