11 August 2016, Hanoi, Vietnam (Postcard)
“… On perhaps my eighth trip here over the past two decades, I have visited with family and colleagues from Da Nang & Hoi An in the Central coast to HCMC/Saigon in the South, to Hanoi in the North. On this trip, I made it to the mountainous region of Sapa just as the emerald rice paddies were at their most verdant peak.
Here in Hanoi, I was invited to teach an international business class to a young, eager and “green” crop of college students at the Foreign Trade University.
It has been an honor to pass on my global insights to these Vietnamese students. I hope they will be inspired and grow into future explorers and leaders at home and further afield… MDN”
“Take my suitcase,” my father offered as I searched my parent’s home for luggage to carry my books, gifts and various items for a month-long trip to Asia. As a seasoned globe-trotter, I usually bring only carry-on bags for most trips… but this journey would necessitate more baggage.
As my father handed me his dusty black nylon Samsonite, which he last used on a trip to Seattle for his brother, my uncle’s funeral in March 2015, he did so with a nostalgic gesture. “I don’t think I will be using it again,” he said firmly, as has always been his manner throughout my upbringing. The words struck me as I couldn’t really fathom him not traveling, ever again… the man who instilled such a great sense of exploration in me. From the many visits to American national parks where my brother and I slept in the backseat of his Toyota camper, to a European vacation to visit my brother when he was stationed in Warsaw, or a return to Vietnam to visit relatives. This wanderlust has been rooted deep in my cultural mindset, physical stamina and restless soul. I just couldn’t imagine retiring luggage — or a traveler at heart who could no longer venture forth.
Prior to the trip, I consulted my oncologist friend on whether I should go on the trip at all as it was a delicate stage in my father’s health. His cancer had reappeared in the Spring as a Stage 4 development, and some doctors suggested this time would be tougher and more unpredictable than before it went into remission. I also noticed a change in my father’s attitude, as he was more resigned towards the inevitable.
About two months earlier, my colleague at Cal State University Fullerton (CSUF) had asked if I would be interested in teaching an international business and management class at the Foreign Trade University (FTU) in Hanoi, which has a long-standing faculty and student exchange program with CSUF. I initially agreed, though took precautions in the event I had to return home earlier than expected. Also, the summer would be full of international travel as I had work meetings in London and an alumni reunion in Italy in June… and knew that beyond this season, I would need to stay closer to home. Then as July approached, I packed my bags and my father’s suitcase, and left for Singapore for a stopover to visit with former classmates prior to arriving in Vietnam.
1 August 2016, Hanoi
“The women of Sapa are examples of savvy global entrepreneurs,” I explained to my class upon the start of our second week together. “They were trekking guides, spoke many languages, invited foreigners to stay with their families in local homestays, and got us to buy all these handicrafts they made!”
I had just spent the weekend and taken the overnight train to the mountainous region of Sapa, where our group hiked all day in the rain and across rushing streams to the village of Lao Chai. The journey was worth every soggy step as we were immersed in the cascading, terraced emerald rice paddies and welcomed by hospitable and enterprising local hill tribes.
The journey provided me with some local anecdotes for my class of 32 Vietnamese college students at FTU, many of whom were age 21 or younger and had not left Vietnam. As their teacher, I tried to inspire them to become astute decision makers as they experience more of the world. Unanimously, they all wanted to spend time working or living abroad; no surprise, as the focus of FTU is on international business.
Personally, it was an enriching experience for me to be invited back to Vietnam to offer my global perspectives. My previous trips since 1995 have been short, after having left the country of my birth over 40 years ago. I shared with the class stories about growing up in America, and how it was a more individualistic yet an innovative culture. Later, I would go on to work for a multilateral organization — the WTO in Geneva, and support multinationals like FedEx and Toyota with trade negotiations at ministerial conferences in Mexico and Hong Kong. When we discussed the Saudi Arabia culture case from the textbook, I recounted a trip to Riyadh with my boss to advise on the country’s WTO negotiations. From meetings with officials in Brussels and Tokyo, to speaking on panels in London, Sao Paulo and Shanghai, over a decade of international trade work provided useful insights to the students on the conduct of cross-border transactions, regulatory frameworks and collaboration in cross-cultural teams.
By the time we finished the class with group presentations on August 12, I was delighted that several of them told me they were inspired by what they learned, and would seek global careers after graduation. My greatest hope for them, or any of my students, is that they can be better prepared in their education to succeed in whatever their passions or dreams they want to achieve — in a more borderless, connected and competitive world.
As for me, I decided to return to California the next morning even though I usually would linger and catch up with family and friends in the region. I had some events to attend to back home with my day job and creative gigs, prepare to teach again in the fall semester at CSUF, in addition to the annual gathering of UCLA Anderson’s global MBA programs where I remain active in the alumni network.
Also, I was simply, eager to spend some quiet time at home with my father and family given that in the following seasons, the days will grow shorter… and with the faster passage of time, a sentimental and inward journey awaits.
In the uncertain yet inevitable paths ahead, we can only hope for good health, greater happiness, and a lasting love and legacy that transcend the boundaries of the short time and space we have on this earth.
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