Well I’ve thought for some time now about how I can put my experience in Vietnam into words. I’ve scrolled through the hundreds of pictures I took and reminisced about all the memories I made, but I never felt as if those still photos were able to fully convey the feelings felt, the depth of the friendships made, the growth experienced intellectually and emotionally, and so much more. I am also unsure that any number of words will do my experience in Vietnam justice. What I guess I am trying to get at is that I am eternally grateful for this trip and everyone who made this trip possible. From the tip top of Mount Nho in Vung Tao to the depths of the tunnels in Chu Chi, I cherished every moment. Vietnam will forever and always hold a special place in my heart.
Going way back to day one, I wearily and cautiously took my first step onto Vietnamese soil. Little did I know that the experience that was about to unfold before my eyes would be so formative in my thinking and in my personal path. Although I did not yet realize this, I quickly learned what it meant to be flexible. At this particular moment, flexible meant that I followed the group wherever we went… Also, throughout the trip, flexible simply meant trying every new food that was placed in front of me or saying yes to any opportunity that I was given. For example, I remember walking up to the Cu Chi tunnels and seeing a small set of stairs that looked like they lead deep into the Earth. My first instinct was to sit this activity out for the fear of the unknown. However, after thinking about it more, I realized that may be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it was necessary to bend my fears to accommodate and embrace the experience. Looking back it now, flexibility and adaptability were like the keys that unlocked a box of opportunity.
With so many opportunities to talk to experts, locals, and Vietnamese students, all I wanted to do was absorb all the information they could provide. However, I soon learned that simply sitting and listening was not enough; what you get out of the experience correlates to what you put into it. I resolved that for the coming two weeks I would actively listen and engage in what is going on around me. At site visits, I would ask questions about the things that interested me. For example, I found that I was unsurprisingly compelled by the part of VinaCapital’s presentation that talked about the company’s nonprofit, and therefore I picked the presenter’s brain about the topic. On the other hand, I believe that active listening with the Vietnamese students meant something very different. It meant that we first started at the surface level of comprehending what each other were saying. After some time, comprehension turned into conversation and conversation turned into true understanding. We were listening and responding to what each other had to say. I was most definitely caught off guard by some of the philosophical conversations I had with the Vietnamese students that ranged from Buddhism to American politics. It seemed as though there was never a language barrier in the first place, and we all were just talking like old friends. I think this shows the importance of active listening and the knowledge and friendships that can be made as a result.
By the end of the trip, I was able to clearly see the bigger picture. The entire theme of our study in Vietnam was development. This theme was quite evident as we drove around Ho Chi Minh City. On one corner there were family-owned stores that were packed together with housing all squished in one. Then nearly a few blocks down the street was a commercial business center with McDonalds, Starbucks, skyscrapers, and more. The contrast was quite evident. What was not evident, however, was how all of the development in Vietnam tied together. It was more complicated because nearly everything in Vietnam was in the stages of development. The economy, education systems, businesses, nonprofits, and healthcare are among many of the areas of development. By the end of the trip and some time after the trip, I learned how to synthesize these ideas into a cohesive paper (and presentation). In other words, I gained the skills to be able to articulate these complex thoughts in writing and through spoken word. I will be able to utilize this skill and all the others throughout the rest of my professional career.
As I said earlier (and as cliché as it may sound), this was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am thankful for every moment of it.