GRIP, Internships Abroad Snack Time at a Vietnamese Start-Up

September 18, 2023
By Sarika Chennur, Huntsman '25

GRIP: Sustainable Development in Ho Chi Minh City

From the moment I stepped into the bustling office of this Vietnamese startup, I was greeted with warm smiles and an infectious energy that seemed to fill the entire workplace. This was not your typical corporate environment. It felt like a place where creativity and collaboration thrived. The opportunity to work at Phenikaa MaaS was an eye-opening experience that exposed me to a whole new world of business, culture, and innovation. One of the most enjoyable daily rituals was the 4 p.m. "snack time".

Snack time with coworkers
Snack time with coworkers. 

Every afternoon, like clockwork, the office would come alive with the aroma of freshly brewed Vietnamese coffee and delicious street food accompanied by the sound of laughter and chatter. Snack time was more than just a break. It was a time for bonding amongst co-workers, an atmosphere created by the delicious food and ongoing competitive foosball matches. Colleagues from different departments would gather in the eating area - sharing food, banter, and work stories. For someone like me, who was still learning what it meant to work at a Vietnamese tech start-up, snack time became the perfect opportunity to forge connections, and learn from my co-workers.

During these moments, I discovered that the startup was a true melting pot of talents and backgrounds. We had coders, marketers, and business development professionals all under one roof. Moreover, snack time provided a chance to engage in conversations about my interests, share my experiences in Vietnam so far, and collect as many sightseeing and food recommendations as possible. These connections extended beyond just snack time. These friendships led to more perspectives when working on creating new business models, learning more about technology in Vietnam, and even attending a co-worker's graduation from a local university.

Photo with the Phenikaa MaaS leadership team and other GRIP interns (Mario and Laura)
Photo with the Phenikaa MaaS Leadership Team and other GRIP interns (Mario and Laura).

The other interns and I were working on revenue generation for the company and worked to develop creative ideas to add revenue streams to the current business model. To help these ideas come to fruition, we talked to our co-workers during snack time and work hours to get their opinions on the current state of public transport and what their customer journey was when purchasing transportation and getting to work every day. I would sit with the tech team and learn about the implementation of our company’s application, only to move to the marketing department and brainstorm strategies for reaching a wider audience. This cross-collaboration fueled by positive connections with our co-workers helped us bring our ideas and final presentation to life.

Furthermore, the support from our supervisor, Ms. Bich allowed us to grow personally and professionally - from pushing us to work directly on finalizing a partnership deal to supporting our skills and career development. She gave us the opportunity to present our revenue generation plans to the CEO of Forbes Vietnam (financial advisor of Phenikaa MaaS) and gain insight into the plans for the company in the future. We had invaluable mentorship during our time working there and were inspired by her career in the tech start-up industry in Vietnam.

On the last day, all of us interns treated all the Phenikaa MaaS employees for our last snack time together. We bought everyone fried sticky rice buns and shared our appreciation for their hospitality and friendship over the last 2 months. The camaraderie and learning opportunities, especially during our cherished 4 p.m. snack time, made it an unforgettable journey. This experience has not only shaped my career aspirations but has also developed my appreciation for start-up culture and technology in developing countries. Coming back to Penn, I bring back the knowledge gained, the friendships forged, and the memories created during this incredible summer in Vietnam.


The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce.