It's been a few weeks since I returned from Vietnam and found that I was missing Vietnam’s culture and nature, but mostly it was the connections with the people. While sorting through my pictures, I was back with the Hmong and remembered learning a lot from this minority group while staying with a young Hmong woman named Ma.

Ma a trekking guide for the FAM trip

Ma is a trekking guide and has just started a homestay in Lao Chai. During our first introduction, she invited me to stay with her and was very eager to get to know me. During our time in Lao Chai I spent a night at her place and was amazed by her great English skills and her sense of humour. Ma is only two years younger than me and although we are from very different countries and cultures I realized that we both share similar values.

Family is an important aspect of my culture as well as for the Hmong. Ma believes in family bonding and support for one another. In Hmong culture the whole family works together whether it's building a home or planting rice. Ma stayed with her family-in-law for three years while everyone helped build her new home. I was impressed with this cultural behaviour since it would be uncommon to find this level of support from people in my culture.

Ma’s house and rice field

I have worked many summers on various farms and developed an appreciation for nature. The Hmong people also value their natural surroundings for its diversity and balance. Ma thinks that letting her children play outside is good for them. It allows kids to experience danger themselves and have a better understanding of their environments. In addition, since Ma is also a farmer, nature becomes a necessity, she learned to respect the land at a very young age.

Another value Ma and I share is our open-mindedness. We are both curious about each other’s culture and we appreciate each other’s differences. Ma questioned me a lot about my life back home, especially about my diet and my family. During our goodbyes, she once again amused me when she spontaneously told me that I should have children soon while my body is still young. I laughed, but quickly felt sad to realize that I will deeply miss my new friend.

Ma and I before trekking the Muong Hua Valley

Working and living with the Hmong showed me how welcoming certain culture may be. Ma and many others have a generosity I have never seen and experienced before. Reflecting on the trip and our shared values I feel I have a better appreciation for simplicity and try to find happiness in the smallest things. Amongst this community, I have learned to be more respectful, attentive and patient with one another.

I would like to thank Capilano University, CBT Vietnam, PATA, and everyone that made this project possible. Without everyone’s initiative and hard work, I would not have the opportunity to meet inspiring and unforgettable people, such as Ma.