Being selected by SEA CAPE to take part in their Business Challenge programme in Vietnam has got to be one of my most valuable accomplishments. I am so appreciative to have been presented the opportunity to be educated by business leaders and entrepreneurs in Vietnam, and be exposed to the wonderful Vietnamese culture rooted in the people, food, streets, and even the traffic entrenching Ho Chi Minh city.
We were introduced to our business challenge by being allocated into small groups made up of both our fellow New Zealand YES students as well as Vietnamese students from the Australian International School. We were then given a sector based on our YES businesses last year, of which I was assigned technology. We were to, along with our Vietnamese counterparts, introduce a suitable product from our given sectors and come up with a market strategy to enter a New Zealand business into the Vietnamese market.
Throughout the trip, we were able to visit many businesses, startups, and individual speakers who would help prepare us for our business challenge at the end of the week. Each company visit proved to be a uniquely significant source, equipping all teams and sectors in different ways. I found the information we gathered from our visits could be translated across all of our fields, having common key factors that shaped their business operations in Vietnam. For example, most businesses that targeted Vietnamese consumers as opposed to tourists had a value of providing low prices to accommodate Vietnam’s income rates which are lower than those of western countries, and emphasised how Vietnam’s labour costs were an incredible advantage to producing in the country. Every visit we attended was concluded with a Q+A session which was an opportunity for me to make the most of my time with the leaders and professionals I was lucky enough to encounter and learn from. Additionally, this was a chance for me to consistently think of useful questions to ask both articulately and in a poised manner, which is key for a businessperson and invaluable to me as an aspiring entrepreneur.
Working alongside Vietnamese students was beneficial to a degree far beyond what I had expected. Not only were we able to interact and connect with young people who came from completely different backgrounds, which I had never done to such an extent, but they brought to our business challenge a first-hand insight into what Vietnamese consumers value and look for in the products they purchase, which was invaluable. For example, together we dealt with the conflict of Vietnamese consumers preferring to purchase goods produced in other countries and the commercial advantages of producing cheaply in Vietnam. Seeing the similarities between both sets of students despite our completely dissimilar upbringings and ways of life (with all the Vietnamese students being shocked to hear that many of us had part time jobs already) was inspiring. The bonds to the students from AIS we all built were far stronger than I had anticipated prior to the trip, and I certainly look forward to connecting with them in the future.
The business challenge was summarised with a five-minute pitch from each team. The pitches were an opportunity for us to, once again, practice skills of communication and confidence. Having participated in the Entrepreneurs in Action weekend hosted by YES last year, I know the stress of putting together a business presentation in a short amount of time. However, having learnt so much throughout the passing week, I still struggled immensely to fit in days worth of learning of the Vietnamese market into mere minutes. This, I suppose, is evidence of the paramount value I received and the learning I accumulated from this entire experience.
Experiencing the Vietnamese culture was a remarkable feature of this trip, and cannot be described easily. What I gathered from simply observing the sidewalks of Ho Chi Minh is that the city consists of an immensely entrepreneurial society, with all manners of people selling produce, souvenirs, and more on almost every available area. The persuasiveness and persistence of vendors left both myself in admiration and my wallet nearly bare. Accompanied with the colourful flashing lights that line restaurants and shops, I felt an overwhelming sense of the extraordinary liveliness which is embedded in every corner of Ho Chi Minh city.
The food I’ve been able to eat is completely different to my usual western diet. We dined in restaurants chosen for us that offered a range of traditional Vietnamese foods I had been deeply eager to try and, to me, was a key part of experiencing the life of the Vietnamese. We additionally had the opportunity to try authentic Vietnamese cuisine as part of the Saigon street food tour. The food we sampled, which was thought of as common and staples in the Vietnamese regime, was hugely out of my comfort zone, most of which I hadn’t even heard of before, highlighting how vastly dissimilar our versions of ‘ordinary’ are. I adored the aspect of quickly moving from one vendor to the next, being able to sample a multitude of intriguing and delicious foods while directly observing the nightlife of Ho Chi Minh.
Meeting the 11 other students taking part in the Young Enterprise Scheme from across New Zealand was an exciting prospect for me prior to the trip, and I was not disappointed with the team I was lucky enough to encounter. I’m deeply grateful to SEA CAPE and YES for introducing me to such likeminded companions to share in this experience and learn from. I think events that SEA CAPE offer, such as this, are unique in the way that they connect young people who are passionate about business in such a personal and practical way.
Coming back from the trip I can say without a doubt that my passion for business is unmatched. I am still in awe of all I have been offered and what I have accomplished as consequence. I have left this extraordinary week with a certainty of the business culture in Vietnam and the opportunities available for New Zealand companies there. Most prominently, I have returned with a great keenness to revisit Vietnam and see more of the astonishing culture I have grown to appreciate immeasurably. I owe so much to SEA CAPE and their generosity and I look forward to applying the skills and knowledge I have gathered to my future endeavors in both my final year of school and taking part in the Young Enterprise Scheme, as well as when I pursue business as a career in later life.