Arriving to the airport at 10 pm seemed like a hazy dream. I know what many of you are thinking: “They must have partied to their hearts’ content before departure.” And to be honest, yes, we did explore Hanoi’s amazing nightlife on our last day. However, this “haziness” did not come from staying up late but from not wanting to accept the fact that our time in Hanoi had come to an end. Our trip back to the United States lasted more than 25 hours during which I deeply considered what we had experienced in the last 5 weeks. This is what I came up with:
Before arriving to Vietnam I was unsure whether I should enter Vietnam as a Mexican or an American citizen. I could not stop thinking that, not long ago, there was a war that involved both Vietnam and United States. Considering how horrible wars are, this one in particular, I assumed that there must be some resentment or continued angst among the Vietnamese toward American citizens. I could not have been more wrong! The issue was never brought up, and people there were extremely interested in knowing more about us and about the US, Mexico, and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, due to the high costs of travel, not many Vietnamese have the opportunity to explore the world like we do so getting 10 minutes with us to ask some questions was a pretty big deal for them.
From what I was able to comprehend, their level of curiosity about foreigners starts at a very young age. Many times small children ran towards us to give us a quick “Hi” and then ran back towards their parents giggling. These funny encounters also showed me that Vietnamese people are extremely harmonious. I do not recall anyone in Vietnam chasing us trying to sell us something, begging for money, or crossing my comfort zone. From our previous travels to other emerging economies my team and I recalled many moments where one feels uncomfortable, overwhelmed, and sometimes even harassed from the actions of some people in other countries. Wait…do not jump to the conclusion that I am saying that one country is better than the other. I am only stating that I had a different experience than the ones I am used to.
This sense of harmony is also extremely unique in regard to transportation. The first time I rode a taxi to work I thought every ten seconds: “this is it, we are going to die or we are going to kill someone.” However, through the whole five weeks I did not see a single traffic accident. For those of you who are not familiar with Vietnam, everybody drives a motorbike and, from the look of things, there seems to be a lack of common sense regarding how to drive those bikes. It was fairly common to see a line of motorbikes driving the opposite way, against traffic, on any street. Further, our taxi drivers had no problem making U turns across busy streets from one side to the other. Imagine seeing a whole city on motorbikes heading straight to you and with no intentions of slowing down. Many times one of our teammates would scream “Charge!” as we began to make our own precarious way across the street, through oncoming traffic. But again, we never saw an accident.
My personal take on this phenomenon is that the city has its own “beat”. Everybody knows exactly what to expect and the execution of what to me seemed dangerous was naturally flawless. This also applies to pedestrians, if one is set to cross a busy street, then walking calmly and at one pace was far safer than trying to run or waiting to find the right time to cross. Doing either of the latter options would have destroyed the “beat” of the city and most probably would have caused an accident.
The Business Culture
Harmony is also highly expected in the business environment as well. From my experience working with some Vietnamese colleagues I noticed a strong sense of unity among co-workers. In contrast to the business environment that I am used to, where one tries its best to stand out and be noticed, in Vietnam it was more important that a group resolution was agreed upon. This came to light during our focus group meetings with some of the employees. When one of the Thunderbird Consultants asked a question, there was a five minute discussion in Vietnamese to arrive at a group answer in English. This makes me wonder about the key drivers for the majority of the Vietnamese people and how different they are from mine. What techniques can a Human Resource department implement to encourage a high level of individual employee performance and at the same time achieve a high level of group cohesion?
After five weeks of conducting a very through analysis of our client, VNN Plus, we finally reached some conclusions. The results were presented to our client in a room in which top and middle management were present, around 15 people. Our presentation started with an analysis from Sean about the future of media content around the world. Later, I presented my analysis on the opportunities VNN Plus has in international markets. The presentation concluded with Riley, Lauren, and Mai presenting three strategies on the opportunities in front of VNN Plus and recommendations on how to reach them.
During the presentation there was not a single sound or expression from our client sytem. It was very hard to judge how VNN Plus management was receiving the information. It was not until the end that Ms. Chung, the COO, stood up and gave us a big smile and applause. She and her team were very curious about particular recommendations we had offered, and wanted to know more. The team took some extra time to further explain and respond to some questions. When we were finally interacting with some of the cool websites we presented, we finally got to feel a sense of curiosity and excitement from the group. So, it is possible that it had existed all along, but needed the appropriate time to be let out.
My experience visiting Vietnam far exceeded my expectations. At no point during my stay did I ever want to rush back home or escape to more familiar environments. The people, the food, and the lifestyle only made me want to visit and explore more of this wonderful country in the near future. Vietnam has experienced incredible growth over the last five years and we all hope that it can continue on this path going forward. We are excited to see which recommendations our client undertakes and thank them for their hospitality towards us.