Hẹn Gặp Lại, Vietnam!

The title translates to “See you again, Vietnam!” and I truly believe I will. Vietnam challenged me in ways I had I never encountered before and ultimately gave me a new appreciation for my life, especially air conditioning. If I were to explain everything I took away from this experience, this post would turn into a book, but there are a few skills that standout.

I spent two weeks in Vietnam and I can’t decide if it felt like a long time or a short time. I suppose it was both because there were moments that felt years long, like the plane rides and standing under the hot sun, but there were also moments that felt like the blink of an eye, like spending the day at Vung Tao or eating dimsum with the Vietnamese students. Regardless, from the moment I embarked on the trip, I knew I would have to work hard to make every moment count, which meant improving my time management skills. I didn’t want to spend my nights waiting on the wifi so I could write my blog when I could be out on the town eating and shopping with the Vietnamese students.

I used to think that I was pretty good at going with the flow, but going on this trip showed me that I’m way more efficient when I give myself a schedule. There was one night where I thought I could go to the supermarket and complete my blog post before it came time to meet in the lobby for dinner. But of course, I got distracted in the store looking at all the interesting yummy snacks we don’t have in the mainstream U.S. stores and I wasn’t able to finish writing before we had to leave. I ended up finishing when we got back later that night but it took me longer because I was more tired, which only carried into the next day because I went to bed later than I usually would have but got up at the same time bright and early.

I quickly learned from that experience, knowing I didn’t want to spend the rest of the trip making that same mistake, so I changed my habits. Instead of catching cat naps on the bus rides, I read the blog prompts for that day, started braingstorming, and there were several times where I was able to write the entire post in the notes on my phone AND find/edit the photos I wanted to upload so that when we got to the hotel, I was less frustrated by the wifi because I already had everything done and it was just a matter of waiting. Overall, it showed me that even ten minutes makes a difference because they start to add up and there are always going to be other things that need to get done so it’s pointless to procrastinate.

I also learned to be more flexible with my plans because it’s unrealistic to expect to have a schedule that goes exactly as planned. And if you do have that expectation, it will only lead to stress when things don’t go as planned. This was something I struggled with at times on this trip, not so much when it came to company visits, but more so when it came to making decisions on how to spend my free time. There was one night in particular that everyone was excited for because the Vietnamese students were going to take us to a Mexican restauarant. However, I had been in contact with Mr. Den Hoopingarner from the U.S. Consulate, who had been kind enough to acquire a consulate coin for me (pictured below), and I had scheduled to meet with him that night. I had to be flexible with my plans and choose between trying tacos in Vietnam or following through with my scheduled meeting.

In the end, it worked out even better than I could have imagined. I love my Plus3 family, but eating at Ben Thanh Food Market without them was a cool experience and made me feel like a local for the night. I also took the opportunity to explore the night market, as we had only had 45 minutes to spend shopping for souvenirs earlier that day. I even improved my bartering skills, so I’ll be ready to go when I come back to Vietnam one day.

I’ve always considered myself to be a good listener. My personality tends to lean towards the introverted side, so I’m usually more inclined to be watching and listening to what’s going on rather than being the one telling all the stories. But people, mostly moms, reinforce the idea that hearing and listening are two different things. It’s much easier to hear without listening to another person talking if they talk the same way you do on a daily basis. I used to think that I was always listening, but I realize now that there are plenty of times I’ve defaulted to just hearing the person that’s talking to me, especially if I don’t think that I’m going to need the information later. When you throw a language barrier in the mix, it makes it that much more difficult to comprehend what the person is saying, so you’re forced to listen. During this trip, there were a few instances where I had to focus solely on the sounds coming out of the person’s mouth in order to understand them, and that’s saying something because I have plenty of experience with broken english, since that was how my grandpa and I communicated while I was growing up in Hawaii. I learned that while active listening may require more effort in the moment, it will utlimately save time because you struggle less later on when trying to remember what that individual said. Sometimes it’s easier to simply smile and nod in agreement rather than concentrate and work to understand someone with an accent, but that defeats the purpose of the interaction, where each party is looking to learn something from the other. So even though it wasn’t always easy, I definitely learned a lot more from the Vietnamese students as an active listener and it’s a skill I’ll carry with me from now on.

Even after two weeks, saying goodbye was heartbreaking.

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