After over twenty-four hours of travel, my Plus3 experience has finally begun! On this steamy Monday, as a group we attended the reception at the University of Economics and Finance where we were met with handmade leis and a warm welcome from all of the student partners. I experienced many ‘firsts’ today including my first Vietnamese language class and my first taste of the traditional Vietnamese meal, Pho. The main portion of the day was spent on a bus tour of Ho Chi Minh City, where we got to see the Catholic Cathedral, post office, and opera house. I found it interesting how the tour guide referenced that many buildings in the city had to be rebuilt or restored after the war and the influence of French colonization that is still visibly present in the architecture. The construction of the city’s first subway system is a clear sign of development as it is expected to be completed in 2020. While we drove around the city many familiar brands such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and H&M stuck out to me, these American brands also show how the economy of Vietnam is becoming global.
At night, we attended a six-course dinner on a boat in the Saigon River, the nighttime skyline of Ho Chi Minh City was breathtaking! The dinner involved many traditional Vietnamese courses which were very unfamiliar to me but proved to be delicious. My table was pleasantly shocked when a magician came to us and performed possibly the best close-up magic tricks I have ever seen. The required pre-departure Culture Smart reading has definitely made me more cautious while I am in-country, this is especially true of what food I choose to eat. Yet from interactions with students at UEF, I realize than many aspects of the book appear to be outdated. The students are very welcoming and helpful, as they try to answer any questions we have. From my interactions, I also noticed that their lives are globalized in that they enjoy American music and trends. Overall our first day was very eventful and Vietnam never ceases to surprise me!