Summer Internship Experience in Vietnam - An international experience

by Rajdeep Roy Choudhury on Saturday 1 September 2012, 12:00 AM | Category: Summer Internship Contest| View: 2730 views

 Summer Internship Experience in Vietnam: An international experience

Rajdeep Roy Choudhury

2nd year student, IIM Lucknow                                         


Company in summers: Olam International

Profile: General Management, strategy

Email id: [email protected], [email protected]


I was supposed to go to a far flung African country as part of my summer internship, and was having somewhat scary thoughts, aided by some unabashed leg-pulling from my friends about how to survive in war affected areas. But just days before I was about to set to go for internship, my location was changed to Vietnam. I had little idea about the country, except that it had managed to win a long war against USA. So with a puzzled mind, I set forth on my first foreign trip.

After being dazzled by the mid journey haul at Bangkok airport, I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City airport, and was pleasantly surprised to see a large no of small queues for visa process, and the queues moving really fast. Even though the staff (everyone wearing military uniform) were barely able to communicate in English, they were using all sorts of combinations of sign language and going about their duty with remarkable efficiency.

I exchanged my meagre amount of 300 US dollars that I had carried from home, and was surprised to get several million Vietnamese dongs. The exchange rate really is mind boggling, but then there is a catch, which I will come to later. I felt literally lost just outside the airport terminal, but soon a friendly looking elderly taxi driver from company was waving enthusiastically with my name plate. And from here on started my tryst with communicating in sign languages.

After checking in a quite luxury hotel, I visited my company office, and being a 22 year old fresh from college guy, was highly impressed. Anyway after some informal chat I was asked to report the following day.

I went out for lunch in a nearby KFC outlet, as it was the only name I could recognize and was overjoyed when the bill came out to be74 Dongs, meaning an astonishingly meagre 18 paise. But a moment later I was made to look silly, the local currency is always quoted sans the last 3 zeros, meaning it was 74,000 Dongs.

I had to visit many farmlands as well as trading and export companies as part of my project on fruit cultivation and processing industry, and was given a young lady translator, who in the course of the next 2 months would become my guide as well as outlet for communicating with the amazing local people. I was almost lost in a local street when I dared to venture out on my own, and was quite sceptical about going out for a short while. But the warmth and hospitality of the local people, and the amazing variety to places to visit in the city itself more than made up for it. With a college friend also in internship or my new translator friend, I would roam around the shining streets, colonial era French museums, wide variety of restaurants offering international cuisines and markets offering amazing bargain prices. In between I managed to take trips to some amazingly beautiful locales in South Vietnam: the Mekong delta with markets and huts on the river bed, underground tunnels in Cu Chi, bearing the history of immense courage and bravery of the locals during the war period. It was more and more looking like a highly enjoyable foreign trip and less like a summer project.

On the work front, I was quickly brought to my efficient best by a few stern words by my mentor, and set about meeting different companies in the value chain of fruit industry. I met with all kinds of responses; from being almost rebuked to the pleasantly welcoming and enthusiastic, but at no point could I agree with my translator friend's constant pestering: “Vietnam is a difficult place to work in”. It may seem to be, but inherently people are always more than willing to help out.

I had my fair share of gaffes, ranging from using the wrong greetings (Thank you instead of Hello) to spelling wrong names. I had learnt my lessons, and was actively trying to learn at least basic words and numbers in Vietnamese, constantly troubling my translator on the way. I am sure she used to have a good laugh with local people right in front of me, but then we do the same in India with foreigners, don't we? All in good humour.

I went to the ancient city (1000 years old) of Hanoi, and it was the first air trip for my translator. My attempts at trying to ease her scares and misgivings in the flight were quite hilarious now in hindsight. The quitter, peaceful and somewhat congested city of Hanoi stood in stark contrast to the sleek and modern Ho Chi Minh City which could give even any European city a good run for its money.  Apart from carrying out my market studies and interviews, we managed to take time out to visit the truly amazing Ha Long Bay and also the museums and residence of Ho Chi Minh, the father of the nation for Vietnam, and enjoy wonderful lunch with Pho, Tau Phu and refreshing street side ice drink Che Thai.

I did visit Cambodia and Bangkok, Thailand in between, and was delighted by the simple old-worldly charm of the former and the glittering charisma of the latter. The farm visit in Cambodia was quite an eye-opener in terms of how the farmers use their traditional knowledge and intelligence to implement quite scientific methods of cultivation. On the lighter side Mushrooming massage parlours with their army of agents and tie-ups with hotels in both Vietnam and Thailand made me remember my 1st year MBA studies about industry and its value chain, though the comparison seemed very funny to my friends later. But what struck me most about all the countries was the absolute honesty and fairness with which they dealt with me, and also the amazing efficiency of the administrative machinery. Everyone went about their lives with minimal fuss. On the lighter side, we were pleasantly surprised to see the gender ratio being skewed in the opposite direction, with women being found in larger numbers at workplaces at times. Visiting the Thai International Food Festival thronged by representatives from all over the world was also a nice experience.

Time was running out for completing my project, and I had to do a lot of secondary research. With no formal background in agricultural sciences I had to learn so may intricacies of cultivation and processing of food. I spent the last 2 days working almost non-stop on completing my report and preparing for presentation, which got pre-poned at a very short notice. But the words of encouragement and satisfactory feedback from my guide and the company hierarchy made me feel that it was worth it. In between I had many wonderful and enriching lunch table conversations with senior managers, and was truly amazed at their range of experiences.

I faced quite a few problems in language and food barriers, but the constant support from company staff and a few friends I had managed to know there, along with the amazing cultural experience made me enjoy those two months to the fullest. If anyone would have told me before my summers that I would go from one foreign country to another all by myself with just a plane ticket and visa on arrival, I would certainly have not believed him. So to my pleasant surprise I boarded my flight back home with mixed feelings of joy at home coming and sadness at the end of two amazing months spent in an unknown country.

I felt like crooning one of Greenday's popular numbers:

It's something unpredictable but in the end

It's right I hope you've had the time of your life


So take the photographs and still frames in your mind

Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time

Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial

For what it's worth it was worth all the while



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