People go on vacation for many reasons. Some go to relax or to get away. Yet, how many trips bring about profound changes in one’s life? I interviewed two individuals who were fortunate enough to have this journey.

Peter Tran, who works as a Youth Supervisor in the Seattle Youth Employment Program, came back from his trip to Vietnam with a better understanding of his roots and parents. Tran, a second-generation Vietnamese American who was raised in Oklahoma City, never thought about visiting his parents’ home country of Vietnam.

His father, Michael Hieu Tran returned to Vietnam about seven years ago to visit his mother and family and returned wanting the entire family to go with him in the near future.

“My mom, Vi Nguyen was skeptical about going,” said Tran. “See, my mom, she’s not super out-going—very introverted. I was away in Ireland, studying abroad when my parents emailed me about taking a family trip to Vietnam. My father’s mom was getting sick and had been in the hospital several times that year. We all wanted to see her, especially my father.”

Tran remembers spending the majority of his time in his father’s village of Quy Nhon Young and Saigon.

“I felt awkward, at first, being there,” recalls Tran. “I was overwhelmed with meeting all my family. It was this overflow of information and feelings. I started to come out of my shell when I began to live in their lives, feeling their rhythm.” Tran said once he let his guard down and became more open, he learned a great deal.

“The hardest step is breaking down your barriers, but if you are open to the people, to your family, your ideas about them may be topsy-turvy.” He was able to see his parents in a natural, holistic way.

“My parents were so happy to be there. They were like kids and even my mom said ‘I feel like a fish back in water.’”

Tran shared a touching moment he witnessed between his grandmother and father.

“You know, over there it’s really hot and my dad was laying out on a mattress in the living room. I saw my grandma next to him gently fanning him. It was very touching—it was like he was a little boy again.”

Since his trip, Tran thinks about his extended family and misses them. He became emotional after sharing that he felt a greater sense of responsibility to help his family overseas. This responsibility was not driven from guilt but out of a connection to his cousins, to his relatives.

“I want to show them that just because we are in America, we still think about them often.” Tran and his family are planning another trip to Vietnam and, one day, to build a home there.

Ammara Hun, a second-generation Cambodian American, who worked for the Wing Luke Asian Museum, visited her mother’s home country for the first time in 2009. Her mother, Montha Kimso, left Cambodia just over thirty years go, in 1979. Ms. Kimso, survived the Khmer Rouge genocides but still had many relatives in her home country. Hun, being the eldest in her family, realized it was her responsibility to help make this trip a reality for her mother.

Ammara Hun, left, with her family in Cambodia. Courtesy Ammara Hun.

Hun and her mom visited family in Cambodia for three weeks and recounted her memories of what she calls her mother’s “healing trip.” As she talked about her experiences, Hun became overwhelmed and emotional especially when talking about her mother.

“When we first arrived in Phnom Penh everyone cheered on the airplane—it was really emotional,” said Hun. “Being there, everyone was proud to be Khmer. My mother prepared a ceremony to bless her relatives who had passed away and a ceremony for her first husband. This was the first time my mom talked about her past life, before she met my father.”

Hun continues, “I remember going through her personal belongings as a young kid. I saw old pictures of my mom in the 60’s. I found a faded, worn towel in her bedroom. When I un-wrapped it, I discovered dried blood on small bones and human teeth. I was so scared I never told my mom what I did. My mom told me those pictures and remains were of her fist husband, who passed away during the war. I found myself admiring my mom’s strength, her ability to endure so much to raise me and my younger brother.”

Hun shared that during the last days of her trip, she became homesick—her mother as well. While they were homesick for different reasons, they understood one another’s pain. Ms. Kimso expressed to her daughter that her village and Cambodia had changed a lot since she left as a young woman. What she had remembered were past stories, faded memories of when she was a child. She told her daughter she could not live there again, but would love the country and its people. Hun agreed.

“Being in Cambodia really confirmed my identity,” Hun said. “I am Khmer American and I was seen as that. The Khmer people were kind but they would judge me by my looks. At times, I felt isolated because I wanted to share my experience with others, who were like me. I know I could never live there. My resources—my identity—are tied to my home here in Seattle.”

As Hun processed her trip, her connection to her mother grew. Hun decided this Khmer New Year she will officially change her last name. Culturally, children take on their father’s last name. But, Hun decided to break with that tradition. She asked for her mother’s blessing to change her name from Ammara Hun to Ammara Kimso.

“[My father] and my mom separated when I was very little, so all this time, my mom was both my mother and my father. I want to honor her, honor what she has done for me.”

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