It hasn’t even been a week, but I’m already missing everything and everybody in Ho Chi Minh city. Plus3 was truly the opportunity of a lifetime; I couldn’t have asked for more. I was able to learn so much about both globalization/development in Vietnam and Vietnamese history and culture in a short amount of time. Many of the things we learned abroad were things that had been discussed at pre-departure meetings, but actually seeing evidence of development and the historical sites we had talked about added another layer to my understanding that would not have been possible at home. Even though I learned so much, the thing that truly made this trip unforgettable was the people. Getting to form new friendships with both Pitt students and UEF students made the entire trip that much more fun. I’m very happy to know that if I ever return to Vietnam, I would already have a group of warm, welcoming friends before my plan even landed.
On top of the factual knowledge about development in Vietnam that I acquired, I also learned valuable transferable skills. A very important skill that I got a lot of practical experience with on this trip was time management. Our days were filled from morning until around four or five PM with program activities such as site visits, classes, and cultural excursions. Although official program time was over after this, I always wanted to join the UEF students in trying new Vietnamese foods and exploring Ho Chi Minh at night. The students would usually arrive at around six or seven to begin the night’s activities. In this short span of free time every day, I had to find time to shower, change clothes, and write my blog, so I had to make sure not to procrastinate or get distracted by social media. Because of how packed every day was, it was tempting to take a nap during this time, so I had to make sure to get to bed at a reasonable time every night so that I would have time for my blog and for fun.
I have worked in teams before, but because of the busy schedule I just explained, it was especially important for our group for the final presentation to function well in order to complete the project in time. When coming up with questions to ask during our site visit, actually asking the questions, and assembling the PowerPoint, it was crucial for our team to work effectively. We had to make sure that we did not waste any time, so we went into the site visit with a set plan of the questions we needed to ask in order to make the most of the visit and to make sure we had all of the information we needed to complete the presentation.
Finally, living for two weeks in a city where I did not speak the language gave me a lot of experience in communication. When I have travelled in the past, I have been to only countries that speak Spanish, which I have taken for many years, or English. I quickly forgot the few phrases of Vietnamese I learned during class, so I was trying to navigate markets, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. in a language I did not speak at all. There were many different strategies that I used in order to communicate. When speaking to people that understood some English, I tried to rephrase my questions when they didn’t understand to see if they would recognize different words. At restaurants, I would point to the item on the menu that I wanted in order to avoid confusion. On our last night out, I asked a waiter at the restaurant where the bathroom was. He immediately handed me his phone, which had Google Translate opened. I typed in the word, and he quickly pointed me in the right direction. This is a strategy that is easy to forget about, but afterwards it seemed obvious. We live in a world with more resources available than ever before, so it is important to utilize all of them.