1. What have been your first impressions of Vietnam?
The first thing we heard when walking into the office on our first day in Hanoi was “I wanted to give you time to rest and have you come in in the afternoon, but then I thought, no, you are Americans you like to work too much!” Great, I’m glad we aren’t starting off with any misconceptions!
Fortunately, we realized that our exhaustion wouldn’t be a problem. Returning from lunch on the first day, laughing and discussing the delicious meal, we arrived to a dark and silent office. I thought it might be some “greening” initiative to save power, but I was wrong. Have you ever been at your desk thinking about closing your eyes and making it all go away for a few minutes…? Well in Vietnam you can! We looked around and realized that the employees had eyes closed and heads down, lying atop brightly colored pillows strewn atop their desks.
Every day after lunch the office turns into a preschool; or at least that’s the last place I recall having a structured naptime. But there is no judgment. Rather, it seems encouraged. Upon seeing this little spectacle, I realized… I could get used to this after all…. ☺
So far, Vietnam has been a great place to be thrust into. The weather is warm and so are the people. Everything is met with a smile and perseverance; nothing seems to get these people down. There are many clear signs of a country in developmental transition, but even institutional voids like poor drainage or untamed roads barely make these people blink twice.
The luxuries of the West are clearly still waiting in the future, but there really hasn’t been anything that would make even the casual adventurer uncomfortable (well, once you learn how to tip-toe across the street that is). There is ready access to capital with ATMS of all brands sprinkled on nearly every corner and there are stores for anything you could want, from bags to clothes to sinks and laptops.
We haven’t quite figured the method to the madness yet, but each street seems to specialize in one certain product; when you find one ‘phone store’, for instance, there are 10 more right next door! So now every street has a name: Chicken street, shoe street, mannequin street, tv street, etc. Now only if we had some time to shop and spend these millions of dong!!
2. How has working in the field differed from learning in a classroom?
To me the largest difference between classroom and field experience is accountability. In the classroom I am accountable for just myself. There are pressures in doing my best and absorbing as much as possible, but ultimately in only affects me whether I get the grade or not. Accommodating multiple teams, projects, tests and meetings, the classroom experience is all about managing time and being efficient.
Now, working on the field is a whole different experience. In the field I am accountable to the client first and myself second. Here the ultimate goal is to present to the client a well crafted solution that will be applicable well after I am gone. The biggest challenge for me to achieve this goal is to ultimately see the problem from the client’s perspective, but design a solution that stretches the client’s scope and exceeds her expectations.
Another big difference between classroom and fieldwork is the availability of data to solve the problem. In the classroom we have cases with detailed research, appendices and references. In the field, there are no such tables outlining what and why information is useful. In the field, whatever information you need you must discover it yourself.
Everything is much more real here on the ground than it ever was in the classroom, as we are being forced to bring out everything we know about project management, cross cultural communications, consulting and change management. Our efforts here will not simply be reflected in a grade, as they have for the last two years, but rather will be measured by the impact we are able to make for the client. Their satisfaction is the largest (albeit ambiguous) barometer of our work. Additionally, it is no longer just about us as individuals; we are here representing the whole Thunderbird community. The quality of our work reflects on our school, professors and overall educational experience. The result also factors into the possibility of gaining future TEM Labs in the country and industry. This is much more pressure than our normal day-to-day work on campus!
Nonetheless, in just one week, our TEM Lab has been an incredible learning experience. The project has been challenging and exciting as we attempt to wrap our heads around this complex industry. The warm welcome and openness we’ve received has been a great stroke of luck and we are quickly benefiting from “doing”, versus just “learning” in the classroom.
At Thunderbird, we learn about cross-cultural communications and experience it regularly as students come from all parts of the world. However, having to be the only bridge between two very different cultures in an extremely fast paced business context is very unique.
On our team, I am the only person who speaks Vietnamese. The English proficiency of the client is not quite what we had anticipated. Furthermore, American culture is very direct but Vietnamese is indirect and relationship oriented. Not just changing languages, I am switching my entire way of communicating in a flash. As such, I am finding it quite difficult to keep my performance at a level I am accustomed to when I am able to focus on one style of business. Keeping both parties on the same page is an ongoing battle.
Being closely related to media and entertainment, this project relies heavily on cultural preferences. Daily success requires that I understand economic and cultural gaps and explain them efficiently and effectively to both sides. I never could have imagined this learning experience sitting behind my desk in LH 53.