Visit to Vietnam opens eyes — and possibilities

Allison Lenthall of Williamsburg, a graduate of William and Mary who had a successful public relations career here and abroad, is back at W&M's Business School to earn an advanced degree in Business Administration.

During a recent spring break, she participated in the Mason Business School Global Immersion Program that took her to Vietnam and Cambodia.

"I never have been attracted to Southeast Asia but I know I need to see and learn about that region of the world to be a better global citizen. In addition, I knew I wouldn't go to these countries on my own. So, I decided this was a great opportunity," she said in an interview with the Gazette.

Her expectations about Vietnam were dated notions that came from the movies like "Good Morning Vietnam" with Robin Williams, stories and other general commentary. Pictures in her mind were reflections on villages being destroyed with Napalm; She didn't have a modern day image of the country.

"I was thrilled, delighted and enchanted by Vietnam," she said.

No wonder because the transformation of Vietnam since the end of the war has been amazing. With a population of almost 93 millions, the government in 1986 initiated a series of economic and political reforms that put Vietnam, an impoverished and politically isolated country, on path toward integration into the world economy. Since 2000, Vietnam's economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world.

"The people in Vietnam and Cambodia are incredibly resilient. Cambodia lost about 40% of (its) population to the Khmer Rouge terror, and Vietnam went through various wars with the French, Americans and their own civil war. To see what they have accomplished, and are doing on a daily basis is amazing. The psyche of these populations took a hit, but they are rising to the challenge," Lenthall said.

According, to Lenthall, during every day of her visit to Vietnam and Cambodia she learned something new, whether it be about history or a business.

Her group from the college met with business leaders and managers. "We met with Starbucks Vietnam," she commented. "In Vietnam, there are multiple coffee shops on every block. They have some of their own major chains, but many shops are local. The General Manager at Starbucks talked with us about what it took for an international chain to enter the market, and how they shaped the market by being the 'employer of choice'."

Other meetings included a regional distributor of generators who provided information about the reliability of the electricity grid and changes in demand for electricity, and an American expat attorney who specializes in business law. He told them about the challenges companies face when they enter the Vietnamese market, and what life is like for an American living in Vietnam.

One of the favorite memories of the trip for Lenthall was meeting Lily, their Eco-tour guide. "Lily was incredibly personable and had excellent English. Soon after our tour began, Lily said 'I Love Hello People. You Americans are always smiling and say 'Hello, Hello.'' Like with Lily, we learned that overall most Vietnamese were very open to the Americans and didn't resent us because of our past."

Lenthall, believes that what she learned during her visit to Vietnam and Cambodia, will help her to become a much better global citizen, which in turn will help her in her career path. "I intend to go into international health care with some sort of international twist" she said. "So any experience that broadens my knowledge on the international level will support my career goals."

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place,"a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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