Mia Coward (Vietnam)

Mia Coward, a native Prince Georges County Maryland, is a Graduate student obtaining her Master’s in Public Policy with a concentration in education, social policy, and non-profit leadership at the University of Maryland-College Park. Before taking two years off to get her Master's degree, Mia was a policy associate at Child Care Aware of America working on childcare and early education policy with their advocacy and communications team. She received her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Media Studies at Bennett College. Mia recently worked with World Vision US in the Child Protection and Education department to intern with their All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development Team. She has also worked with organizations ranging from the Intersector Project, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and The Upper Room Global Ministries in Nashville, TN. Her interest includes improving the literacy rate for high poverty communities, influencing equity and inclusion, and grassroots innovation for marginalized communities across the world. In her free time, she enjoys listening to live poetry and trying to new cuisines. -

Never Leave Home Without…

10 Jul

Xin Chao (Hello) Friends, 

As I was closing my suitcase before leaving for my trip, I thought that everything had been checked off the list. All except… my work visa. During the week of training I spent practically every morning trying to obtain my work visa. Then on the last day before leaving, I had to get a tourist visa because the correct paperwork had not come into the embassy so they could only grant me with a tourist visa.  Once in Dong Hoi, my host organization AEPD worked tirelessly to gain my work visa. Now, after four weeks, it was Friday the 6th of July. Ngoc (The AEPD Coordinator) and I were off to Laos; I could leave Vietnam and come back in the morning and obtain my work visa. That morning we took a 3-hour bus to the Vietnam border. The bus route was a little scary for someone like me who does not really like heights or driving up a mountain and has motion sickness on rides like this. We arrived at the border gate of Vietnam.  After Ngoc talked with officials, we sat there for about 20 minutes and then got on another bus to the Laos border gate. There I got my Visa on site for a single night in Laos and then got back on the bus heading to a Laos hotel for one night. 

My anxiety was reeling. I was so anxious about everything, about the visa, about staying in the random hotel in Laos, but I was with Ngoc so I felt like whatever happened we had each other.  She was so prepared which made me feel good. That night we both decided to just sit in the room and while she read her books and articles on her phone, I listened to audiobooks. The next morning, we got ready for what would be THE LONGEST day for both of us. We didn’t know how we were going to get back to the Laos border gate and the official from yesterday was not answering the calls that Ngoc made so Ngoc asked, “You think we should walk?” I thought for a second and then decided why not. So, we dry our shoes with the best boot dryer and we put on shoes and our back packs and began walking. We started walking and tried to get a ride to the border gate. Laughing now while writing this blog, it’s funny that we thought someone would pick up a small Vietnamese woman and an African American woman. Well they didn’t, if you are wondering. We walked past a home that spoke Vietnamese and Ngoc began to explain what we needed. 

Searching for a ride in Laos with Ngoc

After about 5 minutes, Ngoc got a call that the nice office at the Vietnam border gate had sent a car and it was at the hotel for us. We both looked at each other and released a huge laugh! Once in the car, Ngoc began to explain who I was, where I was from and all the details up to this moment. I felt a little bad as she had to do this often for me since everyone wanted to know who this black girl was and why she was in Vietnam. Now in the car, we rode in the back as the driver made numerous stops to drop off or pick up some material that he would then take through the border gate traveling back to Vietnam from Laos. On the way to the border gate, I turned to Ngoc and said, “There’s no way we could have walked all the way back, it would take us hours, maybe even a day to get to that border.” She chuckled and agreed. Getting through the border gate of Laos was easy compared to what we endured next. Once we got to the Vietnam border gate, we thanked the driver and I said goodbye. 

We entered the building and Ngoc said that the paper we were waiting on should be delivered soon. Once we had the needed document, we went to the officers located behind the gate and gave them our passports, my tourist visa, all the documentation we have with us and they looked through all of it. The police/immigration officials left and came back then left again and then began to speak with Ngoc. After their conversation, Ngoc translated for me what had just happened. She said, “The person that has to sign off on your paperwork is not here and he is the only one that can do it.” I was in shock. I asked her, “So in this entire building, there is only ONE person that can sign off on foreigner work visas?” She responded yes, and that she did not understand this protocol either.  She sat down and I could see her upset and frustrated at it all, so I tried my best not to show that I was feeling the same. It had been 4 weeks, a three-hour bus ride over here and an overnight stay in Laos just for the person that can sign my paperwork not to be here. I was in disbelief. She walked back to the officials and began to speak with them. I am not sure what was said in that conversation, but she came back and said they are going to see if they are able to sign off anyway. About 40 minutes later we were taken in the back room for me to fill out the paperwork. We both made a sigh of relief, but it wasn’t over just yet. 

I had to then take my photos and get my passport stamped. One of the immigration officials took me to meet a guard. He was a short, kind of stubby man who had a beard but not like the ones most people I know have. It was just below his chin and that was it. I could already tell he didn’t speak English. The official says, “Go with him”. Now I must admit this was all a little sketchy to me (The American girl) who is used to walking the streets of Washington D.C. where trees are becoming scarce. I took the picture, and we headed back. Then as I get back, Ngoc says okay we must catch the bus. I forgot to mention earlier that there is only ONE bus there and ONE bus back and we had to make the bus back. I don’t think either one of us could have spent another night in a strange place. We ran to the bus, but as we were running, I looked at Ngoc and said, “My passport!” She said we must go and pick it up from the other gate. I was confused. I looked at her with confusion written on my face and she said don’t worry. We got on the bus and then we stopped at the other gate, anxious and waiting for the passport that would have an official stamp. Finally, we saw a man running toward us and I let out a sigh of relief. After all we had been through, it was finally over. We got back on the bus, catching our breath and trying to calm our nerves for the five plus hour trip back to Dong Hoi. Monday would be my first official day in the office. 

Posted By Mia Coward (Vietnam)

Posted Jul 10th, 2019


  • Emily

    July 15, 2019


    Wow, this sounds so stressful! I’m glad you were able to laugh about it with Ngoc. Your descriptive writing is beautiful and really fun to read. I’m excite to learn more about your work now that you have all the necessary paperwork!

  • Abby Lahvis

    July 15, 2019


    Wow! Sounds like an eventful journey!

  • rachel wright

    July 15, 2019


    It’s crazy that you’ve gone through so many hurdles to get your visa! Hopefully now moving forward things will seem to go a little bit smoother and you’ll enjoy really digging into your work.

  • iain

    July 15, 2019


    What an adventure – so glad its over and that you can get back out to meet with families. Ngoc is a real trooper!

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