It’s Complicated: Challenges facing Vietnamese-Americans doing business in Vietnam

Living in California, I ran into countless people who were born in other countries. They came from all over the world (Asia, Europe, South America, etc) and now call the US home. These individuals have a diverse background, growing up with one foot in each culture. There are myriads of benefits in growing up multi-cultural. One of which is the ability to quickly adapt and do business in both the US and their native countries. Many have taken the opportunity and bring the skills that they have learned in the US back home, applying them to their own businesses.

I find myself in the minority of these “minorities”. You see, I grew up Vietnamese American. We are different because our present and past do not reconcile so peacefully. The majority of us are here because of political reason. That makes everything more complicated. Old sentiments and opposing views between different groups in the Vietnamese American community make it difficult for us to conduct businesses in Vietnam.

There are three different generations of Vietnamese American:

* (1) generation 1 – those who have spent their formative and/or early adulthood in Vietnam. They experienced and remembered the war and the pain and hurt are still close to their hearts.

* (2) generation 1.5 – those of us who were born in Vietnam and have a good understanding of the Vietnamese culture before leaving for the U.S. They often can speak and write in Vietnamese. Their behavior is guided by a mix of Vietnamese and American sensibilities.

* (3) generation 2 – those of us who were born in the US or were raised here since they were very young. This generation typically have little memory of the war and little attachment to their homeland. They identify more with the American culture than that of Vietnam.

This is where the difficulties of truly doing business in Vietnam come in. Each generation faces their own challenges.

* For generation 1, they know the country and the culture the best. But the thought of doing business under a government that has caused their generation so much pain is hard to fathom.

* For generation 1.5, they have a good sense of the Vietnamese culture. Often, they are also educated in American institutions and this give them a different point of view than generation 1. Still for this generation it’s hard to go full force into doing business in Vietnam without the sense that they are disappointing their parents and/or older relatives (often generation 1). Such emotional road block prevents many from venturing into business in their homeland.

* For generation 2, they were raised on American sensibilities and therefore is much more individualistic. They are willing to do business in Vietnam despite the nay-say of previous generations. However, they often lack the subtle understanding of Vietnamese culture. This might make it harder for them to assimilate into the Vietnamese business environment.

Together, these three generations can be tremendously successful in taking on the Vietnam market place. However, the cultural differences often drive them apart, making it hard for them to cooperate. How easily can we bridge this gap between the generations? Where must compromises be made? How do we take advantage of the strong points from each generation? These are questions one should ask before making business ventures in the Pearl of the Orient.

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