Tạm Biệt, Vietnam

My family and friends have been asking me to summarize the experience since I’ve been home, and now that I’ve been asked to for this post – which will be graded – its that much harder.

There’s no way to describe the trip that will do it justice. And, trying to summarize it makes me miss it all the more. But, as always, I’ll try my best.

In my introductory blog post, I mentioned that I hoped to gain experience, distinguishablility and a more open mind. At the time, these goals seemed all-encompassing. But, now that the trip is over I see that I left out the most valuable gain that I would make – friendships with people of all different backgrounds, personalities, and sides of the globe. So, while I did obtain distinguishability, a more open mind and experience, that I was able to do it with these new friends was the most significant part of it all. Put simply (more or less), it was two weeks of indescribable views, odd yet delicious foods, ceaseless belly-laughs, priceless learning, endless water-drinking (and immediately sweating it out), and growth – both in my relationships with new friends and within myself.

While in Vietnam, with the help of Bryan and Hillary along with each Pitt and UEF student, I was able to “further refine” what we called transferable skills – abilities or characteristics that are highly desirable and broadly applicable in the job market.

The first of those transferable skills is data analysis, or research and analytical skills. Prior to our departure, we were assigned a company that we would visit and told to familiarize ourselves with the firm and industry as a whole. As we had never heard of any of these foreign businesses, this required ample research. Many hours were spent sifting through various sources and organizing information. We also had to write a pre-departure essay analyzing Vietnam as a whole; cultural differences in the workplace, political and economic conditions, etc, which called for a similar procedure. Then, while we were in country, we exercised and refined another transferable skill.

Both on site visits and while socializing with people local to the area,  I was able to exercise active listening, perceiving nonverbal messages and cues, and overall communication skills. A lot of the time, it was hard for our hosts to understand exactly what we were asking them. And because it was difficult to communicate what we wanted to know, it was difficult for them to reciprocate with a satisfying response. Though, a lot of the time they covered the information eventually – requiring active listening on our part. Even when going out to eat street food in the darker corners of Ho Chi Minh, where English was more rarely spoken, we had to find ways to communicate what food we wanted, how we wanted it, and to understand how much it costed with no menu. We always were able to do so eventually, but it involved loads of pointing, head nodding, and even more patience.

The last transferable skill that I’ll discuss, and in my opinion the most important, is that of personal development; “evaluating your own performance and recognizing your personal strengths and weaknesses.” When I had first came to Pitt, I met all kinds of new people with different backgrounds than my own (similar to this trip abroad). As I found that most situations differed in that their parents were paying for their college, and had helped them find higher education, and even still some had never worked a job before – let alone 4 at a time – I became more proud of what seemed to be my unique situation and all that I had overcome on my own. And, while I am still proud, I’m grateful that I was able to see first-hand a developing country like Vietnam, so that I could appreciate more all that has been handed to me in America. Even schools like UEF, which seemed to be well-off and located in Ho Chi Minh – a place of great wealth in Vietnam – didn’t seem to have as many educational resources available to them that my small-town high school had. So, though I had to work to be where I am, my humility towards my situation and appreciation for all that I am offered at Pitt is renewed. I can always be made more humble and grateful.

I’m grateful, especially, for this opportunity that has allowed for this renewal. I can’t wait until my next trip abroad – the first was better than perfect.

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