12-year-old Scout Gramse exploring Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, during her year away from Alaska. Photo by Shannon Gramse.

Editor’s note: Because her mom had a sabbatical from the University of Alaska to work on English language programs in Southeast Asia, 12-year-old Scout Gramse of Anchorage lived for nearly a year in Vietnam. The family of three returned to Alaska this past June. Since traveling gives a person perspective, we talked to Ms. Gramse about her experience.

Alaska: How does a typical school day differ between Alaska and Vietnam?

Gramse: Coronavirus now has changed everything about schooling, of course, but last year in Anchorage, I woke at 8 a.m. to get ready for school. My parents drove me about six minutes to Rogers Park Elementary. I had gone there since kindergarten, so I knew all my classmates well. A typical day included math first hour, followed by an extra class like art or music or PE. Then, a short 20-minute recess and 20-minute LOUD lunch. Afternoons were spent in our classroom doing science or English or social studies. Often after school, my mom drove me to Northern Lights Swim Club or to dance practice or singing lessons. Depending on the season, I was playing volleyball or skiing at Junior Nordic.

In Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), I went to an international baccalaureate school (grades 6-12) called ISHCMC. We wore uniforms and were split into four houses: Tigers, Cobras, Dragons, and Buffalo. I was in dragons with my two good friends, Amelie and Arina. I got up about 7 a.m. and took a van to school. We had four periods per day. I loved the lunch time because it was 70 minutes long. We could go wherever we wanted in the school to read or study, play games on the field, or hang out with friends. The cafeteria had so many good choices: pizza, traditional Vietnamese foods, tacos, and they had Meatless Mondays! Also, there was a cafe opened throughout the school day that served wraps, chocolate fudge cake, brownies, crepes, smoothies, and other good drinks.

My favorite classes were visual arts and product design. Core classes like English and social studies were integrated into one course: EnSoc. With only four class periods per day, we spent more time without interruption on our subjects, and we also went in-depth on projects.  

12-year-old Scout Gramse watches traffic in Ho Chi Minh city through her window.
Scout Gramse watches traffic in Ho Chi Minh City shortly after the family arrived there for a 11-month sabbatical. It took this Alaskan kid a while to adjust to life in a city of millions. Photo by Shannon Gramse.

Alaska: What do you miss about your Vietnam house now that you’re back in Alaska?

Gramse: I loved the view from our apartment in HCMC. We looked out on the Saigon River and could see boats going back and forth all day. We also had a pool right out our front windows that was beautiful, and usually no one was in it. The house was always clean because there was maid service. It was also easy to wake up every day because the sun rose between 5:15 and 6:15 a.m. all year. We could bike easily to stores and restaurants (except when the tide was high and flooded our street). It was fun to walk across the street to a little store for late-night snacks. I also LOVED the food! My dad and I often made Vietnamese food for our dinners. I especially loved bánh mì and bánh xèo.

I missed my bed in Alaska because it is home. When I was in HCMC and would think about my Anchorage street, I thought about my best friends who live next door: Lily, Grace, Rosie, and Jacey. I have known them since I was born. In the summer, we choreograph dances and perform them on the street. In the winter, we sled behind our houses. We share secrets and books and clothes and practice cooking for each other. Even when we get into fights, I know I won’t lose their friendships. 

Alaska: While in Vietnam, did you miss winter and snow?

Gramse: I missed the snow and the winter, but it was very nice to have so much warmth for a while. We didn’t need a lot of extra clothes—no coats or long pants. For example, I had one pair of running shoes, one pair of Birkenstocks, and one pair of dress flats. In Alaska, I have boots for every season. I missed the feeling of looking outside and seeing a winter wonderland. 

snow patch and Alaska mountain landscape with hikers
On a backpacking trip in Alaska’s mountains. Photo by Shannon Gramse.

Alaska: What do you think your new friends in Vietnam would think of your Alaska cabin if they came to visit?

Gramse: My family has a cabin on West Papoose Lake, and I don’t think my friends in HCMC would like it. It would be too rustic for them—no running water or electricity, and only a compost toilet. All of them are used to a big city of 11+ million people, not a private lake with only a few other families.

Alaska: How do you think your time in Vietnam changed your outlook on life as an Alaskan?

Gramse: I appreciate the calmness in Alaska, and how it seems like such a small place, and how everyone knows each other. Also how lucky Alaskans are to have the wilderness in our backyards—in Vietnam you have to drive around three hours to be in the wild. We spent a few days north of HCMC in the Cat Tien National Park (a jungle). It was beautiful, but not a place you can get to easily. In Alaska, the wilderness is only a few minutes from your door, no matter where you live. Even the street I live on in Anchorage seems so quiet compared to our place in HCMC.

Alaskan born and raised, Scout Gramse is an ASD 7th grade student.


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