Morning after beach day and I already tanned over; God bless my 25% Italian blood! After breakfast in the hotel as always, our group headed over to UEF for today’s classes: A lecture on Vietnamese history and culture, and another Vietnamese language class. Our guest lecturer today spoke to us mostly about the country’s history, because we will have another class later in the week to discuss culture. His lecture included the tribal, land and religious histories of the nation, as well as some more contemporary history. Some fun things he mentioned were that there are actually two types of Buddhism, a mutli-Buddha version and a single-Buddha version, and that some of the mountainous tribal people participate in “Love Markets” to find spouses. During language class today we focused more on questions and answers, having short dialogues while learning to ask and answer questions about the nationality, name, job, and employer of different celebrities.
After classes we headed to UEF’s rival university, Ho Chi Minh University of Technology, for lunch. We actually ate in a restaurant on their campus run by their hospitality school, and everything was amazing. There were 4 different forks, and two different glasses so you know it was a high end meal, and it was quite delicious too.
Our afternoon site visit today was not to a company, but instead to the American Center where we met with diplomats who work in the U.S. Consulate in HCMC. Some of their duties include managing external and internal affairs, keeping an eye on human rights, dealing with crises, delivering messages about the official U.S. position on the actions/laws of the Vietnamese government, helping call in experts in the event of natural disaster / disease outbreak, granting visas, etc. Additionally, a whole piece of the department is under the heading “economics” to deal with the economic relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam (the U.S. is Vietnam’s biggest trading partner).
Each State Department employee begins at entry level, which in Vietnam means conducting visa interviews, before working their way up the chain of command. When a visa applicant comes to file their paperwork, they must have a small interview with a consulate worker before their paperwork can be sent through. These visa interviews need to be conducted to determine if the visa applicant is traveling to the U.S. for an appropriate reason or not (basically, are they really traveling on vacation, or are they trying to immigrate). U.S. visas, like our Vietnamese visa in order to take this trip, take several weeks to grant and can be denied for various reasons, so these interviews are important for the applicants.
The consulate does far more than just visas, however. They also provide all types of wonderful resources through the American center, which has an open door policy for anyone who is interested. In an air conditioned building with free wifi, they offer different programming dealing with American culture or celebrating the official day/week/month that may be occurring at the moment (two week ago was Official Clean Air Awareness Week, so they brought in a panel of doctors to do Q&A). They also offer a library of different books and movies by American authors/directors, some of which may be banned in Vietnam at large. In addition to this, they screen documentaries, offer counseling for applying to college in the U.S., and organize other events which they use social media to advertise (for example, Whiskey Tasting). All of these services are available in order to help maintain the U.S. and Vietnam’s strong relationship. One diplomate also explained it this way : although offering these amenities may not directly benefit the U.S., they firmly believe offering these helps improve a little corner of the world, and an improved world will mean an improved U.S.
These diplomats that spoke to us may or may not have convinced the group at large to think about foreign relations work within the State Department. Besides the factual discussion of what they actually do, discussion of ideology and the demands/benefits of the job truly made us all (at least for one moment), want to drop everything and apply when we turn 21. Might need to consider it more carefully, but at the very least I can state with confidence that this line of work is fascinating and doesn’t seem to ever get boring.