Plus3 Vietnam exceeded all my expectations. Since we had an itinerary, I relatively knew what we would be doing each day and it got me excited pre-departure. However, nothing could prepare me for being in the moment, in Vietnam, and visiting companies and sites that were so fascinating and spectacular. Our time spent at UEF was educational and allowed us time to bond with the Vietnamese students, who were quite possibly the highlight of the trip. I still stay in touch with some of them on social media, as the two weeks we spent together were too meaningful to not to. I learned about Vietnamese history and culture through visits to the Cu Chi Tunnels, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, and Vung Tau beach, which all could not have been more different from each other but all combined to provide a holistic experience of the country. I also got the chance to take in the recent and developing changes of the Vietnamese economy and society when being hosted by VinaCapital Corporation and Foundation, Glass Egg Digital Media, and other nearby companies. The balance of learning and immersing on this trip was just right to get the most possible out of it. I noticed that I had to practice and put into use my abilities of leadership, communication, and teamwork at various points on our two week journey.
I’ve been a leader before when coaching 5th and 6th grader’s basketball and when being a camp counselor for underprivileged local youth. However, the common theme in my past leadership is that I was leading people younger than me. This trip gave me an opportunity to lead people that were my age. When we were assigned to watch a video and learn a dance, I watched it a couple times and made notes to help me remember each move. I shared these notes with a couple of people in the group and all of a sudden, I was the person to go to if you wanted to learn the dance. It happened so fast that the night before our plane to Vietnam, I led the group in practicing the dance, thanks to the pleading from peers. When it came time to dance at the welcome ceremony, I went front and center and I think we did pretty well. Just by preparing for the trip individually, I made that preparedness benefit others with my notes for the dance and also getting data on my phone. I was one of few people in the group that had data on their phone, so I was a navigator through Ho Chi Minh City at night to dinner or back to the hotel. Knowing where we were going was only half the problem, because crossing each street was a hassle itself. That being said, we never had problems being lost and no accidents crossing the street, so it was a success. Even when in my small group for VinaCapital, I showed leadership by answering many of the post-presentation questions due to the research I did on the foundation. I had never done a group presentation like this and I just wanted to be prepared.
I’ve always been good at just talking to people and keeping a conversation, but the language barrier was a bit of a worry coming in. Yes, I knew the UEF students would be speaking English, but how well? What about ordering at restaurants, or asking questions at site visits? I was pleasantly surprised at the English skills of the Vietnamese I interacted with, but there some instances where I had to say what I wanted to say in a different way. There was one time in Ben Thanh Market where the woman who was selling what I wanted started the conversation with pointing at a product, and then pointing at the price. I proceeded to point down and she handed me a calculator and I typed my desired price in. When she shook her head, I just walked away to signal that I would take my business elsewhere and she chased after me and said that my price was okay. Whenever I ordered at a restaurant, I always made sure to order in Vietnamese to immerse myself by practicing the language and pronunciation so I could at least know a couple words. The hardest part of communicating was talking to Vietnamese who were using English, but didn’t necessarily know how to articulate what they meant or did it in a way that I didn’t immediately understand. When learning Vietnamese language in class, the UEF students were so helpful in telling me if my pronunciation was correct and teaching me new words, but a lot of times it was necessary for them to write out what they said in English so I could remember easier. Using non-verbal communication like smiling, nodding, pointing, and writing stuff down was very frequent on the trip. At site visits, I asked some questions that had multiple parts to them or might have included words that weren’t normally heard in Vietnam that confused some of our hosts. I had to either reword my question without changing the meaning if they asked me what I meant or I had to ask it a different way if they answered my question in a way that I didn’t feel matched to the answer I was seeking. Through this thought process and some help from nearby peers, I got all my questions answered fully.
I had two teams in Vietnam: the 20 person Plus3 group and my 4 person VinaCapital site visit group. Working in teams is different every time because each person has various strengths and weaknesses that help and hurt the team. I felt my job as a teammate was to play a role that focused on my strengths like time management and to support everyone else by not trying to do too much. Stuff you wouldn’t think about, like the bill at a restaurant, required a lot of teamwork and accountability to figure out who’s paying what and who owes who what. Quite often people did not exact change because Vietnamese dong is a complex form of currency, so people had to pass around money to multiple people so everyone could have exact change. It might of took a while at some restaurants, but it was a good team-building activity that ended correctly every time. My small group was usually doing all different things during the night, so working through when people would be available to work on our presentation and rehearse was a challenge that we overcame. We then had to split material up and choose our focus in editing our presentation and we did a good job in assigning them fairly according to our strengths. However, we were all responsible for the whole presentation, so I spoke up a couple times about formatting and whether information fit better in one place or another. My team gelled together through our work and research and presented well during our final presentations and I was so relieved, but not too surprised.
Plus3 was the best experience of my life and it’s all because of UEF, my peers, and my program leaders Bryan and Hillary. Thanks to all of them for helping me better my skills, learn about my self, and have fun all at the same time. I would recommend this trip to anyone and will definitely look into studying abroad in the future.