Lyn Dong

Lyn Dong

The personal and political in Vietnamese food culture

7th December 2018

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Lyn Dong from the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of Asia and Pacific will join her peers at the December 2018 graduation ceremony to be awarded a Bachelor of Asian Studies with first-class Honours.

Lyn Dong grew up helping her parents, first generation Vietnamese Australian migrants, in their small Vietnamese eatery in Hobart. She cites their work ethic as her biggest source of motivation and encouragement. Their support enabled her to be the first person in her immediate family to attend university where Lyn embarked on a five-year Bachelor of Asian Studies (Honours) (Year in Asia).

Thinking back to what drew her to the ANU she recalls, “The more I learned about the ANU, the more impressed I became with the University's teaching and research excellence in Asia and the Pacific. In particular, I was impressed that the University had a whole college dedicated to understanding and engaging with Asia and the Pacific.”

Focussing on Gender, Media and Cultural Studies at the School of Culture, History and Language, Lyn was inspired by Dr Shameem Black’s engaging and innovative course Gender and Cultural Studies in Asia and the Pacific. In one of the assignments, Lyn created an app in which people can learn about Vietnam’s history, politics, and culture through food in a fun and accessible way.

Lyn’s thesis has a profound connection to her upbringing. Her research explored how Vietnamese-Australians find belonging through food cultures, with a particular focus on younger generations.

She proposes that family food cultures and political economies of food are productive spaces for renegotiating notions of belonging for the Vietnamese diaspora in the 21st century. An example of how this happens is when Vietnamese parents greet their children with “have you eaten yet?” instead of “how are you?” According to Lyn this manner of expressing affection and care is grounded in a long historical trauma of hunger.

These questions, laced with care and love give rise to a broader social question: how is one’s sense of belonging to an imagined community articulated most deeply through the code of food and family? According to Lyn, food allows families to show emotional and physical care in the most immediate sense. However she found that parents’ concern with eating is also a specific historical preoccupation for first generation Vietnamese migrants.

“The project was both academically fulfilling and quite therapeutic for me. I learnt so much about my own identity and the complexities of Vietnamese culture.,” she says.

However, Lyn’s course of study was not without challenges. As the date for her thesis submission drew near, her father’s health declined severely. She expressed her gratitude for the supportive staff at the College of Asia and Pacific (CAP) especially Dr Shameem Black, who “encouraged me to think creatively and analytically in ways that I did not know were possible. She is not only a talented teacher and an expert in her field, but she also truly cares about the wellbeing of her students.”

One of the highlights of Lyn’s study was Year in Asia where she had the chance to study Mandarin at the National Taiwan University. A CAP flagship program for overseas study, Lyn said, “It was such a transforming experience. I made lifelong friends from around the world and my Mandarin improved significantly as I was immersed in the language 24/7.

“I encourage potential students to take full advantage of all the opportunities that the College of Asia and the Pacific has to offer, from short, in-country courses to yearlong exchanges across Asia and the Pacific. The life experiences and language skills that you can gain from being in country are irreplaceable and are well worth the investment.”

Lyn, who started her degree with a passion for Chinese politics and language says, “sometimes we start on a journey thinking we’re going to achieve a specific goal but then along the way we discover other goals that really tug at our hearts and minds. It’s important to address these because I think they take us closer to our true passions and callings in life.”

Upon graduation, Lyn will be working as a graduate at the Department of Jobs and Small Business in Canberra. She hopes she will get to work on projects related to Asia, such as equipping Australian businesses with Asian literacy to build stronger economic and trade partnerships.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster