Day 1: New Culture, New Friends, and New Experiences – 5/6/2019

This morning started with an amazing buffet for breakfast. The choices were endless, anything from fruit to cereal to pho to fried noodles to pancakes to sweet breads to eggs. I had never seen such an elaborate breakfast buffet before in my life. From there, the day got even better. We took a quick bus ride to UEF (University of Economics and Finance), and as we stepped off the bus, we were immediately showered with joy and love. It was incredible how friendly, welcoming, and loving all of the people were, and we had never even met them before. One of the first things my UEF partner said to me was “you have beautiful eyes”, and it touched my heart. This made me realize how genuine and kind all of the people that we met are. We were given beautiful leis with red and yellow flowers. After many pictures, we were guided into a large auditorium where there were speeches, songs, and dances. All of the performances were incredible. We were also given teddy bears with a UEF shirt and traditional wood leaf hats, which are the conical hats that many Vietnamese people wear. After the welcome ceremony, we headed to a classroom to learn some Vietnamese. Before class started, we had a karaoke session, which included “Beautiful Girl” by Bruno Mars and “Sweet Caroline”. Then, we got to business. I learned how to say hi, ask what someone’s name is, say my name, and say bye, although I can only say it poorly. My partner and the other students helping to teach us were so encouraging and very excited to teach us their language. After our class, we went to lunch and got pho, and it was so delicious. Also, after looking up the exchange rate, I realized that it was a little more than $1, which amazed me. Man, I love getting amazing food for even more amazing prices! After lunch, we took a bus and walking tour of the city. On the tour, the post office stood out to me because it was so unique in that it was both a place of business for locals and a tourist site. The post office had people waiting in lines to do everyday business as well as tourists taking pictures and browsing in souvenir shops. In the souvenir shops, there were beautifully carved wood figurines. I felt that this showed the Vietnamese value of craftmanship and attention to detail. The Buddhist temple and the Notre Dame of Ho Chi Minh City also stood out to me. I could really see the mix of cultures and influences from the Chinese and the French had when they controlled the Vietnamese government. Both of these places of worship were beautiful and very detailed, which also demonstrates their value of craftmanship. As we drove and walked through the streets, I saw rows and rows of shops. Some were very modest – just a little hut on the sidewalk – while some were modern and much larger. The mix between newer looking buildings and older looking buildings demonstrates the development that Vietnam is experiencing. In addition, the seeming lack of rules for motorbikes shows that Vietnam is still developing, especially with respect to traffic systems. Motorbikes would drive anywhere, including the sidewalks, mostly because of heavy traffic. The heavy traffic shows that Ho Chi Minh is growing and may need to adjust their roads in order to accommodate its development. As we walked around, we saw globally established shops and restaurants, like Popeye’s, McDonald’s, Gucci, and Converse. This demonstrates the increased global influence in Vietnam. In addition, on the streets, I saw stores with clothes that had English on them, which also demonstrates the influence that English speaking countries have on Vietnam. The American influence was seen while talking with students about popular American TV shows, music, and movies. This surprised me because I was not expecting American culture to be so well-known here, especially since in America, we largely focus on our own culture. After our tour, we visited a grocery store, and it was so fun to look around at all of the different snacks and products. They had some of the same stuff that we have in America, but with so many different flavors. For example, we saw milk tea, green tea, and berry KitKats and blueberry creme Oreos. This also shows the globalization of Vietnam, as it regularly stocks products popular in other countries with some different flavors to fit the taste profile of its people. Later at night, we had our Welcome Dinner on a boat. The wonderful wafts of smells that came our way made me so hungry. The amazing smells did not disappoint; the food was absolutely amazing. I was surprised by the wide range of foods that we were served that were considered traditional Vietnamese foods. Everything from seafood spring rolls to chicken and sticky rice cakes to beef and greens to pork and fried rice was considered traditional. It also surprised me that we were served iced tea rather than hot tea because I had always thought of hot tea as the tradition. The traditional music and dancing also blew my mind. One of the musicians played the whole song on a leaf, similar to how when many Americans are kids, they put grass between their thumbs and blow on it to make a squeaky noise. However, this man was able to change the pitch and notes on the leaf, which made it sound similar to a flute. I was not expecting this at all, and the use of a leaf as an instrument left me in awe. Overall, the day was amazing, and after reflecting on what I read in our CultureSmart book, I noticed a few differences. The biggest difference was in nonverbal communication. For example, in the CultureSmart book, the author mentioned that the Vietnamese smile to express embarrassment. However, I found that whenever I looked around our group at UEF, joyous smiles greeted me in every direction. I also noticed that people made eye contact when speaking, contrary to what CultureSmart said about not making eye contact when speaking in order to save face. In addition, although CultureSmart addressed that the Vietnamese are friendly, it did not do them justice. I don’t even know how to describe how friendly the people I met were. They were so eager to become friends. At UEF, so many people asked me to take pictures with them and add them on Facebook. They also greeted us as if we were old friends returning from a long trip. This day was the first of many more amazing days to come, and I can’t wait to experience and learn even more. I hope that you all want to learn with me and follow my journey! Tạm biệt (bye)!

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