Social media, Bahn Mi and misconceptions: Visiting Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City with the Asia-Ready Exposure Programme
Besides all the fun activities, good food and friendships forged, the lessons that Mei Yi picked up as a participant on the trip were what she held closest to her heart.
When it came to my bucket list of countries to visit, Vietnam was not part of the list.
But the opportunity to travel to the country’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City, which came up as part of a collaboration between the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and the Asia-Ready Exposure Programme (AEP) proved too good to pass up, especially in the midst of COVID-19.
A youth development programme by the National Youth Council (NYC), the AEP provides opportunities for meaningful exposure to ASEAN member states, China and India, while strengthening competencies in building friendships and networks within the region.
The trip was announced to all full-time students of SUSS by the school’s Office of Global Programmes via email. Having made some Vietnamese friends from an ASEAN forum in June, I was motivated to explore Ho Chi Minh City and personally interact with more of the locals there.
Immersing ourselves in the Vietnamese culture
My group of schoolmates departed for Vietnam on the morning of Sep 11. They would become my family for the following nine days, embarking on various experiences and adventures together.
Days were spent attached to a local school – the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, while nights were spent exploring Vietnam for ourselves.
The people at the school were really welcoming and hospitable, helping us to settle in quickly. We learnt many interesting facts about the history and culture of the country, and embarked on several learning journeys to various places of interest.
The professors were very well versed in English, which eased the communication barrier. Our group was pleasantly surprised at how open the professors were, as we initially thought certain topics might be sensitive to discuss.
One highlight was embarking on a presentation on the topic of New Media and Society, which we angled towards the usage of social media in Vietnam. This involved gathering responses from the locals through street interviews.
Our task was a little daunting at first, especially when it came to approaching people in a foreign country. The Vietnamese “buddy” who was attached to our group helped to ease the nerves, assisting with translation and providing additional input.
It was eye-opening as we managed to gather perspectives from the locals. We discovered that although we were from different Asian countries, we all used the same social media platforms for similar purposes – content creation, marketing, and more.
Besides spending time at the school, we also had plenty of fun trying local food such as the country’s iconic Bánh mì and visiting prominent landmarks.
Another experience that stood out was when we visited the War Remnants Museum, which documented the Vietnam War. Although I had read stories about the war in our social studies textbook, it was striking to see the photo of Phan Thị Kim Phúc in real life – the iconic image of the nine-year-old girl and other victims of war fleeing from bombs.
The various artifacts and exhibits truly helped to convey the extreme extent of horror and devastation which hit the victims of the conflict back then.
Seeing a different side of Vietnam
The trip taught me plenty of life lessons, such as the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to experiencing foreign cultures. I was thankful we made a point to try as many new things as possible, such as local delicacies or visiting prominent landmarks and museums.
While one will normally gravitate towards shopping or entertainment while travelling, paying a visit to a country’s religious sites can be very enriching as well.
For example, it was intriguing to learn about the various cultural differences between the temples in Vietnam and Singapore. Singapore temples undergo refurbishment every few years, but Vietnam preserves such places for a very long time to protect its original form. This allowed us to see the intricate details of each of the buildings, which paints a vivid picture of what it has been through over the years.
This immersion experience also helped to dispel some of the misconceptions that I previously had of Vietnam. Prior to the trip, many had warned me about how “unsafe” Vietnam was and told me to be extra mindful of my safety, as well as my belongings.
However, my experience showed it was not as dangerous as many perceived it to be. Although the roads were congested and I was initially very fearful of crossing them, I quickly discovered how considerate and mindful the motorists were.
Instead of honking, they would carefully manoeuvre around pedestrians, making it safe for us to cross the roads. In fact, I found it easier to cross Vietnam’s roads as compared to Singapore’s!
Besides the cultural aspects, I also realised that there are many opportunities for Singapore to work closely with Vietnam when it comes to economic and industrial growth.
Vietnam produces many goods imported by Singapore, including textiles, coffee, furniture. It is also home to many emerging start-ups and businesses, which drive growth in the country.
With its rapid development, rich culture and wide variety of offerings, the country is an attractive place for business opportunities and potential collaborations, including from Singapore.
Embarking on this trip to Ho Chi Minh City was truly a life-changing experience. Not only did it allow me to meet new people and experience new cultures, but it also helped to broaden my worldview by pushing me to step out of my comfort zone.
Find out more about NYC’s Asia-Ready Exposure Programme and the upcoming trips available here.