I had an excellent opportunity to spend a week in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam with a group of students from Washington state on a follow the supply chain study abroad program.
I learned so much from the meetings and tours we participated in, Did you know that there are at least 230 ‘touches’ required to produce a good quality shoe? The Brooks shoe factory in Vietnam is a well-oiled machine where we observed how to create shoes from raw materials all the way to packaging and shipping.
I also learned that apples from Wenatchee Washington are in very high demand in Vietnam, This is thanks to their high quality and excellent taste, as well as because of the controlled atmosphere storage where apples are stored without oxygen for many months to extend their ‘off the tree’ shelf life. Apples are one of the top exported goods from the state of Washington to Vietnam. Having the opportunity to see this end of the supply chain in Vietnam was a fantastic experience.
Another interesting tour was to Cat Lai Port, which is one of the largest international ports in South Vietnam. We received a brief presentation from an SSA representative and were provided a tour of the container terminal. This tour revealed that this terminal accounts for 90% of import/export for Ho Chi Minh City and 50% for the entire country. Vietnam is a very attractive location for conducting international business. Vietnamese labor is more affordable than in more developed parts of Asia such as China. At the same time, companies can access high technology container ports and other transport and logistics infrastructure. We also visited the SP-SSA International Port two hours south of Ho Chi Minh City operated by Seattle headquartered SSA Marine.
Even though the trip was planned as an immersion into Vietnamese global supply chain, it also delved into the culture and sights of the country. My favorite part of the trip, and most of my group will agree with me, was a boat excursion to the Mekong Delta (Nine Dragons Delta). Crossing the Nine Dragons on a boat, tasting local fruits and pudding, donning traditional hats, provided a fantastic taste of Vietnamese culture.
There is so much to explore and see. Saigon is a huge mix of contrasts: large skyscrapers combined with shops and apartment buildings that were only two meters wide; ultramodern shopping malls and crazy local street markets with local produce, live animals and bargaining. Saigon is a mix of new and old.
As part of the supply chain study abroad, we were hosted by students at the University of Science of Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. It was interesting to learn what challenges Vietnamese students face and hear their perspectives and perceptions. The meeting was held in a friendly and a positive atmosphere. The high level of English proficiency by the Vietnamese students eliminated language barrier.
My recommendation for students who are interested in traveling abroad with a supply chain program is to do background research on the culture, business and specific businesses to be toured before the trip. Also, research global and local geopolitical and economic issues and opportunities for the region. It will help you to understand the topic and what challenges businesses and people may face.
The trip to Vietnam enhanced my business education with a real life international business experience. Being part of study abroad program for supply chain gave me a clear view on international transactions between suppliers as well as the logistical aspects of the business, from manufacturing to packaging and delivery of the product to the customer. The trip was also a great way to establish a network with other business minded students and business personnel that could translate into future job opportunities.
Even with the endless traffic, millions of motorbikes, honking and unpredictable weather, these factors could not ruin my first impression. The French colonial architecture, delicious street food, interesting people and a million Vietnamese dong in my pocket made my trip unforgettable.