The two weeks spent in Vietnam were definitely two of the best weeks of my life. I met amazing people, had amazing food, and saw amazing sights, so, you could say the trip was in a word, amazing. As I have gotten home, and more people have been asking me how it was, I find it hard to sum up in just a few sentences. Looking back, it almost seems like a dream because it was too good to be true.
I was definitely nervous to leave for Vietnam, I was worried I wouldn’t like the food, I might not get along with anyone and I was worried culture shock would be hard. All of these worries proved to be irrational. I would go back to Vietnam in a heartbeat, and the people I met there are sure to be friends for a long time. I didn’t feel like I ever experienced culture shock, I was sure to immerse myself and say yes as much as possible, so I never felt like I had time to even think about culture shock.
I was amazed at how much I felt like I grew in the two weeks I was there. This trip was definitely not a vacation, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was a learning experience. As cheesy as this sounds, I felt like this trip completed the saying I had been hearing all year, “from the classroom, to the city, to the world”. I felt like I used skills I had learned in the classroom, and while exploring the city of Pittsburgh, when I was in Vietnam. And using these skills in another country in such an immersive way allowed me to grow them and hone them. This will mean when I return to Pitt in the fall I will be better prepared to use and talk about these skills.
One skill I felt I really honed while abroad was my negotiating skill. I took Organizational Behavior last semester and we practiced negotiating with other members of the class. We practiced negotiating salaries and other things, but obviously none of the outcomes had any true bearing on our lives. In OB, we learned about how your reaction to their offer is a big part of what sets the tone, also the first offer that is put on the table helps to drive the conversation in a certain direction. We also learned that having a certain set of rules, like a lowest price and a maximum price in your head, helps to go into the negotiation prepared. Also having a BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement) helps to drive the negotiation in your direction.
Obviously, the place where I used this skill was at the market. While it was similar to OB, it was using my actual money so I was much more invested in the outcome. When we first got there we looked around in the no bargaining section so we knew what baseline prices were. One of the Vietnamese had told us never to pay more than half of what they first offered you so that helped us keep it in mind. We also realized once we entered that all of the sellers were in perfect competition. There was almost nothing you could get there that you couldn’t get from another vendor. Once we realized this, we used to to our advantage. We would bargain with one seller to get a BATNA and then go to another seller and have them try to beat the first sellers offer. This worked almost every time and I think if I hadn’t taken OB I would have been a lot more lost on how to bargain and “win” the bargains. I also am less scared of negotiating now. Obviously, negotiating a salary is much more serious and a different setting than the market, but since I have practiced these skills in a less serious, but real environment, I will be more confident when I need to use them for real.
Another skill I used while in Vietnam was communication skills. While we are always working on our communication skills as we live and talk and write, you have to work harder in a country where you don’t speak the language. There were many different experiences on this trip where we had to use different aspects of our communication skills. The first one was when I talked to the Vietnamese students. They all had varying levels of English knowledge so I needed to know how to speak to them so they could understand, but still treat them like I am having a normal conversation. It is one thing to speak so they understand every single word, but another so you know they are getting the gist of what you are saying while using vocabulary they may not know yet. This allows for a deeper conversation as well as the opportunity for them to learn more English.
The next, and most important, communication skills we had to use was on site visits. Being able to ask good questions is a skill that we aren’t really taught in school. I often tell myself, the length and quality of a response can often tell you if you asked a good question or not. When I went on the site visit to my company, Glass Egg, I made sure I was writing down questions as soon as they popped into my head. This allowed me to ask detailed questions about what was already said, also based off my background knowledge of the company. This meant we got more information and were able to make our presentation more in depth. The twist on this communication skill came when we needed to ask questions to people who didn’t speak English as their first language. This was a struggle at times because you wanted to ask complex questions but you needed to phrase them simply. Speaking to someone who speaks another language so they can understand it is a big skill that I think we all got better at on this trip.
The last skill that definitely came into play was time management. This trip was packed, and we had a blog due every day so that meant managing your time was vital. When the program ended around 5 every day, there was no time to waste to write the blog in time to go to dinner. This meant there was a limited amount of time where we were relaxing on our phones. After dinner I needed to balance hanging out with friends and exploring the city with getting enough sleep. I quickly learned that saving the blog for after dinner was not the smartest way to manage my time, and it resulted in more stress than just posting it before dinner and not worrying about it. Having these two weeks of productivity before summer was the perfect way to start off on the right foot. I realized I would much rather be tired and have no idea what was happing on social media than sit and relax for hours with Netflix. I also realized it was possible to have an amazing time and so much fun with friends while still getting work done every day and learning so much.
These packed days in Vietnam actually inspired me to go on a road trip for the two weeks I have before work starts, instead of sitting around the house scrolling through Twitter. While originally, I thought the trip would be too tiring and I wouldn’t have enough time to relax I realized that I only have so many summer vacations left, and I might as well pack them as full as possible.
Overall, Vietnam is an experience I would live over and over again if I were given the option. I tried so many new things and met so many new people and grew more than I thought was possible in two weeks. And while we only needed to pull out three transferable skills, looking through the list I can confidently say I used and grew every single one when I was in Vietnam.