When I began researching study abroad options, I knew I wanted a program in a unique location, opportunities to actually connect with the culture and not just be in an American bubble, and hands-on learning among other things. This program absolutely fulfilled that. Living in Saigon is never dull and there are so many things to do. There is something going on at all times which sometimes made it hard to remember that it was necessary to sleep. It is hot. Like really, really hot. But you do get used to it and I wouldn't let that deter you. The pollution is also pretty bad but you will learn from it.
My favorite part of the program was hands down having a Vietnamese roommate. During my semester, there were 7 American students who were each paired up with a Vietnamese student. The students are all fluent in English, very excited to be friends with you, and eager to bring you to all the best places in the city. My roommate and I loved hanging out at one of the many many cafes in the city, hitting up rooftop bars, riding around on her motorbike, going to art museums, doing homework together…We all became such a close knit group of friends through our crazy adventures and I still talk to my Vietnamese friends all the time through Facebook. We traveled together and even visited the homes of some of the roommates. Showing up at one of our roommate's homes in the middle of the night after taking a long bus ride up to central Vietnam and discovering that her house was a Czech Republic brewery was one of my best memories. I also wound up at Vietnam's first ever Burning Man music festival with some of our roommates and their guitar club... The roommate component of the program really sets you up to have some incredible opportunities.
Food. Oh yummm. So tasty. And so cheap. Like $1 for an entire meal. As a vegetarian, the food scene was sometimes challenging but you can definitely make it work. Street food is a huge part of Vietnamese culture and you will never run out of new things to try. Since there is no kitchen, you will eat out for almost all of your meals-breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are so many options but it can get tiring after a while. There’s a mini fridge in the room you can use for snacks though and there is a 24 hour convenience store right around the corner.
Classes were challenging but not overwhelming. The curriculum is very relevant and you will find yourself making solid connections between what you're talking about in the classroom and what you're seeing on the streets. There is a reasonable amount of reading and assignments and the professor allows you a lot of freedom to focus on what you're most interested in. For example, you could do a photo essay instead of a written essay if you wanted. You also get to go on a lot of fieldtrips and even week long travelling seminars. Instead of sitting in a classroom talking about foreign investment, we would take a bus to a megamall and walk around learning about Japan's role in Vietnam's emerging economy.
The internship component had a lot of promise but unfortunately didn't turn out to be the best for me. My organization had some management issues but other students had great internships. The program staff were very receptive to feedback about our internships and they are always working to improve these.
You will also definitely be able to travel during the semester during breaks and weekends. Some students' parents came to travel with them and others just traveled in small groups. It's easy to travel for cheap here. Think $5/night for a hostel. So nice.
I would absolutely recommend this program to someone looking for an immersive, challenging, exciting abroad experience but you should definitely understand that you will be living, learning, and travelling with a small group which may not be a good fit for someone would prefer a large university environment. I loved this program and had a great time.