Interview: Adventures in Vietnam with Kenya
I first met Kenya in Paris at the opening reception for the world-renowned artist Fahamu Pecou. We connected instantly – both proud descendants of Caribbean parents and students of the world. She embodies the current status and future of many young Black women in America. While there’s still a ton of work to do to fix the gender and race gap in the U.S., more and more women of color are graduating with bachelor’s and post-graduate degrees, furthermore young women of color are spearheading the modern female traveler movement. As a result, I’ve seen and heard more stories like Kenya’s – women of color living abroad after their studies.
Hey Kenya! First things first - please introduce yourself.
My name is Kenya James. I'm originally from New York but was raised in Atlanta. I was always interested in a career in international affairs, so I went to Howard University and then the New School. And now, I work in the realm of international relations - traveling the world.
How did you fall in love with Vietnamese culture and language?
When I was first assigned by my job to go to Vietnam, I wasn't sure what to expect. But soon after I arrived, I felt the warmth and openness of the people. I was convinced that Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) would be one of my favorite cities in the world once I partook in the cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine – much like the culture of Vietnam – is refreshing, intricate and bold. And using the language just created an awesome bonus entry to learning more about Vietnamese culture.
Have you seen or met other people of color during your time in Asia?
Throughout my travels in Asia, I've always bumped into African-Americans - we do travel to the Far East. When I first arrived, there was a small community of African-Americans which has grown tremendously over the past two years. One of the major things that have brought camaraderie amongst the African-American community was a Facebook group started by one of my close friend in HCMC.
What are the greatest challenges you faced while living abroad?
Being a person of color is always a challenge wherever you are. But I think the most challenging part of living abroad is creating home while being away from home.
What travel/language advice would you give other people of color who are interested in learning Vietnamese and traveling to Vietnam?
As Americans, we have our set of cultural norms that are ingrained within us. When traveling and living overseas, it is very important to hold on to the norms but not impose them on others. Be open, be willing to challenge yourself and make friends.
What has been your favorite memory living in Vietnam?
Living in Vietnam will always be a favorite memory of mine. In particular, I really enjoyed sharing Vietnam with my closest friends who came to visit.
What are three packing/traveling essentials you recommend for travelers who want to visit Asia?
Sunscreen, a fan and lotion. When it's not rainy season, travel with sunscreen because it's super sunny. Southeast Asia is also tropical, so be sure to carry a fan or a washcloth. Lotion is also a big thing, sometimes the moisturizing products have bleaching properties - so bring your own lotion.
If we want to learn more about you, where can we find you?
My blog, "The Jordana Review" is under construction and will be relaunched this fall. In the interim, find me on Twitter and Instagram - @kenyajjames.