Sofia Rivkin-Haas ’09, an Honors English Major and Honors History Minor, will be spending her year abroad as a Fulbright recipient teaching English in Vietnam.
“I always wanted to go into Education, but I wanted to take a year abroad before graduate school and stretch myself,” noted Rivkin-Haas. With help from Melissa Mandos, Rivkin-Haas searched for various grants and fellowships before deciding to apply for the Fulbright, which offered a special program that would allow her to teach English for a year in the country of her choice.
Although the Fulbright committee has not designated her placement, she speculates about spending her year teaching at the University level in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. As for her decision to spend her year in Vietnam, Rivkin-Haas credits that to her father’s experience with the Vietnam War and to her family’s own visit to Vietnam.
“My father held misgivings about going to Vietnam since he was drafted but luckily missed the boat. He was scared because of the guilt over atrocity that occurred during the war,” remarked Rivkin-Haas. Her family visited Vietnam when she was 11, and the experience opened her eyes to human stories that were shaped by the Vietnam War. During a visit to the War Remnant Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, which covered war atrocities, she recalled when the museum tour guide, a young Vietnamese man whose parents grew up during the Vietnam War, took the tour group aside for a private moment.
“He told us his experiences, of his family, friends and himself during the War, and he told us the human side of the war. But the message he told us that still holds impacts us today, ‘We forgive, but never forget,’ I will never forget it. That was the first time I saw my father cry. Everyone was crying. We’re used to the American perspective, we were taught so little about Vietnam in school. But there is an entire missing narrative.”
Besides pursuing her professional interests, Rivka-Haas will have the opportunity to explore creative pursuits while abroad. As a student involved with the Theater and Dance department, she is currently interested in Water Puppetry, an ancient Asian puppet tradition found only in Vietnam that uses wooden puppets suspended by large rods over a pool of water. When properly performed, the puppets appear to be moving over the water.
“I have Swarthmore to thank for my exposure to art in a non-western frame…I definitely want to explore my interest in a non-western theatrical practice. I am not sure what will happen, but I will most likely focus on puppetry or dance.”
Sofia Rivkin-Haas has been involved with the WRC board and the Katrina Relief Project on campus. She has also been an RA and is excited that after a long application process, she will be able to spend her next year teaching in a country that has survived war atrocities but is now expanding and undergoing rapid economic change.