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WORLD FOCUS: Spending spring break in Vietnam

April 27, 2017
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

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," she said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette. "In addition, I knew I wouldn't go to these countries on my own. So I decided this was a great opportunity."

Her expectations about Vietnam were dated notions that came from the movies such as "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," Lenthall said.

No wonder. The transformation of Vietnam since the end of the war has been amazing. With a population of about 95 million, the government in 1986 initiated a series of economic and political reforms that put Vietnam, an impoverished and politically isolated country, on the 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 incredible resilient," she said. "Cambodia lost about 40 percent 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 described life in the big cities of Vietnam and Cambodia as "organized chaos." Thousands of motor bikes intertwine with cars, trucks, buses and bicycles criss-crossing at major intersections with few stoplights in the major cities.

"And if there is a crash, people stop and pick up you, brush you off, and away everyone goes," she said.

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

Her group from the college had the opportunity to meet with business leaders and managers.

"We met with Starbucks Vietnam," she said. "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 us about the challenges companies face when they enter the Vietnamese market, and what life is for an American living in Vietnam.

One of Lenthall's favorite memories of the trip was meeting Lily, their ecotour guide.

"Lily was incredibly personable and had excellent English," she said. "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 Americans and didn't resent us because of our past."

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

Frank Shatz's column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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