A 26-year-old Canadian who dreamed of becoming an elementary school teacher died in a Vietnamese hospital last week, a world away from her Ontario home and under circumstances that remain murky.
Cathy Huynh and Karin Bowerman, a 27-year-old American, went backpacking during their week-long break from the South Korean school where the two taught English.
According to reports from local news organisations, they were staying in a guest house in the coastal city of Nha Trang last week when Bowerman suddenly became ill. Huynh took her to Khanh Hoa Province general Hospital, where Bowerman was hospitalised with acute respiratory failure. She died later that night.
Huynh was taken to hospital two days later in a state of shock, with limited blood and oxygen flow to her internal organs, the Tuoi Tre newspaper reports. She died early the following morning.
Hospital officials have yet to reveal a cause of death. Several reports suggested poisoning as a cause, and the Tuoi Tre quoted a forensics officer as saying the deaths may have been caused by alcohol poisoning. No cause could be confirmed.
Huynh’s mother was reported to be in Nha Trang as of the weekend. A fund has been set up to raise money to bring Huynh’s remains back to Canada, with a goal of $40,000.
Huynh’s “sudden passing has been a shock to us all. We miss and love her dearly,” read a description on the fund’s website, set up by Justin Gallant. “The cost of repatriating her back to Canada, the mandatory funeral [in] Vietnam and her Canadian service will be very expensive. So please do what you can to help her family.”
As of Sunday evening, the fund had raised more than $12,000.
Gallant and Huynh are listed as having graduated from Cathedral High School in Hamilton, Ont., in 2003.
Huynh’s online resume outlines her ambitions to teach and to work with children. She had profiles on multiple international teaching websites, listing her as a 2010 graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. and stating she had a Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. Her resume said she had worked at a YMCA daycare and in a programme teaching kids to cook at Hamilton’s Eva Rothwell Resource Centre.
“In the future I hope to become an elementary school teacher,” Huynh wrote on a website for people looking to teach English in South Korea. “I think travelling abroad will help me experience teaching young children also I will get to learn a new culture. I am independent, reliable and very open minded to trying new things.”
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t comment on Huynh’s cause of death or whether the government is involved in any plans to repatriate her remains.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the Canadian Citizen who passed away in Vietnam,” spokesman Ian Trites wrote in an e-mail. “Canadian consular officials in HCM City are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and are providing consular assistance to the family as required.”
Dustin Le, an American living in Korea, met Huynh about a month ago as a handful of friends and friends-of-friends took shelter in a near-empty bar on the first night of Korea’s monsoon season.
“She said that she had given herself a few years to explore and have fun before she headed back to her home in Canada to settle down and work,” Le wrote in a tumblr post online. “With ironic eeriness, I still remember her words. She concluded with, ‘I am still young, I have time.’”