The first day in Vietnam was kind of surreal. I’ve been to several places in Europe, the Caribbean, and Israel. But this side of Asia was so unique to me, it took me a while to fully realize that I wasn’t in some dream; this was real. I’ve studied Asian cultures in text books and watched videos, but to be standing in the heat of Southeast Asia was totally different. Some things came as no surprise, such as the crowd density in the market, the Chinese temples, the French cultural presence, and the vastness of the city. But, as expected, there were parts to Vietnam I didn’t expect.
I did not fully expect the Communist government to be so present. In hindsight, after studying Soviet Russia for a semester and seeing their propaganda, not expecting Vietnam to be similar was somewhat foolish. But after hearing about how capitalist the economy was, I figured the culture couldn’t be too far off. But seeing the Vietnamese flag and the red and yellow hammer and sickle every 100 yards, a bust of Ho Chi Minh in the UEF building, and Ho Chi Minh’s face all over the city was shocking. It made sense, but it was just so different. I felt out of place, and it changed my perception of Vietnam greatly.
The modernity of the city was also shocking. There were some parts, like the market and the stink of the city, that I anticipated. But the tall buildings, and how many of them there were, was surprising. They were scattered so less intimidating, but I bet if all the sky scrapers were put together, they’d look pretty massive.
The welcome dinner was quite the adventure for me personally. Multiple courses of foods I’d never seen before. This sounds ignorant, but I thought I knew what to expect with Vietnamese food. Pho, meat, and rice. I thought that’d be it. I was wrong. Each course brought me out of my comfort zone, but it was yummy nonetheless. I specifically remember walking through the restaurant on the way to find the restroom, looking around, and seeing families eating together that reminded me of my own. When you go to a place like Vietnam, you expect everything to be different, and seeing something I connected to so much made me feel a strange sense of familiarity.
I felt the same way as I interacted with the Vietnamese students. Once you get past the language barrier, we really are very similar. While reading the Culture Smart book before coming, I felt like the people would be so different. That didn’t feel like the case. In a way, it felt like we were part of something along the lines of a giant global community, and a large part of that community existing is due to the trade and globalization that’s taken place. It’s made me see global business in a new light, and it will change my perspective going forward in the trip, starting tomorrow, when visiting Vietnamese businesses.
Overall, visiting Vietnam is a completely new experience, and I can’t believe it’s only just begun!