Five days down and only a week to go?!? Somehow a week from today will be our last day in Vietnam. Although we still have more than half of our trip left, time already seems to be flying. That being said, we mixed up our standard routine today. Rather than visiting our university in the morning, we took an informational trip to the United States Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To give a brief synopsis of consulates: a consulate is a piece of the executive branch which is similar to an embassy in function, but consulates are located in high influence cities while embassies are located in national capitals. Within the consulate, individual consuls interview citizens of the country they are located in for visas in addition to completing other miscellaneous activities of all types. The United States consulate in Ho Chi Minh just happens to be the fifth largest consular section in the world.
The United States is always striving to assist other countries in their economic development to promote positive trade partnerships and reduce the potential for international conflict. Ideally, the US hopes that Vietnam can become a leader in the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) and help control that market. Other countries – such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan – also have invested a great deal in Vietnam, making their economic development a truly global project.
Internal operations in the consulate largely center around visa applications. For these applications, consuls will conduct upwards of 100 interviews per day, often spending approximately a minute of time with any given applicant. They stressed to us that visas could be denied or accepted for any number of reasons, but the main focus of the non-immigrant visa interview is attempting to discern whether there is any intention to immigrate. If this intention exists, or even may possibly exist, the visa may be denied.
At the end of our visit, we were pitched the opportunity to join the US government staff that works the consulates. Apparently to obtain the job, the main stepping stone is passing a test – which you can take unlimited time – anytime before you are 58 years old. Who knew? I suppose if my business career goes down the tubes, I now have a backup plan. Yay!
Following the session, we traveled to another Vietnamese restaurant for lunch, and we all had a dish that we were never told the name of. It was my favorite meal of the trip. Essentially, we ate bacon-like meat with steak-like seasoning over noodles. Does it get much better than that? Another positive: chopstick skills are developing quickly. I can now pick up an average-sized piece of food with roughly a 72% success rate.
Our last stop of the day was our typical first stop as we visited UEF. Our language teacher continued her culture lesson from the previous day before transitioning into our language lesson for the day. This lesson was certainly the least productive of the five so far. We practiced expressing sentences to say at the market, but we were only told the meaning of some of them. Many members of our group seem resigned to the fact that a week of language lessons will not be enough to gain fluency. What a shame. At least I can count now.
Tomorrow is our beach trip – yay! We have to wake up at 5:30 and drive for three hours – boo! We are going to hike a mountain – yay! But, I will undoubtedly sunburn or get a farmer’s tan (not sure which is worse) – boo! I think the positives should certainly outweigh the negatives though, and I can’t wait to have a relaxing day!