Return to Vietnam: Offering Global Perspectives to a New Generation

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”

mark-hanoi-aug-2016-back17 July 2016, Midway City, California

“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!”

photo-jul-31-1-42-19-pm

photo-jul-30-3-44-25-pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

13937732_10154442994603739_4510045062032894932_o

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.

#  #  #

Advertisements

Lifelong Learning and Lessons Learned

July 7, 2015, Singapore

“So, what do you hope to accomplish with this degree?” my fellow classmate Jakob asked, as we celebrated after our graduation ceremony earlier that day from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

The question struck me — was this second chance and effort at reinvention going to lead to a more balanced professional career, or will it be filled with as many thrills and spills as the preceding go around?

FullSizeRender(6)

Life can be ironic as it is forgiving as I had come full circle after two decades and double degrees from the same institutions UCLA and NUS (a BA in 1994 and an MBA in 2014 from UCLA; a Fulbright Fellow in 1995 and an MBA in 2015 from NUS), and had reached a point where I was finally finished with school, but not with learning.  In fact, I was far from done in my association with these repeat alma maters…

July 14, 2015, Da Nang, Vietnam

“It’s official! Welcome to the Executive Committee as VP!”  Wendy the president of the UCLA Anderson Alumni Network of over 30,000 Andersonite Bruins, wrote in a congratulatory email I received upon waking 14 hours ahead in the place of my birth, Da Nang, Vietnam.   I had been confirmed as vice president of the alumni network a year after graduation and having served as president of the class of 2014 UCLA-NUS Global Executive MBA for the Asia Pacific.

As I gazed outside towards the bright, rising sun as it dashed above the South China Sea, the moment seemed all the more amazing.  All this privileged education, the ability to serve in global institutions, pursue a creative passion, and yes, perhaps still have the drive and ability to accomplish something more meaningful.   What do I hope to accomplish?  How should it be defined or measured?  (maybe based on return on investment (ROI); now that I have an MBA, I probably should think that way!)

DaNang-Beach2

Why was I provided such incredible opportunities, as opposed to the fisherman hauling in his catch that morning to feed his family, or the taxi driver waiting to earn a 40,000 Dong fare (about US$2), or the budding local entrepreneur who had a later start than I did as Vietnam embraced capitalism two decades after the end of the war?  Not to downplay their livelihoods, but I do feel very grateful.

Coincidentally, 1995 was when I first returned to visit the country after leaving in 1975 at the age of two as the war ended with just a small suitcase of clothes my parents had packed, though with plenty of space for a hopeful future.

Over the past two decades, I’ve returned to study, work and vacation on more than a dozen trips to Japan, Great China, Indochina and the rest of Southeast Asia.   Every time, I’ve been amazed by the energy and dynamism of the region — and how increasingly interlinked it is with the America and the rest of the world, whether culturally or economically.

Given my cross-cultural upbringing and education, if I can serve as a bridge between East and West and improve commerce and understanding — then that’s a useful purpose.

July 17, 2015, Hanoi, Vietnam

Văn Miếu known as The Temple of Literature — is Vietnam’s first imperial university founded in 1070 by then King Lý Nhân Tông for the nobility and wealthy based on Confucian principles and worship of knowledge.  I first visited this historic site in 1995 along with two American classmates studying at NUS in Singapore.  Today, I thought it would be fitting to end my latest journey to Asia by paying homage to this academic mecca.  For good measure and appreciation, I brought along my latest credential earned over the past two years of hitting the books and sweating out the exams (not to mention, in sweltering humidity that day).

TempleLiterature-2015

For over 700 years, this esteemed institution paid utmost respects to its teachers, laureates and elite students that excelled in their tests as they strived to attain revered status as mandarins and become public leaders.  Since 2010, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often filled with tourists as well as locals who come to pray for skill on their own exams (or usually, parents praying on behalf of their children), and all can now buy lucky amulets with encouragements like “Study” and “Intelligence” for just a dollar.

The temple’s layout is similar to the Chinese temple at Qufu in Shangdong, Confucius’ birthplace, and divided into five main courtyards, with the third containing the “Well of Heavenly Clarity” before approaching the inner sanctums.

FullSizeRender(7)

I came here today to reflect, whether divinely or in egalitarian spirit, upon my own lessons learned in the classroom or otherwise over the past two decades (and recognize we all have different objectives, so not proselytizing).

Here is my simple list of three:

Humility Leads to Growth:  The more I am able to learn, whether it be a new skill or from an unforeseen perspective, the more I feel humble and enlightened.  Humility often arises from an open mind and heart, which allows growth to take place.  This could come from an engaging conversation with someone we thought was too different, or experiencing the world.  Otherwise, we may become too fixed in our ways.

Giving is Rewarding:  I have found that offering my time, knowledge or resources to support others or a cause is a wonderful and fulfilling investment, especially when it’s done with no return expected.  Generosity is rewarding in itself as well as to society.

Opportunity Offers Great Potential:  Perhaps being an immigrant, I have had an engrained sense of not taking opportunities for granted.  In approaching each new idea, partnership or innovation — I instinctively think of whether it is possible to attain the synergistic 1+1 = 3, which should make something that is not ideal better.  Opportunities can be remarkable if we achieve their greatest potential.

With these lessons learned and latest credentials earned… I still have much left to accomplish whether as a business leader, a humble servant or in lifelong learning.

*  *  *