Day 5: Back in the US

After our day of relaxation yesterday at Vung Tau, it was back to the typical routine here in Ho Chi Minh City.  Once again, we sat in on our daily Vietnamese language lecture, and we also were given a lecture on the history and culture of Vietnam.  Our lecturer went to a greater level of detail than I had yet heard, and provided an interesting and easy-to-follow history of this country.  This was the first of two lectures that will be given by the same professor, so I look forward to the information he will relay to us next week.

After the classes, we traveled to Hutech, another university here in Ho Chi Minh of which UEF is a branch.  Here, we were given the unique opportunity to dine at a completely student run restaurant that is only open once a week.  The service and cooking is all done by Hutech students who are involved in either the culinary or hospitality program there.  The food was delicious and the service was excellent as well, so I would certainly give all of the students involved an A+ grade.

Next, we traveled to the U.S. Consulate here in Ho Chi Minh City, located on the same ground that the former U.S. Embassy occupied before the fall of Saigon in 1975.  Here, we had a discussion with three members of the staff: Alena Joseph (Public Relations Officer), Charles Sellers (Political Officer), and Emily Fleckner (Economics Officer).  These three each provided a unique perspective on the responsibilities of the Consulate and the way in which these are carried out.

I learned that the Consulate as a whole performs many different functions.  Charles and Emily’s duties mainly involved jobs you would expect, such as communicating back and forth with the U.S. and Vietnamese government.  Alena’s job, however, was very different.  She described how she is more involved with the people of Ho Chi Minh.  She stated that sometimes she plans something simple like playing Christmas movies, while other times it could be something more important, like putting on a workshop about powerful women throughout history or hosting informative sessions that teaches local students how to fill out an application for college in America.  The activities she played a role in varied quite drastically, and it seemed to make for a very interesting job.

In addition to the services mentioned above, the Consulate also handles requests from Vietnamese citizens, such as those for a visa to visit the United States.  We learned a little bit about how this process works, and it seems to be quite involved.  The citizens are required to turn in all kinds of paperwork, including bank statements and identification documents, which are then examined by the Consulate officers.  Then, all the applicants are required to partake in an interview with one of the officers to ensure there are no nefarious intentions.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the visit to the Consulate. First, I was surprised by the degree of openness and friendliness between the Consulate workers and the people.  I had no idea that the Consulate would be a place where local students could spend their down time to relax and watch movies or get some school work done.  Yet it is just that.  Beyond that, even the relationship between the Consulate and the government itself seemed much more amicable than I expected, as both Emily and Charles relayed how both parties regularly engage in progressive and effective dialogue.  With the state of politics in our world today, it was refreshing to see that there are still dedicated servants who truly have their country’s best interest at heart.

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