Almost a month after leaving Vietnam, I still believe that our two-week journey was one that I will never forget. Despite being bedridden and ill for a week afterwards, there is almost nothing I would change about the trip. I am so thankful and happy that I had the opportunity to have such an amazing experience! If anything, I only wish I had pushed myself to do even more! The people I met, the foods I tried, and the experiences I gained were all truly amazing. Vietnam was somehow nothing like I expected yet everything that I wanted and needed. Before the trip began, I was worried about both the academics and making new friends. However, once we got to Vietnam, I realized that everyone, both Vietnamese and American, was incredibly kind, fun, and open-minded.
Before I left for Vietnam, I was worried about the logistics and spent hours trying to prepare. I had this idea that if I prepared enough beforehand, everything would run smoothly when I got there. After arriving, I soon came to realize that although it is important to prepare, it is even more important to be flexible and adaptable. At times, the schedule turned out to be more of a general outline than a rigid structure and we always had to be ready for when things changed. As someone who prefers to always have a detailed plan, this helped me learn how to be more flexible. When weather and miscommunication caused delays or rescheduling, I began to realize that sometimes it’s okay to go with the flow. When we had to reschedule the VinaCapital site visit, I was a bit upset at first that we were going to the War Remnants Museum before I had mentally prepared myself. However, it ended up being really useful to see the museum before the Cu Chi Tunnels and be able to relate the exhibits to the tunnels themselves. On top of the rescheduling, I also found myself learning to adapt to the food and weather. I learned that the key to the heat and humidity was to drink as much water as possible and then just sweat it out. Although I loved most of the food in Vietnam, some of it just didn’t agree with my stomach. However, I gave every food a chance even when the gelatinous texture made me a bit queasy.
The second transferable skill I developed in Vietnam was negotiation. Before this trip, I had only really negotiated with friends and family. I have never really liked making people upset and negotiating can so easily create negative sentiments. When we visited Bến Thành Market, it was my first experience negotiating with strangers. I made some successful purchases in the beginning, but near the end of the trip to the market I got flustered and gave in too easily. Although my later negotiations were not as successful, the trip to Bến Thành Market made me realize that although negotiation can be challenging, it can make a large difference in price. Our negotiations were simple and over only a few dollars, but negotiation is critical when it comes to negotiating more important things like a salary, a car, or even a house.
The last and arguably most important transferable skill I developed is communication. I have left the US before, but I had never been somewhere where the majority of the population did not speak English. The language barrier in Vietnam was difficult at times, but there were usually UEF students around to help us out. When making purchases and ordering food, a combination of pointing and nodding usually sufficed. However, when we were on site visits and discussing more complicated ideas, there were miscommunications that often resulted in confusion. These visits helped me realize the nuances of the English language and how excessive vocabularies can be hard to learn and understand. Native English speakers often try to use fancy words as well as try to word their sentences eloquently. This can confuse people who don’t speak English as a first language. In interactions throughout the trip, I learned how important it is to read body language and be clear and concise with what you’re saying while still being polite and patient.
Overall, the challenges we faced in Vietnam did not diminish the rewards of the experience. The challenges of the trip only improved my experience. I am so grateful for the great friends, beautiful sights, delicious foods, and happy memories that this trip has provided me. Thank you to Hillary and Brian as well as all the Pitt and UEF students who made this experience so magical! It was sad to say goodbye, but I like to think of it as more of a “see you later.”