I am writing this from back on home soil in Portland. Fall term has started and the summer, as long as it felt during six-day work weeks in equatorial heat and thunderstorms, has passed in the blink of an eye. I learned an incredible amount about the industry and the product creation process in 10 weeks in Vietnam—and even more about myself.
When I was considering applying to the University of Oregon Sports Product Management Program in spring 2015, the internship opportunity was the biggest selling point for me. My only stipulation in process was to go overseas. I didn’t care where or how far away, only that I would get a global experience not available anywhere else in the world. And boy, did it ever deliver.
Many factories are dedicated to a single global brand and operations tend to be sensitive in nature because the products being created are often not yet introduced, and the technology used to create them is proprietary. Mine was no different, so I have not shared much of my daily internship work. But I can highlight a few elements.
- I was provided training on every element of factory operations with the area leaders, taken through their day-to-day process to see how they function as strategic elements supporting a global brand. We asked dozens of questions while walking the floors with managers to see first-hand applications—an experience far beyond what any presentation or factory tour could provide.
- I made several pairs of shoes by hand from scratch—cutting, stitching, and assembling everything. I took great satisfaction in completing that, but the real pride came from the comradery working alongside true masters of the craft. Hunched over a machine in a hot environment that the local workers are used to but that I definitely was not; focused on not breaking the machines; vying for the elusive “thumbs up” from the endlessly patient manager tasked with taking the clumsy Americans through the entire process. That’s simply not something I could do anywhere else. Looking up to see smiles of encouragement and nods of approval as my skills improved was a real badge of honor.
- We got first-hand experience developing an SPM class project into an actual project. True masters of product development, pattern engineering, and production were exceedingly generous with their time in showing us the ropes. By the end, we may have used up all their patience, but also we created numerous prototypes on our way to making a legitimate product sales sample. We’d come a long way from nearly being laughed out of the room in our first creation team meeting.
Last was an experience difficult to quantify yet was perhaps the most rewarding. When I was assigned to sit in the PCC (product creation center), I stated that I wanted to do anything I could to add value. I did not expect to be asked to teach an English class.
Admittedly, I was unsure at first. I haven’t taught anything since helping my sister with high school algebra and the only Vietnamese I speak is the cursory vocab provided to us in our orientation. I had no idea how to create a curriculum or where to start, which was evident in my first classes. However, with Chris’ help and some Facebook messages to teacher friends back home, I finally hit my stride. By the end, I was amazed by how well the classes came together and how much the Vietnamese developers and engineers enjoyed it, even staying after working hours to work on their English skills with us.
Teaching English may not jump off my resume, but being able to share the experience of facing a challenge in the unknown and navigating it to success on the other side of the world certainly will. Learning to communicate across cultural and language barriers was a major goal of my experience, and I got it in spades. And the best part was the students—now friends that I keep in touch with online—and how much we were able to touch each other’s lives. After the last day of class, they took Chris and me out to dinner to the local barbecue restaurant, ordering for us, showing us how to eat, and toasting each other until long past dark.
Last spring, I sought advice from several industry people on how to best leverage this experience. Each were effusively envious of the opportunity to be immersed in the heart of product creation at such depth, and each advised me to see and do as much as possible. I did the same with my personal SPM mentor—a self-made industry legend in his own right who’d had a similar experience in Asia—asking how I should approach this. His guidance was simple: “Go wherever they send you, jump into the work willingly, and most importantly, get your hands dirty.” I think he’ll be proud of me.
Yet any pride I feel in what I accomplished this summer is dwarfed by my gratitude. To UO SPM for this opportunity, to the program partners that provided the internships, and to the Lundquist College of Business for allowing me to share my experience here—as but one of 11 SPM students with world-opening international internships. We all had life-changing experiences working in Asia this summer, and with this under my belt, I personally have no doubt that I made the right decision to jump into both the SPM program and the internship experience with both feet.
I am still navigating my way through many questions: What will I do after the SPM program? Where will my career head from there? In time these answers will come. However, one question I no longer struggle with is “Was leaving my job to go back to school and wholeheartedly immerse myself in the SPM program and all it has to offer the right decision?” That answer, for me, is a resounding “YES”.
—Brian Warner, MS '17, UO Sports Product Management
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