As my time in Vietnam drew to a close, there was very little that I could articulate about the impact it had on me. First and foremost, I believe that entering Plus3 with as little amount of expectations as possible allowed me to get the most out of my two weeks, as every experience was new and not marked by some sort of previous judgement. I had made sure to not read any blogs of the previous years’ trips as I believed that their opinions would feed into my own, and as other people discussed what they had heard about certain experiences, I sat back and allowed each event to unfold with a sense of wonder and amazement. The biggest impact to this was, without a doubt, the students from the University of Economics and Finance as they accompanied us on company and site visits, guided us throughout the city, and helped to educate us about the language and culture of Vietnam. Their extraordinary kindness and willingness to go out of their way to help us enhanced our experience greatly. From taking the entirety of our student group to see a water puppet show to showing us different popular places to get food or shop, I feel so much closer to the students than I ever could have guessed I would. Admittedly, there were many times when their care for us turned into overbearing baby-ing, but as we accepted their actions more and more, it was very clear they just wanted nothing but the best they could do for us. Not to mention the tight time schedule they put on us as every night, a new activity was planned, thus giving us an extremely limited time to write our school assigned blogs, but nonetheless everyone seemed to arrive on time for us to depart for whatever the night’s plans were.
Beyond that, I was immensely impressed by the great variety and quality of sites we visited, each offering their own lesson and perspectives on our focus topics of globalization and development. Companies like Glassegg Digital Media who not only brought much of at least my childhood to life, but also showed the challenges and advantages in outsourcing within a developing country, or II-VI which, as a materials science company, will always have a special place in my heart for showing not only that my major is highly applicable to the real world, but also the painstaking process happening in order to manufacture technically complex goods. Even if the days were long and, to us the students, highly unpredictable, we coped. Pre-writing blogs on the bus, catching up on sleep while travelling, collaborating on questions for our company visits, all these things were skills we very quickly learned to practice as no single activity was the same as the next. Presenters had different methods of interacting with us, as some were more friendly and talked to us as peers and others happened to be a bit more challenging in their expectations for us and our participation. As a group, we shared the same experience on these visits and as our time in Vietnam went on, the shared experience brought us closer together. The visit to Ho Chi Minh City showed me a side of Vietnam the American education system, and western culture in general, failed to give us the ability to even visualize. The image of a country still struggling to pick up the pieces after being torn apart by a war we started was blown out of the water as we learned of the rapid growth they experienced and are currently experiencing. With master planned development projects and hundreds of industrial parks, saying that the country’s urban development was impressive is an understatement.
In fact, the entire city was not only logistically impressive, but aesthetically marvelous. The mix of the different influences on Vietnamese culture melding into one cohesive mass displayed a unique beauty I had never seen before. At night, neon lights of giant consumer brands cast surreal and colourful lights on giant glass corporate building while French colonial influenced apartments nestled themselves between giant two- sometimes three-story cafes and bars, as music blared out onto the rapidly moving nightlife of the streets. Chain restaurants and delicious mom and pop stores dotted commercial blocks as different vendors sold delicious and unique foods to the young crowd who populated the many roundabouts of the city. Throng of motorbikes outnumbered cars by the hundreds as commuters zipped and weaved through traffic at all times of the days. A lack of any apparent adherence to general traffic law made the entire spectacle insane to watch as semitrucks would haphazardly cut across multiple lanes of traffic or the occasional small hatchback taking to the sidewalk to bypass the morning rush hour, all culminated in an almost hypnotizing movement that held a sort of unique rhythm in itself. As we journeyed throughout the city on foot, we learned many lessons in adaptability as cars gave no regard to our general safety or as we would often get lost trying to navigate the incomprehensible street names. And it would be amiss for me to not discuss the food culture of Vietnam, as we were given multiple opportunities to try all the Vietnam had to offer. Trying traditional Vietnamese staple foods such as phở or bánh mì, helped teach us an appreciation of the people’s culinary philosophy as they attempted to mix several elements of flavor and appearance into all their dishes. Our samplings of other restaurants like Korean barbecue or dim sum proved that their proximity to other Asian nations definitely brought in a better influence of taste and flavor than we had in America. It was also quite entertaining to try western food in Vietnam as we had McDonalds and tacos, which were surprisingly good as the Vietnamese influence brought a special sort of taste and design to foods we were already familiar with.
Overall, the trip started with twenty complete strangers meeting in a classroom for two absurd hours every so often at night on a Friday. We were all, for the most part weary of one another, unsure of what to think. But, as it turns out, a 30- hour travel day brings the most aloof of strangers close together, and that, along with unanimous complaints about heat, stickiness, and general disdain about Vietnamese climate, helped us enjoy our time in Vietnam as group rather than as individuals. No one seemed exclusively separate, yes, some groups of friends slowly formed within themselves, but everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We all made friendships that could not have been possible outside of the program as business students and engineering student who would definitely not have ever met in a regular semester, became fast friends. I have truly never been more grateful for an experience quite like Plus3, from the amount of technical information I received to the culture I gained to the connections I made, it saddens me to have to leave Vietnam and I hope that I can return later in my life to explore the country more.