Trung Nguyen rocked up to the front of my hotel with a beep on his scooter, offered me a pink helmet two sizes too small and told me to get on. Trung was cool.
I said no, if I got on it would void my insurance and my lecturer wouldn’t be happy. Not cool.
After turning down the offer of a ride of his scooter we walked to a local café for a Vietnamese coffee. After drinking my coffee in one go Trung gave a small shudder. He told me that in Vietnam, the coffee should be drunk slowly, with little sips. He demonstrated his mastery by sipping on the one small coffee during our entire interview.
Trung studied a Masters of Communication and PR at the University of Queensland after completing his undergraduate degree in Vietnam. I asked him the difference between the Australian and Vietnamese education systems and he gave a very interesting answer.
‘’In Vietnam, the lecturer gives all the direction. The lecturer gives you the task, tells you what to do, and monitors your every move. In Australia, it is all about the student. You come up with the ideas, the thesis, the direction. Vietnam is the teacher, Australia is the student.’’
I was intrigued by his answer as I had never really given thought to the idea of power distance between teacher and student.
After our study group was invited to our lecturer’s room the night before, for a post-dinner drink and a sterling rendition of ‘Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West’, I know the power distance is quite small in Australia.
We moved from discussing the merits of Australian and Vietnamese education system and onto Trung’s job in Ho Chi Minh City. Trung works for a strategic communications firm that offers guidance to one of the biggest mobile providers in the country.
Trung explained that communications and PR is a growing area in Vietnam. As more foreign owned companies invest in the country, they bring Western business ideas. Trung said it was a boom industry and Vietnamese businesses are beginning to realise the power of marketing.
The other big change is the accountability of businesses by the press. Trung was quick to highlight the idea of ‘crisis communication’ as a growing area of PR in Vietnam. Previously, corporations could silence critics and had power over the media. As Vietnam is opening, the power is going.
I asked him for his opinion on how open and accountable the Government is with the press. This turned into a bit of dead end and I didn’t want to press on what could potentially be a touchy subject.
Trung said going to university in Australia gave him skills that were in high demand in Vietnam. Before even graduating he was offered three jobs. He choose to come back home and utilise the skills that his Australian education had given him.
I took away two important lessons from my interview with Trung. Sip your Vietnamese coffee slowly and that there is work around the world for someone with a communications or journalism degree.
Trung walked back to his scooter, stuck his pink spare helmet between his legs and with a beep entered the surging traffic. Man, Trung was cool.