Have you ever received a postcard or seen a friend’s posted photos of an internationally known site such as the Grand Canyon, or Yosemite, or Halong Bay, and then had the opportunity of actually visiting the area? Often one’s response is, wow, I had no idea that it was really like that. As part of REI’s emphasis on building people to build their nation, we bring motivated Vietnamese business students to the USA to be exposed to successful businessmen and businesswomen in a variety of fields. The response? Wow.
REI has participated in the US Department of State (USDoS) Exchange Visitor Program (formerly called the J-1 visa program) for many years. Only recently, however, have we begun sponsoring university business students to the USA. REI Business Team Leaders Don Colebourn and Dr. Suzanne Garrett have been the point people in this program, which is described on the official USDoS website as follows: “The primary goals of the Exchange Visitor Program are to allow participants the opportunity to engage broadly with Americans, share their culture, strengthen their English language abilities, and learn new skills or build skills that will help them in future careers... Participants are young leaders eager to hone their skills, strengthen their English language abilities, connect with Americans, and learn more about the United States.” We figure eating a hot dog while watching a no-hitter at an Oakland Athletics baseball game with Bob and Suzanne Garrett counts toward all of that!
To expand on the above a bit, REI’s desire is that these students will have the opportunity to be exposed to people and organizations which will expand their horizons in terms of business acumen and developing a visionary and entrepreneurial mindset, but more importantly, that they will be impacted by the values that REI espouses.
Tra My (pronounced “Cha Mee”) presented it this way, in a post-visit report: “The selected students are granted the blessing of coming to the United States to interview successful business leaders working in different business sectors. After that, they return to Vietnam to write and submit their reports, perhaps additionally delivering presentations to the people of the Faculty about what they have learned from their trip. By doing that, the benefit will be multiplied (editor’s emphasis) and all can learn from success lessons of business leaders in America.”
So what did Trang (pronounced “Chang) and Tra My do? Well, they spent time in both California, among movers and shakers, and in Colorado, among the moved and shaken. (Not really. But it's true that the Bay area has more large corporations than Colorado Springs!) The young ladies conducted interviews with a number of successful businesspeople, including International Equity Fund Manager Don O’Neal (pictured a few lines above, with the Oakland Bay Bridge in the background), and with co-owner John Waite at Land Home Financial (above, with Dr. Suzanne Garret and our visitors). They also visited not-for-profit Miracle Messages with founder and CEO Kevin Adler, as well as visits to Deloitte, Google, and Apple. They also served through sorting and packing potatoes in the Contra Costa Food Bank.
If the time in California emphasized success in large corporations, the time in Colorado majored on success in entrepreneurial and small businesses and, as in California, not-for-profit organizations seeking to serve their community. REI's Loren Lancaster took the lead in taking our guests to Small Business Week.
They also were able to sit in on class presentations at the Bachelor of Innovation program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS). They met with a successful restauranteur (Trang hopes to open a restaurant one day), and with Chris Franz, the President/CEO of Pikes Peak Startups. And they visited Dream Center, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to care for and empower local women in poverty.
Sightseeing also filled out their days, as they were able to visit the Garden of the Gods, an eclectic bookstore and café named Poor Richard's, and the unique Air Force Academy.
It was a rich time for both guests and hosts. We trust that the investment made in the lives of these two young women will pay future dividends as they pass on what they have learned and experienced, and in so doing build people to build their nation!