Happenings in Hanoi: University Scholars Leadership Symposium

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By Kevin Tran:

The voices of numerous other humanitarian delegates from across the globe, filled, and poured out of the Vietnamese restaurant. We sat together and listened some more to each other’s stories. What seemed normal in each speaker’s lives was uncannily intriguing to everyone else. We each made a point to take in as much as we could, because though it was unsaid, we all knew that it was nearly time to say goodbye. As a fellow delegate portrayed their story to the rest of the people situated around her, I watched as her words created ripples in their minds. Questions were raised: What did you learn? What motivates you? How did you find this week? I listened along attentively, and wound up thinking to myself, how did I find it?

This week whizzed by. It was a learning journey, one where we learnt of humanitarian focused leadership. We were all beat by the hectic schedule yet so enlightened by the exposure to the real world problems. We visited the locals in Hanoi, connected with them, and had a feel of a life more impoverished than our own.

Upon reflection, I can say with certainty that I was driven to lend a hand. Yet here I was asking myself the same thing over and over. How do I become someone who can make this world a better place? It was a question flung around the room of each conference we went to, and it was a question that left us begging for more answers. Answers which I would find at the dinner table, later tonight.

It’s a surreal feeling, being plucked out of your humble routine life, and plunged into a completely new world, with new people, all just as inspired as you are. Even when they are right there, in front of your face as they were now, it’s still hard to fathom everything that is going on.

I took a deep breath and looked up at the banana-leaf ceiling. My gaze locked onto one of the overhanging paper lanterns. I felt each and every one of their flickering lights, as they bobbed rhythmically with the hot Hanoi breezes. Each lantern was dimly lit, with an expiring light. It seemed whimsical, but when I let my eyes readjust to see beyond that single lantern, I noticed that together they had an astonishing breadth that spanned across the entire restaurant. Even though it was night-time, it didn’t seem dark at all.

I shifted my gaze back down to meet the eyes of the friends around me. They were still engaged in genial discourse about their last night here. It’s bittersweet we all agreed, we’d all only just met, yet we were about to be separated by the currents of our own lives. I felt a rift form in the pit of my stomach as I thought about it. Then, I noticed their dimly lit faces under the Vietnamese paper lanterns, the many smiles gleaming under the flickering light. It struck me profoundly, that these people were the burning candles. I knew then and there, that although we will be separated soon, together, we can still light up the world from afar.

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