“What do you miss about America”? I am often asked. Beyond the obvious answers (loved ones, family, friends) I surprise myself with another answer, diversity.
Calling New York home – or one of my homes – diversity is the watchword of my waking and walking hours. Races, lifestyles, attire, ethnicities not to mention food makes New York and much of the US a rich mosaic of people.
In Saigon, outside of District 1 I am often the only Westerner or even non-Vietnamese on the streets. Even in the tourist zones most of the “foreigners” are Asian and those who are not hail from Australian, Germany and France, not the USA.
This past week I got a large dose of diversity when an MBA class in emerging markets came to visit us from Southern New Hampshire University. While New Hampshire is not known as a diverse state (compared to New York) the group represented the variety that is America; a young woman from the Dominican Republic and a man from Ecuador; another from the Middle East and a professor originally from Turkey in addition to locals ranging in age from age 23 upward.
While the goal was to introduce Vietnam as an emerging market to these students, the Vietnamese were equally educated by and infatuated with the contrast of these 10 American visitors.
At a Friday welcome dinner there was a faux pas and lessons learned as beef and pork was at the gourmet restaurant. The Vietnamese present got to learn about Lent (being celebrated by half the visitors all going “meatless” on Fridays) Islam (no pork) and the vegetarian by-choice tendencies of some and also the carnivorous tastes of other Americans.
One student was welcomed at a local music club by the Vietnamese who, noting her dark skin, were curious where she was from. While the “Dominican Republic” did not resonate, her reference to be being “close to Cuba” evoked a warm response owing to the political connections of Vietnam and Cuba, and also Vietnamese fondness for salsa music.
“So this is Vietnam” one student commented. “It’s more modern, friendly and safer than I thought it would be”.
“So, these are what Americans are like” one of my Vietnamese staff asked?
“Yes” I answered smiling, thinking about the diversity of ages, ethnicities, interests, and backgrounds represented on this study abroad visit.
Living in Vietnam it reminded me of one of the things I miss about America and what I have come to appreciate even more from afar.