Article by Chua Xiu Fang (DIB/FT/2A/01)
This March holidays, I, along with 53 other Singapore Polytechnic students and 3 lecturers, embarked on a journey to Ho Chi Minh,Vietnam for our Overseas Social Innovation Project (OSIP). For this project, Singapore Polytechnic collaborated with four Vietnamese colleges, namely, Phu Lam college, Thu Duc college, Nam Saigon college and Nguyen Huu Canh college. We were excited to learn that all of us would be assigned to Vietnamese buddies from the schools (on a ratio of 1 SP student to 1 Vietnamese student) who would work together with us for the entire duration of the trip.
The aims of the OSIP were firstly, to allow students to immerse in a different culture and secondly, to equip students with the skills to create innovative prototype solutions for real life problems using Design Thinking tools. The OSIP trip lasted a total of 21 days from 10th to 31st March 2012. Prior to the trip, all of us attended a 2-day workshop in order to equip ourselves with the necessary Design Thinking skillsets that were required for the OSIP.
Group photo taken at Changi Airport before departure
On the day of departure, we assembled at Changi Airport, all excited and eagerly waiting to board the plane. After 1.5 hours of flight, we finally arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport. The team was full of mirth as we travelled towards our hotel (Liberty 4), which was located in District One of Ho Chi Minh City. One distinctive memory of the city was its chaotic traffic. I found it rather scary to cross the streets because of the chaotic traffic conditions (as compared to Singapore). Though scary, crossing the road provided me with an entirely different experience and reminded me to be cautious and alert to my surroundings.
On the first week, we had the opportunity to learn and practice some basic conversational Vietnamese with the help of our Vietnamese buddies. It was a week of cultural immersion as we attended classes that were taught by Vietnamese teachers who spoke in English. We also had a tour around the city and even had a go on the local rickshaws known as cyclos. Some of the tourist attractions that we had the privilege of visiting included the dragon palace, the war remnants museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
We started on our OSIP project in the second week, setting off to the Ben Tre province. There, we visited Nhon Thanh weaving village via a boat ride. With the help of our Vietnamese buddies, we were able to interact with the villagers and gain deep user empathy, understanding the problems that plagued them in their daily lives. By the end of the second week, we were able to generate specific ideas to solve the problems we identified.
Trying out weaving at the village
One of the highlights of the OSIP trip was the home-stay program. Each of us was given an opportunity to stay over at our buddies’ houses for two nights. This prospect excited me as I had never participated in a home-stay program before and in my opinion, the home-stay offered me quite an intimate glimpse of what life is really like in Vietnam. The program also exposed me to a rich variety of cultural learning opportunities that I would otherwise never have had a chance to experience first-hand. Ultimately, the various aspects of this program helped improve and instill the skills required to adapt to the different living conditions. The program had also allowed me to practice effective communication with my host family in Vietnamese, based on the basic and limited vocabulary I learnt in class over the previous week.
Besides working on the project in the second week, we also visited the Cao Dai temple and Cu Chi tunnels over the weekend. It was a long and bumpy ride to the Cu Chi tunnels but the trip was definitely worth it. After watching a short video presentation about the Vietnam War and given some information of the tunnels, the tour guide brought us to the area where the tunnels were located . He then entered one of the tunnels and reappeared from another inconspicuous opening. Intrigued, but invariably nervous, we were then given the chance to enter the tunnels as well. The experience was incredible and truly out of this world. The tunnels were a testament to the resilience of the Vietnamese citizens and I gained much more knowledge about the war.
During our last week in Vietnam, we worked closely with our Vietnamese buddies and came up with prototypes for our projects. We also returned to the same village to gather user feedback in order to refine our prototypes. Towards the end of the week, we presented our ideas to the teachers. Out of a total of twelve teams, the top three teams were selected to make a presentation to the Department of Education and Training (DOET) in Vietnam.
Through this entire project, I believe that the theme of making a difference in the global arena was heavily emphasized. The project has taught me that social innovation can come from anyone – whether as individuals or in groups – and I have learnt to consider things from a different perspective as I gained cultural intelligence.
All in all, I benefitted from the program. The OSIP trip has allowed me to grow holistically, giving me opportunities for student interactions and cultural immersion. The strong friendships that I have forged during this trip (with both my course-mates as well as the Vietnamese buddies) will stay with me for life. This is a once in a lifetime chance and this is a school trip that one would definitely not want to miss!