First, let me say, the Vietnamese are experts at welcomes. After having a full night of rest where we could actually stretch out our legs (unlike our 30 hours of travel time the days prior), we went to the welcome reception hosted by the UEF Vietnamese students. Their excitement was absolutely contagious. They were full of questions and energy, looking for any possible friend request on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook. Their friendliness was beyond any and all expectations. Truly, the Vietnamese students made my first day in Ho Chi Minh City one to remember. They were the perfect place to find answers and hear about life as a college student in Vietnam.
After the ceremony full of dancing and singing (both performed by the Vietnamese and Pitt students), language class, and lunch at one of the original pho restaurant in Vietnam, Phở Hòa Pasteur, we were taken on a bus tour around the city of Ho Chi Minh. Just from the seat of a bus, the development of the country was so prevalent. There were construction projects happening everywhere. Specifically, we saw the first subway system being built in Ho Chi Minh City, a major sign of modernization and steps towards national development. Construction of the subway system is still in progress and is predicted to be finished in 2020. In order to complete this project, they partnered with Japan for technology and efficiency reasons, a very obvious example of the growing globalization Vietnam is taking part in.
The culture in Vietnam was incredible just from what I saw the first day. We were served traditional food all day, with a grand finale dinner on a boat floating down the Saigon River overlooking the city of Ho Chi Minh. Today was a day of adventure all the way around, but mostly in the eating department. We were served everything from their one-of-a-kind spring rolls to raw shrimp cooked in front of us, eyes, legs, and shell in all.
Although CultureSmart prepared me for the food, clothing, and looks of Vietnamese culture, based upon what I read about the people and what I actually encountered today, there were little to no similarities. CultureSmart showed a rigid people disliking hugs, smiles, or even laughs. There was absolutely none of that. Every Vietnamese I talked to, from server to college student, showed nothing but genuine kindness, looking in any way to help us baffled Americans
Day one was an absolute success, full of pictures, memories and newly blossomed friendships. Excited to see what the next 13 days have in store!