Our first day in Vietnam was jam-packed with activities. After waking up with the sun at 5:30 in the morning, we sampled the hotel’s buffet breakfast that consisted of many interesting dishes ranging from mini pancakes to beef dumplings. We then took the bus to the UEF school to meet the hosting students and faculty. We were welcomed very warmly, and each person received a lei of real flowers, a bamboo hat, and a stuffed animal proclaiming the love between UEF and Pitt. After that, we spent a couple hours enjoying performances by the Vietnamese students and participating in ice breaking activities. After a delicious lunch of Banh Mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich, we embarked on a bus tour of Ho Chi Minh city. Although we were warned of the multitude of motor bikes that mob the city streets, it is still incredible to see and experience the shear volume of people traveling from place to place on these rickety machines.
It was very interesting to see the juxtaposition of western stores such as Calvin Klein and Starbucks with the whole-sale market, which was an intense experience to say the least. The whole-sale market consisted of a mass of very small stands selling a large variety of goods, with the owner usually sitting in a small plastic chair or on the ground, right outside their stand.
Around 5 pm we finally made it back to the hotel and after a short break we set off again for the welcome dinner at a nice Vietnamese restaurant. The food seemed endless and they brought out course after course. By the time they got to dessert, none of us were able to finish the tapioca iced drink or the tropical fruits.
I was surprised by how open and friendly our host Vietnamese students were. In our pre-departure research, we learned about many cultural sensitivities that could come up in our interactions with them, so I was prepared to tread carefully. However, every student that I talked to was so friendly and approachable that it made it very easy to get to know them quickly. Overall, today was an incredible day, filled to the brim with incredible experiences.