After unexpectedly delicious breakfast at the hotel, we headed toward the UEF to meet our Vietnamese students. I saw a long line of students holding flowers, stickers and cameras, and I started to get a little nervous as Meade warned us to get ready to be aggressively welcomed. As soon as I stepped out of the bus, I felt like I was a famous rock star in 80s. They approached me with smiles, then put flowers around my neck and put a sticker on my cheek without any explanation. Then each of us got paired with a Vietnamese student and went to the reception, where we took at least 124 pictures with them (I swear, you can see them on Facebook). I have never been welcomed like I was today by anyone, including my parents when I fly back home twice a year, and I was able to understand why people fall in love with Vietnam and its people.
After the reception, we toured around the city where I noticed that Ho Chi Minh is still around the people of this city till this day. First, we headed toward the famous infrastructure in the city, Saigon Central Post Office. As soon as we walked in, we were able to see a giant portrait of Ho Chi Minh hanging on the wall and the gift shops that sell a lot of Ho Chi Minh-related souvenirs. Then we drove around downtown where we located the Ho Chi Minh statue that symbolizes the city people’s eternal love and respect for the founding father. After seeing the statue of Ho Chi Minh in front of the city hall and the portrait of him hanging on the wall in Saigon Central Post Office, I was truly able to feel how influent Ho Chi Minh was to the people in this city and the country.
The first day in Vietnam went very differently than I expected… in a positive way. In the Culture Smart book, it is stated that it is considered impolite to touch others or making eye contacts with strangers, which made me assume that they would be shy and hesitant in meeting us. However, when I first met Vietnamese students at UEF, they offered to shake hands, put arms around shoulders and gave high fives. They were very outgoing, social and funny just like most of us, and I can’t wait to make countless unforgettable memories with them.