They say the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they are born and the day they find their purpose for living. Like many people my age who are in school aspiring to change the world one day, I’m also pondering about my own calling. In this search, one thing is clear: my travels to Vietnam have profoundly shaped my worldview and continues to help me move forward.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had the privilege to visit Vietnam several times. Though they have been mainly for recreational purposes, the trips have taught me much more than what I expected. One of the lessons I appreciate most is to enjoy the simple things in life. Even while I am in a country with amazing sights and sounds and delicious food to enjoy, sometimes the best feeling is to just “be” with those I haven’t seen for a long time and be a part of their daily lives. The memories of having breakfast together, watching our favorite cartoon shows in bed, and simply hanging out on the living room floor built by our own hands often surpass those of visiting beaches, zoos, or resorts.

And then there are the lessons that have influenced me in much deeper ways. Beyond the tourist attractions, there is still much hardship and poverty in Vietnam. After living in an area where there is limited sanitation and resources, I am more thankful for all that I have access to back home in the United States. Despite the everyday struggles to survive, I still saw Vietnamese people smiling and embracing life. There is a profound pride to call myself Vietnamese. As a group of people, we have overcome so much adversity to stand tall and continue to fight for the current generation and future ones, too. These trips have left me humbled and full of gratitude.

Since coming home, I’m more aware of the blessed life I have and that I have my heritage to be grateful for. With this awareness more present than ever, I was inspired to give back to my community and to pursue a career in healthcare.

Although I have good memories of my time in Vietnam, I can’t deny the fact that many are suffering from diseases that are treatable or at least better cared for in the United States. Their lack of resources to medicine and proper health care and the full access of mine often leave me feeling guilty. I am constantly struggling and in conflict with what I have and with what my families in Vietnam may not have. However, this also drives me to make the best and the most out of the opportunities I’m presented with.

When I was younger, I felt like I never really fit anywhere as an Asian American. Not in America. Not in Vietnam. But these trips have helped me understand that my Vietnamese heritage as well as my Catholic faith are building blocks of who I am. I am beginning to realize that my Vietnamese background is a gift and what a blessing it is to have these opportunities to visit my homeland. Though I am sure I will continue to question the purpose of my life and think of how I can give back to my family and community, I am unquestionably proud to be Vietnamese and am thankful for everything I have experienced and learned in Vietnam.

Joseph Quốc Việt Phạm was born and raised in Boise, ID. He has two lovely parents and one adorable younger brother. Over the past decade, his mother’s side of the family has immigrated to the United States and he hopes one day to bring his father’s side as well. Joseph continues to search for his calling while being an undergraduate student and strives to be a part of the medical field as well as to serve the Catholic Church in all her beauty.

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