One word that sums up my experience: Really cool.
All jokes aside, I am so happy I went on this trip. I am proud of the numerous times I left my comfort zone, whether eating fish eyes or sipping tea next to bees or climbing in a cramped tunnel. I will give examples of three ways in which I grew from my experiences.
First and foremost, my communication skills have improved significantly. I had to come up with simple, creative ways to talk to Vietnamese people. One example of this was whenever I had to order my own food. The most effective method I used was to take a picture of the menu item and show the picture to the waiter. My order was communicated quickly and accurately this way. My communication also improved by becoming more concise. Long and floaty language was difficult for the Vietnamese students to understand, forcing me to select words carefully. I remember trying to explain the difference between a dorm and a fraternity to one of the Vietnamese students. It was hard to explain it with simple words, but after a few tries, I got the point across. A different part of my brain was used in this scenario- I had to figure out how to explain something, but only using accessible language. This skill is very important as an engineer. In the future, I may have to explain a product or process to someone without a scientific background.
Another skill reinforced by the trip is time management. Each day was occupied by lectures and tours from around 8:00 to around 4:00. Then, we left for dinner around 6:30 and returned later in the night. In this schedule, we all had to fit in time to write our blogs, prepare a presentation, run to the convenience store, exchange money, and more. This was a true test of time management. One specific moment was when I had less than an hour of free time on a hot afternoon. I tried to withdraw cash from the ATM, but my card declined, so I was forced to walk twenty minutes to exchange the cash I had left. In the heat. In sweatpants and long sleeves. I made it there and back with barely enough time to change into shorts before we left for another tour. This tested my time management skills, and it taught me to bias towards action.
Lastly, I got some negotiating experience under my belt. I learned about how vendors name a high listing price, and that a reasonable price is one half or one third of that price. I learned that being polite but firm is key when negotiating or bartering. The best example of this was the Ben Thanh market. I met this one vendor who offered a set of chopsticks. She was quick to place many different sets in my hands. I took the advice of the Vietnamese students and was stubborn. I stuck to a 35,000 VND price, far from the 100,000 VND listing price. After going back and forth, we agreed on the 35,000 price. This taught me how to stand up for myself while negotiating, but it also taught me that kindness pays off in the end.
I had an incredible time. Many thanks to my loyal readers!