Saturday, June 22, 2013

Final Summary

Ethical Issues in My Profession:  


I learned the most about Vietnamese industry on our company visit to the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park, and more specifically from our experience with II-VI.  Our II-VI company visit was unique because not only did we get to hear about the company and the products it creates, but we got to visit the factory in which the products were created and see the production process and the working environment of factory workers in Vietnam.  The working conditions we witnessed seemed very similar to what I would imagine a factory environment in the United States would be like.  Each worker had a specific task and the final products were created in an assembly line type fashion.  Although the working conditions and the style of working seemed similar to that of a US factory, the workers’ wages are incredibly different.  We learned that the average annual income in Vietnam is $1200 (US dollars!).  This is a fraction of the annual income of a full-time minimum wage worker in America.  


America is all about equality and as such strives to create a diverse work environment with equal opportunities for all races, genders, etc.  This concept of a diversity is not recognized in Vietnam.  We learned that Vietnamese-run companies have the right to discriminate for basically whatever they want.  For example, if a Vietnamese company is looking to hire 15 new employees they have the right to only hire 15 men who are between the ages of 21 and 23, who weigh a certain weight and stand a certain height.  No company would ever get away with this type of discrimination in America.  


Solely considering the difference in worker wages it is clear that American companies have the opportunity to be exponentially more profitable if they produce their products in a country like Vietnam.  This is why so many companies are doing this!  Unfortunately this takes away jobs from American workers, increasing our nation’s unemployment rates and decreasing citizens’ morale.


Educational Breadth as Professional Development:  


There is absolutely no way I would be able to even imagine what the engineering needs would be in Vietnam if I had not visited.  Maybe I won’t ever need to know about these needs in this particular country or any country for that matter, but I can guarantee that I will need to have the ability to understand and adapt to something different than I am used to.  Studying abroad, particularly in a country as different as Vietnam, has given me this ability.


It is harder for me to think of similarities between America and Vietnam than it is for me to think of differences.  It is on the complete opposite side of the world and they do a lot of things completely opposite how we do them here.  The fact that they do so many things differently does not mean their way is better or worse than our way.  This is something that became evident to me the longer and longer we were there.  As I became more used to life in Vietnam, it became easier for me to understand why they do the things the way they do.


I learned so much in Vietnam that it seems like it should be a graduation requirement to study for some amount of time in a different part of the world.  I learned things I never would have learned in a classroom without even realizing I was learning at all!  I hope to study abroad again in the future to a different region of the world so I can see how people live and businesses operate in yet another new place.  Having learned so much in just two weeks, I can only imagine what I could learn from studying abroad for a longer period of time.


Lifelong Learning, Continuing Education as Professional Development:


The individuals we met with in Vietnam did not say much about their education, and the ones who did seemed to have United States university educations.  Having said that, I’m sure most (if not all) of the professionals who presented to us were college educated, but it is clear that a college education is not as common in Vietnam as it is here in the United States.  Because most people are not college educated workers learn how to do their job on site.  Workers seem to have very specific jobs that they learn to do very efficiently and very well.  Just because some jobs are not pre-education based does not mean they don’t change overtime particularly as technologies advance.  Workers in Vietnam (and America) are responsible to learn about these technological advancements, learn how the advancements affect their jobs, and make the appropriate changes as they obtain new knowledge.


Lifelong learning is a very important concept to accept and put into action.  If we do not strive to expand our knowledge, we’ll never do anything new and more importantly never keep up with the rest of the world who is striving to learn more.  For example, both my parents are photographers who got their degrees over thirty years ago before the birth of digital photography.  If they wouldn’t have learned the art of digital photography there is no way they would be able to compete with other photographers today.


The Social Environment of Professional Life:


I personally didn’t observe much overlap between the social and professional life of the Vietnamese.  In fact, the only place I got a mere glimpse that the workers had a social life is Glass Egg Digital Media where some employees had pictures of friends and family on their desks.  


I found that the Vietnamese students knew a lot more about what my life is like in America than I knew about their life in Vietnam.  They knew about President Obama, they knew about the Boston bombings and even the Oklahoma tornadoes (which I’m pretty sure occurred when we were there).  Now that I think of it, it’s kind of embarrassing that I “lived” in Vietnam for two weeks and cannot tell you one thing that was on television there, or on the news, in the news, or on the radio.  


The importance of a general knowledge of contemporary issues kind of relates back to what I said about knowing about the needs of people in different areas of the world.  As an engineer, if I am not aware of global issues I will not be able to do anything to solve these issues.


Functioning on Multi-Disciplinary Teams:  


The group of students that traveled to Vietnam this year was amazing.  We were the most random bunch of students from nerdy engineers to classic frat guys which made the trip amazing!  These personality differences amongst us seemingly disappeared in a social and professional environment, but whether we were business or engineering students was very evident in the professional environment (at least to me).  The business students on the trip were able to apply what they learned freshman year to ask very insightful questions on the company visits, but it seemed like I (as an engineer) found it difficult to come up with such questions.  This proved to me how important it truly is to have multi-disciplinary teams who work together to play off each other’s strengths.


Communicating in this type of environment could be very difficult.  People who choose different majors not only think differently, but have an incredibly different knowledge base.  Engineers don’t understand economic concepts any more than business students understand thermodynamics so sharing ideas would be especially difficult.



Sunday, June 2, 2013

Home Again

So I've been back home for a little now and basically I'm bored!  Nothing new.  Nothing exciting.  However, I have had plenty of time to think about my time in Vietnam.  I've told all my friends and family everything that happened and everything I did and saw and I realized that I absolutely loved every single aspect of this trip...the culture, the food, the country, and especially the people.  Before this trip I was constantly asked why Vietnam?  I was asked this by my friends, co-workers, family members, and even complete strangers and the only answer I could give was why not.  Now that I've been there my answer is so much more than why not and I'm so grateful for that.  Thank you for this opportunity.  I will truly never forget this experience.

Day Muoi Hai

Last day.

This morning Brooke and I changed it up a bit.  Before we came here both of us watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain No Reservations in which he visited Vietnam.  They never specified where in Vietnam he was but once we got here we know it was Ho Chi Minh City.  In the episode he visits a woman called the Lunch Lady who makes a different kind of soup everyday with ingredients given to her by local people.  We were on a mission to find her and lucky for us another student on the trip did all the research for us which was awesome!  The cab ride there from the hotel was relatively quick followed by a short and slightly confusing walk (at least for us) but we got there and we're served a beautiful looking seafood soup of some sort.  We think it had the fish sauce in it because unfortunately we found this nearly impossible to eat.  I'm so glad we went though because I would have hated myself if I left Vietnam without visiting her.

This morning was our last bit of planned fun...a soccer and basketball match against some of the UEF students.  We played sloppy but we've all become such good friends that these games were absolutely another trip highlight.  

After the games we were free to do whatever we desired until our dinner cruise that night.  Me, Corey, Sam, Brooke and Greg decided to spend our time at the zoo.  The animals were super cute and it's always exciting to see lions and tigers and giraffes and hippos and everything else.  But I found this zoo visit kinda sad because their cages were small and the animals were either alone or extremely overcrowded.  Two things really stuck out at this zoo visit however. One was that we were getting as much attention as the animals! We were taking pictures of the animals and the other visitors were taking pictures of us!  It felt like we were an exhibit at times.  The second funny thing was also kinda sad but these people were throwing things at this gibbon and the gibbon would catch whatever they threw or relieve it and throw it right back at the obnoxious visitors that were terrorizing the poor thing.  I could have lived without seeing the Saigon Zoo but I still had a great afternoon.

That night we had our farewell dinner. It was a great night with great food and great people but I'm so sad it's all over and so grateful for this experience.

Day Muoi Mot

It's the second to last day and I absolutely cannot believe it...I'm pretty upset about it actually. Anywayyyyyy today was great as all my days have been here in Vietnam.

My day started the regular way and we headed to UEF for our regular culture and language classes.  Today in language class we had a test which was really an opportunity for us to see how much Vietnamese we have picked up in the past two weeks.  My test went kinda hilariously as I forgot numbers and peoples' titles (man, woman, teacher woman, teacher man, etc.) which I totally know!!!  But whatever, it was more fun that way.  

No lunch at the fly spot today!!! We went back to the hotel instead :)!  Best idea ever.  Thank you Dr. Berman!

After lunch we finally got to see the War Remnants Museum.  This was an incredible experience but we had been warned about it since like the second pre-departure meeting because of its anti-American viewpoints.  Upon our arrival Dr. Berman told us that it was once called the American Crimes Museum which definitely explains the propaganda inside.  The images inside we're definitely off-putting and even slightly disturbing at times but the hardest thing for me to take in was outside the museum.  Right out front there is a "collection" of captured American artillery vehicles on which people were climbing and laughing and smiling and posing...kind of treating them like a jungle gym.  For some reason this struck a nerve in me.  Overall the museum experience was one that made the Vietnam trip what it was for me.

Tonight was our last night to pick a restaurant for dinner on our own and we've had this one planned the entire trip.  Tonight we went to the Rex Hotel for dinner.  We dined on the rooftop deck with live music and great food.  'Twas a good time.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day Chin

Today we got back to our typical schedule with the morning hotel buffet and a bus ride to UEF.  The university events of the day included an abbreviated culture lecture followed by language class.  I love learning about Vietnamese culture because it is so SO different that what we're used to in the states and language class is always fun as we all continue to struggle with pronunciating these strange letter combinations and tones. 

Lunch at the norm! :)

After lunch we had a quick company vist to Navibank.  The presentation given by the company representative on this visit was much different than the others we've been on because the presenter didn't speak English!  There was a translator, but it was still crazy to hear the entire presentation in Vietnamese.

That was all we had planned for the day so we headed back to the hotel, changed out of our business casjh, and hit the town!  We weren't out for long, but today Brooke and I were in need of some Starbucks.  I don't really miss home yet, but I do miss Starbucks...that's pathetic.  We were hoping that since everything is so cheap here Starbucks would be as well!  Nope.  Same price :( but same taste too :)!  We sipped on these real slowly and enjoyed every drop of the coffee and every second of being in by far the coolest Starbucks I've ever been in.

We've all been itching for some Western food so tonight we planned on going to an Italian restaurant called Ciao Bella but when we got there it was closed for renovations.  Instead of taking a cab back to the hotel to find a new dining spot then another cab out to wherever we chose, we decided to just walk around the area to see what we could find.  The group ended up splitting in two and we took different directions.  I feel bad for the kids in the other grop because we stumbled upon another Italian restaurant that was so good.  I had spinach and ricotta ravioli that tasted just like the homemade ravioli my great aunt makes back home.  Best dinner yet (maybe, all the food here is pretty incredible)!

Day Muoi

So today is day ten already!  You can guess how it started so I'll spare you the details of my morning.  No UEF today because we had two company visits (the last two of the entire trip).  

Our first visit was to Saigon Newport Corporation.  Our presenter was a Naval officer as the company is government owned and run by the Vietnam navy.  I was worried that he may be boring and stiff, but he was actually really funny and spoke great English.  The company itself seems to control most of the importing and exporting of Vietnam more specifically the importing and exporting of goods by ship and truck.  The final part of the visit was a tour of the facilities that ended at the top of the control tower.  Here you could see everything from the ships coming in, the goods stacked up, and the Ho Chi Minh City skyline. 

New place for lunch today!  It was a beautiful outdoor restaurant with ponds and walkways to separate eating areas.  The food was pretty good too!!

This afternoon we went to another real estate company, but it was nothing like Phu My Hung. Instead it was basically your classic apartment complex with the basics and a nice pool.  They showed us around the grounds and then inside one of the traditional smaller three bedroom apartments followed by a journey 26 floors up to the penthouse suite which was unfinished but still AMAZING with incredible views.

Tonight for dinner we wanted some more western food so we did some research and found a restaurant called Zest with hundreds of great reviews and a five star rating so we were pumped to eat there.  Upon our arrival at peak dinner time we couldn't help but notice that we were the only people in the restaurant...two floors of tables and we were literally the only ones.  We ignored that fact and continued with night at Zest.  After we ordered our food a man who seemed to be the manager asked if they could take pictures of us with our meals for their Facebook page.  How could we say no to that?  We ate, gave them our contact information, and entitled our evening "The Gang goes to Zest.". The food wasn't incredible, the atmosphere wasn't great per say, but this dinner was too fun.  We were laughing the entire time :)!

Day Tam

Today was a relaxing day.  After breakfast at the hotel, we all met up and rode to a different UEF campus.  This campus was closer to the hotel than the one we typically go to which was nice because we didn't have to spend as much time on the bus.  Here we just brushed up on some Vietnmese in language class for an hour and each had a short, 3 question quiz that was pretty much a no brainer at this point.  We don't know much Vietnamese, but what we have learned seems to be sticking with us which is cool.

After language class we took a bus tour of Ho Chi Minh City.  We made a few stops on this tour, but the coolest place we visited was the Reunification Palace which was the Presidential Palace where Ho Chi Minh lived.  There weren't any tours ready when we arrived so we were allowed to explore the palace on our own which I prefer.  After walking through the four-story palace and soaking up the beautiful views of the city on the rooftop deck, I stood in front of a fan for about 15 minutes to try to cool of as I waited for the rest of our group to be done.  Not only was this the most interesting stop on the tour, but it was also the last so we headed back to the hotel to have lunch.

We were all excited for this afternoon because we were finally going shopping!  On the way to the first market (a tradtional Vietnamese market in Chinatown) we stopped at a beautiful old Chinese temple.  The architecture was incredible and the hand carvings that decorated the walls were amazing.  After another quick bus ride we arrived at the market.  We walked in and were overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that was jammed into the space.  It was literally piles and piles of fabric, shoes, hats, motorbike helmets, food...basically anything you would ever need to live in Vietnam.  The aisles were so skinny and it was so crowded!  It was a cool experience to walk around, but it was also a little too much for the group so we ended up leaving early.  Still in the mood to shop, however, a few of us got dropped off at the more touristy market on the way back to the hotel.  Here we were able to pick up some of our souvenirs by bargaining in Vietnamese with some vendors.  

Following the short cab ride back to the Victory I took a dip in the pool and got ready for dinner.  We went to a "French" restaurant called TiTi where I had ostrich with barbecue sauce and french fries.  It sure wasn't French food as I know it, but it was delicious!