Day 12

I never thought my life could change in two weeks the way it has been changed this trip. I could go on for days about everything and everyone I will miss from Vietnam, but no one wants that. I’ll keep it abbreviated.
Today as we played sports, one of my favorite types of activities, I had the realization that there is a chance I could never see all of my friends who have taken us on spectacular adventures to dinner, markets, and… So much more. It was almost flooring. Then I realized what an impact they must have made on my life in a mere two weeks to make that much of a difference. I can only hope to stay in contact with the UEF students who were all so wonderful to us this trip.
Along with the students, I will miss Vietnam as a whole. I really started to fall in love with the controlled chaos of Ho Chi Minh traffic and the aggressiveness of market sellers. The beautiful city and the surrounding areas we visited definitely impacted my life in a positive way. Transitioning from that bustle back to quiet Washington county will not be an easy one.
The beauty of the Mekong Delta is incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen in my life. I am so excited to show my family the pictures of the tropical foliage and the terrifyingly small boats we rode on.
If you would have told me a year ago that a two week trip to Vietnam would completely change the way I see the world, I would have called you crazy. But now I know the wonderful people, places, and experiences that live right in Ho Chi Minh City.


Day 11- Topic IV

The two final visits to VSIP and II-VI gave me a look at a different type of industrial park than what we have seen before. II-VI also gave insight on how an American company functions in a Vietnamese environment.
Unlike Phu My Hung, VSIP is much more involve in the market of housing industry and also citizens. Their outlooks were very different. It was interesting that the presenter didn’t even mention them as a competitor in either market.
II-VI was one of the factories located within VSIP. II-VI was one of the most interesting site visits we did, in my opinion. I thought the fact that they had vertically integrated their market was very interesting. I am curious if they have some type of monopoly on the raw materials they use from the Philippines. If they sell pre-made made parts to other competitors for higher prices their must be some type of limitation to the access of goods upstream.
Also, the lack of a marketing team is very unique. It seems as if the Vietnamese branches are not concerned about sellers because they already have two groups they sell to exclusively.
The production of these glass and lens products is very complicated. There is a lot of technical, detailed work put into the production of the heating and cooling units as well as the glass products. As a HR major the detail was very confusing, but I
was fascinated by the intricate work done by the men and women on the line.
It is also very impressive that many of these workers came in with little to no training but are taught how to do such delicate work. There are many workers compared to the educated engineers, so I am sure they are often very self-sufficient.
One last thing I found very commendable is the fact that they adhere to the environmental rules that are the most strict, whether that be by the USA or Vietnam.
We definitely saved one of the best visits for last.

Day 10

Our visit to the Reunification Palace gave us a deeper look into what happened in South Vietnam during the War. As the trip continues we keep learning the depth of the other side of the story. The South Vietnamese government and the president used  this building almost like the White House is used today in Washington DC. The building itself was absolutely beautiful. With the a vast majority of the original decor, it let you enter the time that it existed. The bright green and yellow rooms screamed 1960s.

One of my favorite parts of the palace was the location where the president of South Vietnam lived with his family before the war ended. I thought it was really neat that the common area of all of the rooms was an outdoor courtyard area. The whole building was magnificently built.

I also thought the symbolism behind the exterior design of the building was also fascinating.

When we arrived at SNP today my eyes were opened to what a more modern and functioning part of Vietnam looks like. As the presenter explained the corporation to us I was slightly confused about the government interaction with the company. I understand the Navy runs the port, but I am not sure if they run SNP as a corporation or not. I thought the amount of items brought in every week was very impressive. It is often easy to forget how big of an impact countries like Vietnam have on the global economy, especially with imports and exports. Also, the tall cranes that moved the big containers were really cool. I, by no means, know how they work, but I did have the strong urge to want to attempt to manuver one. Thankfully, I was not let out of the bus around them.

Day 9

Today was a day that opened my eyes to the harshness of reality and the pain that the people of Vietnam endured during the war. It was also a day when I was able to see the peacefulness and calm demeanor of the people who practice Buddhism. The way today was set up really gave me a look into the facets of the Vietnamese culture.

The calm of the Buddhist pagoda was absolutely beautiful. It was so quiet and had a sense of serenity.  As we arrived I was afraid that I was basically observing someone else’s religion for enjoyment and they would feel uncomfortable. Thankfully, the few people there either ignored us and went about their business or were kind enough to talk to us. Their openness made the experience so much more meaningful, at least to me.
As our time at the Pagoda came to a close and we entered the War Remnants Museum, we began to see a very different side of Vietnam. I couldn’t help but avert my eyes at some of the images throughout the rooms about Agent Orange and the bombings. It is so hard for me to understand how people can treat other people in ways like that, ways that will affect their lives for 50 years to come. At the same time, I had to internalize that just because America did these horrible acts, doesn’t mean the blame or weight of it is on me as an American. Not everything America does reflects the people who lived there at the time or live there now.
These visits gave me an insight to Vietnam’s story. I will never forget that.

Day 8

Bartering is one of the most exhilarating and terrifying experiences I have ever had in my entire life. I felt like a puppet as the shop owners tried to play me in about any way that they could. At one point a woman had a death grip on my arm and refused to let go. Thankfully, one of the UEF students pried her off and gave me the chance to run for it. Unfortunately, Devon was too close and trapped next. This very physical type of selling is so new to me and kind of freaks me out.

After that close encounter, I think I did a decent job of bargaining for the items I got. I drew a line with the bartering because it was so early in the morning, but I was still aggressive enough to get slightly more reasonable prices on what I wanted. I am so thankful to the many UEF students who helped me out along the way as well. No matter how much fun it was, I will always prefer walking into Target, buying what I need, and getting out.

Thankfully, the day calmed down substantially when we arrived at TVS. Meditation was much needed after the morning at the market. I found that the investment  portion of the trip to be slightly confusing, due to the lack of background I have in the field. The parts I did understand were very applicable to what I have covered in some entry level business classes. The size of the market and the growth of the market were interesting, though.

Today was undoubtedly  the most stressful and peaceful day of the whole trip.

Day 7- Topic VII

As  past week has gone by, I often try to think back on what the CultureSmart book taught me. At the close of the first week, I have noticed that there were both true and false assumptions in the book, and I have some reasoning for why this might be different.

First and foremost, I remember talking about how the Vietnamese people will not hold a grudge against an individual American for the war. That has rung true the entire trip. As we visit sites of the war or it is even brought up by an older person they make sure to let us know that we are not the American Armed Forces, and they can distinguish between the two. Even though the book told us it would be this way, their capacity to open their hearts and minds blows me away.

One statement from the book that I haven’t noticed as often is that they will smile at us even when they are not happy. Maybe it has happened, and I haven’t noticed. Honestly, I’d like to think we haven’t made them that angry, but they sometimes have to be very patient with us.

I don’t know if only one part of the book was most useful for my experience with Vietnamese culture. I think the book just gave me a very good overall introduction to these people. Some history, culture, and business advice that I put in the back of my head. As time passes all of us are getting better at interacting with Vietnamese people and needing the information from CultureSmart less, but it was a very useful tool to push interaction and understanding before we had witnessed it first-hand.

Day 6

The trip to the Mekong Delta was, potentially, one of the coolest experiences I have has in my life. I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll try.

The boat ride to the restaurant was like a ride in Disney World but in real life. As a person born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania, I don’t get to see or feel what it’s like to live in a tropical climate very often. The foliage was absolutely stunning, and I couldn’t get over the fact that we were practically always surrounded by coconut, papaya,  or banana trees.

After lunch, which was mind-blowing, the trip to the two islands was so fascinating. The stories about the coconut religion on Phoenix island were so intriguing, and the fact that we got to see the last practicing member of the religion is completely unique. Not only were the stories about the religion fascinating, but the island itself and the temple on it were beautiful. It is hard to believe that one man built that all on his own. The coconuts that we got on the boat ride were definitely a nice touch to round out that whole experience.

Unicorn Island was just as cool. I am so glad that I can go tell all of my friends at home that I’ve been to Unicorn Island. (Even if it’s not exactly what they think it is.) Even though it might not have been as mystical as the name denotes, it was an awesome experience getting to enjoy the Vietnamese culture with the tea, fruit, and music. I really enjoyed their rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”.

The trip to the Mekong showed me a part of Vietnam far out of the city. Those people live their lives a different way than someone here in Ho Chi Minh, and I ‘m so thankful I got to experience it.

Day 5-Topic I

The US Consulate in Vietnam is directly involved in the governmental and economic interactions between the USA and Vietnam. Because of this, the state of the relationship between the two nations is directly reflected in the work they must do.

Right now, the United States and Vietnam are getting along very well. This gives them the ability to teach many Vietnamese people about American culture and let them into the lives we live. It is interesting that so many people still see a country that fought a terrible war against them as “a land of opportunity”. Yesterday, one student even made a statement to me that she sometimes wishes she had been born in the United States.

This camaraderie also leads to economic benefits for both nations. As Vietnam enters a global market and the US needs locations for global businesses, a good relationship will foster growth in both countries. I am not 100% sure what the economic sector of the consulate does because the representative was busy, but I am sure they are often involved in these types of business transactions.

Currently, this relationship is being built even stronger by the fact that President Obama will be visiting Vietnam next week . Obviously, he does not have the ability to visit every country in the world, so a visit to Vietnam shows how important it is on the world stage. I also applaud the consulate workers for all the efforts they are putting into his visit on top of the work they would do normally.

I had never really thought of the small and big legalities a consulate would have to take care of because I have never left the country before. It was very cool to see what our government does overseas.


Day 4- Topic VI

Our trip to Vung Tau beach today was a nice change of pace from the others days this week. We had a bit of an opportunity to relax, but more than anything we had the opportunity to get to know the Vietnamese students even more.

On the topic list, it refers to this topic as an “issue”, but I don’t really see it that way at all. I think the differences between our societies are fascinating. It never seemed to cause any issue between myself and my new friend today. It is so cool to be able to explain how we live and let her explain how she lives. For example, how I moved into dorms, but she will live with her Mom and Dad until she has a steady job. The cultural differences not only brought us together but gave us something to talk about. Rarely was any conversation started with something different than a question about my life at home or her life at home.  I even had the chance to break out my very polished “Yinzer” accent and explain the basics of what Christianity is. When I have the chance to explain who I am and what I do I have the ability to look at my own society and life in a way I never could.

From the perspective of my friend she thought it was honorable that we don’t have to learn other languages as we travel around the world. She was not bitter about it, which is always a major concern of mine as I travel. Her view of Americans is that we are people who have open minds, and we live in a modern world. Coming from a smaller town, I can vouch that not everyone is open-minded, but compared to the strict rules her parents often have many American customs seem very liberal.

Although this is just the view of one person, I feel like I was able to understand how she really felt about her own life and about America. It is really eye-opening for me to hear my culture explained by someone who has never even seen it.

Day 3- Topic III

Today, Glass Egg gave us a unique perspective on a different type of industry than we had been exposed to previously with Phu My Hung. The differences between a technological and design based industry and the development industry are really eye opening to how diverse Vietnamese industry has become in the past two decades. It was very interesting to see how a company that is far more global is run from Ho Chi Minh City.

I think a contributing factor to this global perspective is the many nationalities of the executives of the company. All of them being from different parts of the world gives them this ability to spread throughout many nations rather than stay exclusively in Vietnam. Also, the fact that the work they do is so digitally based really promotes a global business, rather than Phu My Hung who builds a large, physical goods that can only be used within the countries borders.

What I found very interesting was the way they worked was a combination of very technical and mechanical programming with a less organized work schedule, even if they have a slightly more rigid time frame now than they have in the past. I think this combination of strict due dates, but not as strict working hours gives them the ability to work in a way that they are the most productive. Although it may not be as rigid as many successful American companies, it seems as if this combination of structure and freedom gives them positive results.

Also within the organization, I felt that the open door policy with all management also creates a positive atmosphere. Often if people feel cut off they will not push themselves to their full potential to be successful.

The organization and industry of this firm are fascinating in comparison to other Vietnamese firms and US firms as well. I really believe my eyes were opened to a new facet of industry I had not been exposed to before.