“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same. Feels the same. Even smells the same. You realized what’s changed is you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Truer words have never been spoken. I embarked on this journey to Vietnam with the intent of finding something, and that is exactly what I have done, and more. No, I am not just referring to the many tangible souvenirs and memories I have brought back to the US with me. What I have found lies deep between myself and the world around me. It wasn’t just the place, or the people, or the experiences, but everything together that has had such a profound impact on me.
Being exposed to an entirely different culture and way of life was a priceless experience. Never leaving the continent before, I honestly had a pretty limited view of the world. Now I have a new respect and understanding for people living all across the globe, which I never could have scratched the surface of comprehending if I had not had the opportunity to see it firsthand.
It was strange being foreign, but truthfully, I have never felt more welcome before in my life. I was always greeted with a smile, peace sign, excited gesture, applause, or request to take a selfie. Never had I expected to feel so special and cherished just for being there, making an effort to immerse myself in the culture. All of the students and teachers were so willing to help, but so were random strangers on the streets. Even the shop owners in the market would tell me to watch my belongings (after they made a significant profit off of me). The atmosphere of genuine kindness is something that I will never forget. I made connections to incredible people, people just like you and me. People who gave up weeks of their own lives because they cared so much about creating the best experience possible for (initially) complete strangers studying abroad in Vietnam.
This trip provided me with so much more than just cultural and social exposure. I was able to explore a chapter of my own family history from this firsthand perspective. I have discussed it many times before, but just to reiterate, my grandpap served in the Vietnam War. The topic has always been a huge part of my family, yet it had always felt kind of distant. I wanted to know more. I wanted to learn, and through Plus3 I have been able to. My eyes have been more than opened. It is difficult to realize that you don’t really understand, until you do. So many things have become clear and it feels as if a missing link between my history and myself has been connected.
Finally, of course, I have greatly benefited in an academic sense from this course. From the pre-departure research, to company site visits, language classes, cultural lectures, and finally reflection, I have garnered a large store of knowledge. Much of the information was specific to Vietnam, but most of it can be applied to just about any situation. I now have such a great understanding of globalization and development, and what it actually looks like and how it functions in the real world, which is super valuable in the world’s current economic tide. I feel as though my education, as a business major, has been taken up a notch higher than the usual. I have traveled around the world and back to study a concept that will give me a competitive edge far into the future.
I am eternally grateful for I truly have changed, as a whole, for the better, from my time in Vietnam.
To view my experience through a technical lens, I have developed quite the host of transferable skills while studying abroad. These skills that will distinguish students who have taken their Pitt Business education to the world, from the rest of the pack.
First and foremost: flexibility and adaptability. Before the trip, I considered myself a generally flexible person. However, now I know what it is like to truly embody the two concepts. As a very picky eater, I was unsure what to expect on the trip, but I went in with an open mind. It started off looking pretty bleak with the airplane food, but I figured it could only go up from there. When they served us special cuisine the first few days, I thought it was to represent tradition, not because it was a part of everyday meals. Again, I’m not sure why I was expecting chicken tenders to be an option anywhere, but there was a point where it seemed that every meal was shocking me more and more. I tried my best to be adventurous, but circumstances were already a little tricky being in a developing country on the other side of the world. Some meals were really hard, but I tried my best to have a positive attitude and find things that I enjoyed, and if not, tolerated (aka I ate a lot of rice). Despite my struggles, overall I impressed myself. By the second week I convinced myself to not look at anything too closely and to try it. To my surprise, I actually liked quite a few things I otherwise never even would have given a chance. We all know how important food is, and how much a lack of it can impact one’s attitude. I had to be flexible and adapt to the options that were available to me. I appreciated the Vietnamese cuisine, it was just not the type of food I typically eat. However, I did not let it bring me down. I know now that if i can make it through two weeks without burgers and fries, I can take on anything life may throw at me. I have reached peak adaptability.
Along with adapting to the lifestyle around me, I also refined my communication skills. I had no previous knowledge of Vietnamese, so immersing myself in the language proved to be a bit tricky at times. The students we spent time with were all part of the English Language Club, so they all spoke English rather fluently. Nonetheless, there were still translation issues frequently, with misunderstanding on both sides. Many times I had to rephrase my questions or repeat what I was saying for the students to understand. I felt bad because I could tell they felt bad that they didn’t understand. So, I tried to be as clear as I could when speaking to them. These situations also served as good opportunities to teach the students types of “slang,” if you will, to help them better understand how English is spoken. On the other hand, I also earned a great deal of respect for anyone who studies multiple languages, especially at this stage in life. We had daily lessons in Vietnamese and I struggled to retain most of the phrases. I remember a few key words, but most of it went right over my head. That’s not even considering the pronunciation, which made it that much more difficult. My skills were definitely not up to par to speak Vietnamese in public. Thankfully, the students were with us any time we needed to order anything, which was a great help. I definitely took for granted having translators by my side at all times. Spending two weeks in a country that speaks a different language, with people who do not speak English as a first language, helped me to really develop my communication skills overall. Verbal, nonverbal, certain social taboos – all of it. I feel as though I have built a rather strong basis of communication that I can continue to fortify in the future.
Finally, a skill I undoubtedly put to the test while in Vietnam is time management. Every day was packed full of site visits, classes, and adventures. Every night was spent out on the town. I wanted to absorb as much as I possibly could without wasting a single minute, so I was living non-stop. On top of all of this we had to write daily blogs, so it was imperative to find time to do so. I enjoy writing, and often times get very caught up in it, so it was a challenge for me to be concise while still relaying my profound experiences, doing them justice. I am also a big fan of sleep, which is something I did not get to do much of during the night. We had many early mornings, so I had to find time throughout the day, usually on the bus, to squeeze in some Z’s to keep me going. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my two weeks in Vietnam any other way, but no one can have maximum fun when they’re exhausted! All in all, I think during the trip I significantly improved my time management skills. The ability to properly manage time will never go out of style. I was able to apply my pre-existing skills to the real world and enhance them along the way.
Although I only explicitly stated a few, Plus3 granted me the opportunity to refine and gain a multitude of transferable skills that are priceless, not only as a student, or in a business context, but in life in general. I am coming out of this experience as an upgraded version of myself, ready to take on the next adventure that will come my way.
I came to Vietnam hoping for a change, and I left Vietnam knowing I will never be the same. A piece of my heart will always be in Saigon, connecting me to the people, places, and memories I will hold near and dear, forever.
Cảm ơn Vietnam, Pitt Business, and Plus3, I can not express enough how much I truly appreciate this experience from the bottom of my heart.