As I entered the University of Pittsburgh as a freshman student I was overwhelmed by the endless opportunities that were available to students. I knew that I wanted to make my college experience the best that it could possibly be, but I was unsure of how to make this happen. Through Pitt Business I found a smaller, close-knit community of individuals that shared similar ideas and goals as myself. Within my first year I was able to attend site visits to companies such as American Eagle Outfitters and Ernest Young, I joined student organizations where I met some of my closest friends and was even able to become the Historian of the Accounting Association. Most importantly I took academic classes that provided a foundational understanding of business concepts. Halfway through the year I decided to branch out even more and apply for the Plus3 program because I knew that I wanted to end my first year of college in the most exciting way possible. Being welcomed back to campus after winter break with an interview for Plus3 Vietnam was a bright start to second semester. I was so fortunate to be accepted into this prestigious program that significantly impacted my life. As I am one of four children in my family, finances can be an obstacle. The Thomas Angelo Honors Scholarship provided the funds that were necessary to make this trip a reality. I am so incredibly thankful for the generosity that has been shown to me, and I hope to be able to do the same for someone else in the future.
My first year at Pitt was filled with new experiences, culminating with the Plus3 program. In the next three years I plan on majoring in Accounting and either Finance or Business Information Systems. After graduation I intend on taking the exams necessary to become a Certified Public Accountant and potentially work for one of the Big Four accounting firms. Through the Plus3 program I realized my interest in economics and development beyond the introductory classes I have taken in this subject. Because of this I am considering minoring in economics, or at least continuing my education in this area. Throughout my remaining time at Pitt I also want to remain involved, especially in Pitt Business, and potentially study abroad again.
While in Vietnam I was able to experience many different interactions, situations, and foods that were totally new to me. I remember when the plane landed in Ho Chi Minh City, I was sitting next to a stranger and practically had tears running down my face. Thirty hours of travel had taken a serious toll on my body and mental state; I did not believe that I could survive for two weeks in the foreign country. Yet once our group passed through customs and exited the airport, ten Vietnamese students from the University of Economics and Finance, the college in which Pitt partners with in Vietnam, were waiting for us with big smiles on their faces. These students were some of the most caring people I have met, they really helped to calm any nerves that were holding me back. Through the week our schedule was routine; wake up, have breakfast at the hotel, attend a lecture on globalization or another related topic, participate in Vietnamese language class, have lunch, and finally visit a local company. I valued this routine highly because although everyday had a similar format, the lessons that I learned varied. Lectures in Vietnamese culture and the Buddhist philosophy provided a background understanding of the country. Globalization and rural development lectures shed light on the economic growth in Vietnam. Site visits to different companies such as Glass Egg, Vina Capital Corp., and Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park Corp. each taught a different lesson in the value of the location of Vietnam, the growing stock market, and the flourishing export business. Aside from the rigorous academic schedule our group also traveled to Vung Tau, a resort town that hosts the famous statue of Christ the King, and the Chu Chi Tunnels, the underground tunnel system that Northern Vietnamese soldiers used during the war. Both of these excursions provided me with new experiences, like climbing onto the shoulders of Jesus or crawling into small, dark tunnels in the ground. Also on the trip I tried octopus for the first time and held a beehive and an anaconda when we ventured to the Mekong Delta. My experiences on Plus3 cannot compare to anything I have done before; this trip was truly a once-in-lifetime adventure.
Along with new experiences, I gained valuable skills from Plus3 that will help me in my future business endeavors. Through traveling to a country on the other side of the world I learned adaptability first-hand. Everyday I had to be able to adapt to the group’s plans and be ready for any situation. I not only learned to pack sunscreen everywhere I go, but I also learned how to adjust plans and expectations when information changes. Since there was a language barrier in Vietnam I discovered the importance of nonverbal communication, I commonly had to point to items on the menu or use body language and hand gestures when interacting with locals, especially taxi drivers. By traveling with a group I learned patience and understanding, in the marketplace I gained negotiation skills, and through site visits I learned how to properly behave in unfamiliar professional settings. Plus3 Vietnam also taught me so much about development and globalization, and the impact that it has on every business interaction. Being able to experience the development of Vietnam first-hand was an enlightening academic experience.
When I came back home after the program I was very sad to leave Vietnam but was looking forward to regaining normalcy in my life. Yet my welcome back to the US was anything but ordinary. I began writing this reflection in a hospital room after I was diagnosed with viral meningitis that I must have contracted in Vietnam. My four day hospital stay provided me with much needed time to reflect. Although I experienced pain and sickness when I returned, I would willingly attend Plus3 again because of the huge impact that it had on my life. In just two weeks I learned more than I ever thought possible, gained many valuable skills, and met friends that feel like family. Plus3 Vietnam was truly the most amazing experience for me both academically and personally. I want to sincerely thank the Thomas Angelo Honors Scholarship for making this a possibility for me. Your generosity has made a world of difference in my life.