Returning to Asia with Vikings Abroad: Arriving in Vietnam

My co-instructor, Daniel Wong, 38 students and I will be visiting Vietnam and Japan over a 20 day period in July and August. This will be my seventh trip to Vietnam and eleventh to Japan. I constantly have to remind myself that Asia is ever-changing, but also constant in many ways. Even cities with thousands of years of history see cycles of change. I’m excited to share some of my expectations for arriving in Asia, Vietnam specifically.

New surroundings

I’ve learned that when I arrive, I like to walk around to absorb the culture, meet people and study the place I’m in while getting rid of jetlag. The first day in a new location is a special time to adjust and reflect on your new surroundings. Vietnam is vibrant, energetic, welcoming and a world apart from anything I know. As I step on to the streets, I have to remind myself to adjust to a sensory overload. This is a country of 96 million, seemingly in constant motion!

Simple things like crossing the street without being critically injured can be a real challenge. The motorbike is king in Vietnam, and they totally control the roadways. People regularly drive on sidewalks to shortcut traffic jams, which can lead to confusion for pedestrians new to the area.

I asked a friend about the chaos of the streets. She said, “Here you just make up your own rules — it’s all about the survival of this fittest with only the strongest surviving. So when you start across the street, don’t stop, don’t look, just walk.”

Enjoying the cuisine

I love to start my day with a big bowl of the national dish, Phở. There are so many dishes to enjoy that you might not find in the Pacific Northwest, and as with any travel, you need to be prudent about where and what you eat.

Make sure you bring any medicines you regularly take in case your tummy doesn’t adjust as quickly as the rest of you!

Like the Pacific Northwest, Vietnam has a rich coffee culture. I often start my day by going for coffee, and I’ve learned that this ritual is a time to relax and reflect rather than something to rush through. My thoughts often return to the various types of coffee available — coconut, egg, iced, hot. Each is perfect in their time of day, an anecdote and tool for reflecting on the crazy world we’re living in.  

History and culture

As an American, a lot of my early understanding of Vietnam’s history came from watching the coverage of The Vietnam War on the nightly news as we ate dinner. With the opportunities to travel to Vietnam over the years, I’ve learned more about the long history and the social, political and economic forces at play in the country.

Vietnam has an exceptionally old culture, dating back to the 3rd century BCE. While an estimated 80% of the population agnostic, there are at least 11 million Buddhists and 6.2 million Catholics. Like many of its neighboring cultures, Vietnams celebrates The Lunar New Year. My research shows only 10 listed public holidays, but there are substantially more spiritual and cultural observances like Ancestors’ Day and Buddha’s Birthday (observed on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar).

For much of the twentieth century, this country was engaged in wars with France, Japan, the US, Cambodia and China. This is a young country with a mean age of only 31, meaning a huge percentage of the current population did not experience the years of conflict. From my perspective, is this country has learned a remarkable amount of resilience.

Vietnam is run under a single-party socialist republic framework with the Communist Party of Vietnam currently in power. Today, Vietnam is the 15th most populous country in the world, operating with a market-driven economy — one of the fastest developing in the world.

I’m so looking forward to sharing this experience with Daniel Wong and 38 eager students. My next post will explore the challenges in globalized operations strategies using Vietnam as a case study. Until next time!


Jay Fortenberry is a cash to cash cycle expert, teacher, mentor and author. He is an instructor for the Master of Global Supply Chain Management program and leads the Supply Chain and Value Chain in Asia Field Study.



Categories: faculty, international

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