Last year I started the Executive MBA program at the Foster School of Business, University of Washington. Part of that program includes a one week international immersion at the beginning of the second year. I went to Viet Nam and was there for three weeks. Below are the highlights from my trip as well as a link to the full write up if you are interested. A shortened version of the write up is also posted on the Foster blog.

Thank you again for your support as I continue with this journey!

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As someone who has never really traveled internationally…well Canada doesn’t count, right? The International Immersion part of this program really excited me. Here are four ah-ha’s I had during the trip:

  • Every situation is an opportunity. If I asked for the business a quarter of the amount that you get pitched on the streets in Viet Nam, even with all of the ‘no’s’ I would instantly double or triple my business.
  • Influence of government in business. As a small business owner, I have always heard the importance of getting involved, but in all honesty it never seemed important or seemed to make a difference. I would just see people get stressed out, surround themselves with negativity, and in some cases politics would take on a life of its own. Seeing how the politics and government of Viet Nam affects even just the common person I have a new understanding and appreciation for the importance of it. I started to rethink some of the major issues of discussion that are currently going on and wondering if our country really understands what they are asking for. Some policies or government programs sound good in theory, but in actuality have unintended consequences.
  • Value of a dollar. There was a lot of talk about money during this trip. Simply because one US dollar is about 22,000 dong, the Vietnamese currency. That is great for an American tourist and it completely skews your perspective of what is fair and what is not fair. For example, tipping is generally not expected in Viet Nam but coming from the States, we are used to tipping. Should we? Should we not? It’s not much in American dollars so why not? It can’t hurt, or can it?
    Most places that are used to tourists have “tourist pricing” which could be as much as 20% higher. Is it fair to be charged higher prices and be expected to tip? Your actions today influence the expectations of the tourists tomorrow will have to do. Also, knowing the corruption level does tipping put the individual or business at risk? Does tipping create the perception of the “rich greedy American” or entitlement? What if they have a low tourist season and they don’t make as much of this under the table money? Are the locals going to pay the price? Is it going to skew their local economy?
  • Diversity. I’ve done a fair amount of diversity training over the years and listening to how people describe diversity in the States blows my mind. Some have a truly limited understanding of what diversity includes and then others can only see diversity issues in everything they do. It’s not about right or wrong, but I was amazed at how different the concept of diversity is in Viet Nam. I’m not saying that they don’t have a lot of different people within their country, they do! The majority of the population were born there and never left their home town let alone the country. For many, that is not a choice they have, getting visas to go to other countries can be next to impossible and with the exchange range stacked against the Vietnamese, they have to be very rich to be able to afford it.

I had someone ask me if ask me if as a result of this trip, I was considering doing business in Viet Nam. Honestly, the thought never occurred to me. While I do see ways that I could contribute, I do love the time that I spent there, and we are already looking into visiting again, I am not sure that how I work or if my personality would be a good fit for the culture. I won’t rule it out and I have made some great connections…so maybe, one day.