Why did you decide to come to Vietnam? This is something I get asked a lot. It’s a question that I revisit time and time again. Why am I here? Am I making the right decision?
I’ve been living in Vietnam now for 7 months. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to live abroad. I was never much for staying at home. I always knew that I would leave Salt Lake City, Utah. Ever since I left home at 18 for college, I haven’t been back for longer than 3 months. In fact, I haven’t really lived in any one place for that long since I was 18.
The original plan was to graduate college, live abroad for a year, go back to the U.S. and find a real job. Things didn’t really go as planned. I ended up staying at my university an additional year so that I could go on what was basically a once and a lifetime experience. The experience was a 9-month study abroad program focused on experiential learning that took me to 8 different countries. After my academic year abroad I was listed as an alternate for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan which I didn’t end up getting. I was also rejected to a teaching fellowship in China that I was pretty sure I would get. While getting rejected wasn’t a good feeling, I was relieved. After spending 9 months abroad, I was ready to spend some quality time in the U.S. eating burgers, lighting off fireworks for the 4th of July, and bathing in a shower that’s separated from the toilet and sink.
After living at home for a few months, I got a little stir-crazy and accepted an internship in Washington, DC. Long story short, the internship turned into a job and two years went by. I applied to things here and there but didn’t take those applications very seriously. I kind of put my dreams to live abroad away since my life in DC was keeping me busy with new experiences. I realized though that I was getting a bit too comfortable living in DC and if I didn’t get serious about going abroad, it was never going to happen. This time around, I got two fellowships and had to decide between going to China or Vietnam. I chose Vietnam. I quit my job, said goodbye to the life that I had made for myself for the past couple of years, and moved halfway across the world.
What compels someone to move across the world away from their family and friends? I’m not really sure. It’s not that I don’t love my family and friends. In fact, leaving my family and friends this time around was much harder than it’s ever been. I probably talk to my family and friends more while I’ve been in Vietnam than when I lived in the states.
So why am I here? Here are a few reasons:
- I wanted to do something different. While I didn’t really mind working in an office from 9-5 everyday, I wanted to do a job that didn’t require me to sit for most of my day. Teaching would allow me to not only do something different, it would also allow me to interact with people everyday and be on my feet. Most of my job in DC was surrounding social media and graphic design, and while I technically was interacting with a digital audience daily, that’s not the same as real face-to-face contact.
- I wanted an international immersive experience. My work in DC was in international education and exchange. My office dealt mostly with the administrative side of things like grants, professional development, and training for nonprofits who implemented international programs which meant that I did very little outside of the office and did not work directly with international exchange participants. Also, when I went on my 9-month study abroad trip I didn’t stay in any one city longer than a few weeks. Going abroad and living in one place for a year would allow me to really get to know the people and culture of a place. Working abroad as an English teacher would also give me a different perspective and let me see the other side of international education and exchange which I had previously worked on in DC. Learning about a different culture and different perspectives really teaches you a thing or two about life. It’s definitely widened my view on the world.
- I wanted to be selfish. My decision to come abroad was a pretty selfish one. At the end of the day, I thought it would be fun. I also knew that it would help me grow. I’ve really had to step out of my comfort zone. I’m telling you. Standing in front of a classroom daily is exhausting. It really feels like you’re on a stage performing. It’s like I’m on the longest running stage production…ever. Also having never taught in a classroom before this, I had to learn quickly how to command a classroom and teach. As for my social life here, I literally knew no one when I moved here so I had to make new friends. I probably talk to a native English speaker once a week if I’m lucky.
It sounds cheesy, but I’ve really grown from my experience so far. Living in Tra Vinh, Vietnam has been an amazing experience thus far. Never did I think that I would live in a small town, much less a small town abroad. To give you some perspective on just how big this city is, there’s only two supermarkets. Streets are pretty empty starting at 9 p.m., there’s no movie theater, no bars. And a night out on the town means going to a restaurant that serves beer and going somewhere to sing karaoke afterwards. It’s also interesting to be able to see development first-hand. Tra VInh is just on the cusp of development and “modernization.” Just in the past seven months, I’ve seen how much the city has changed as Tra Vinh continues to develop. My political science and Asian studies nerd is basically geeking out everyday seeing the changes and being able to talk to my Vietnamese counterparts about their lives, viewpoints, where they see Vietnam going in the coming years, and the role they will play in that.
I love it here because I get quality time to myself where I can focus on my hobbies, reflect on life, and just relax.
And as life goes, what I had originally planned to only be a year abroad looks like it might turn to two. But more on that later.