Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Plus3 Viet Nam: Trip Overview

After two exhilarating weeks in Viet Nam, the Plus3 Program has come to its happy conclusion. Participating students overwhelmingly reported a worthwhile and enjoyable experience during the program -- and many hope to return to the country one day!

Some highlights of the trip:

Exciting company visits throughout Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding areas, including to II-VI, Incorporated, a Pittsburgh-based laser and optics firm; the Phu My Hung Development Corporation, which is overseeing planning and construction of a large scale residential, shopping and commercial park in South Saigon; the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park; EXIMBANK: Vietnam Export Import Bank; and ACDI/VOCA, a non-governmental organization which is developing funding solutions for sustainable cocoa production by Vietnamese farmers.

Perhaps most enjoyable of all company visits, however, was the day spent with Viet Thai International. VTI is a firm founded in 1999 by David Thai, a Vietnamese-American who returned to his country in Viet Nam with little more than 40 dollars in his pocket and a desire and vision to build a business from the ground up. Today VTI boasts brand management for numerous restaurants and food and drink products throughout Viet Nam. Plus3 students were given tours and tastings at several VTI-owned properties, including a briefing by Dan Thai, Commercial Director of VTI and brother to David, and lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe - Ho Chi Minh City (picture at left). Students also got to sample traditional Vietnamese coffee during another briefing by Andrew Nathan, Store Operations Director of Highlands Coffee, another VTI venture. Finally, students rounded out the day eating dinner and singing alongside VTI employees at Karaoke Nice (picture below).

Students were afforded the opportunity to participate in Vietnamese language and culture study at the University of Economics & Finance (UEF), Pitt's partner institution in Ho Chi Minh City. UEF students sat alongside their American counterparts and helped to tutor their guests in the nuances of a rather difficult tonal language. By the end of the second week in country, the Plus3 students were actually able to introduce themselves to strangers and even bargain at the Ben Thanh Market in District 1. Mac qua! Mac qua! (Too expensive!)

Cultural visits throughout southern Viet Nam helped to round out the trip and provide context to what the students were learning in the classroom and on the company visits. During the two weeks in country, students participated in a city tour of Ho Chi Minh City and a traditional river boat cruise of island villages in the Mekong Delta, along with visits to the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, a Buddhist pagoda, a cocoa plantation, the War Remnants Museum, and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The most popular such diversion was a visit to the beach-side resort of Vung Tau, where students climbed to the base of a large Jesus statue (tallest in the world, according to the Vietnamese government) before hitting the beach en mass to cool off.

On the final day of Plus3, the University of Pittsburgh students donned their soccer jerseys and cleats and reported to a private sports field in the heart of District 12 for the ultimate showdown between Pitt and UEF. At the end of the "Friendship Football Match 2011," UEF had the lead in a closely fought contest of wills. Though the Plus3 Team lost 5-4, everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, and we particularly enjoyed the fact that close to a 100 Vietnamese appeared from adjacent streets to watch this international contest.

All told, Plus3 Viet Nam 2011 was a successful and enjoyable international experience for all participants. Please visit the individual student blogs for more details, photos and other updates about the trip. We also welcome any interested freshmen students to contact their respective study abroad advisors in either the Office of Engineering International Programs or the CBA Study Abroad Office for more information on how to apply to next year's program.

We hope to see you in Viet Nam!

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