This month, my sixteen year old niece, Madison, is doing an internship at my TEFL school. She’s from a small town in the U.S. and this is her first time abroad! Imagine being a young student and suddenly being thrown halfway across the world into a completely new context. Read on for Madison’s first impressions of life abroad in Vietnam.
Or, if you just want a resource of tips for making your transit (via airplane) more interesting, you can get Madison’s Top Ten Transit Tips Â by clicking on the link below.
Culture shock isnâ€™t just about the food and weather as many people believe it is. For me, I have found most intriguing the people. So, I am from Boise, Idaho: population about 200,000. I am now in Vietnam: population 94 million. You could say I was slightly shocked but, not by the weather or the food; I saw that coming.
It was the people. I donâ€™t mean that negatively, more soÂ the general differences in the way they go aboutÂ theirÂ everyday life. These people take their jobs much more seriously than in America where I could enter a restaurant and not be helped for 10 minutes. Here you are automatically walked to your table, and the waitress or waiter stays a few feet behind you at all times just to make sure you are waited on hand and foot. At first I found it a bit odd, but it has come to grow on me. They are available to help and there is no inconvenience.Â Work ethic here is still very traditional and serious, which has allowed this countries tourism sector and other fields to develop.
Contrary to America, family ties are much closer here. Of course, not all of the U.S, but it has become quite prevalent that families grow apart and don’t necessarily spend that much time together each day. Here, they Sit down for dinner every night, have family time every day, and lastly kids here are extremely respectful to their parents and elders. A lot has changed in The States. Once, it had been more like this, but The States have become modernized whereas here it isÂ more traditional. Most peopleÂ have phones and some means of transportation (usually a motorbike),Â but I mean traditional in the sense that families are closer and people take that bond a lot more seriously.
Secondly, driving in this country is quite a chore, because motorbikes and taxis are mainly used. Most of the streets have two lanes, but within your lane you basically create your own. Now the thing I find very odd is that there is honking left and right. In The States when anyone honks it is slightly frowned upon, it definitely has a negative connotation. In Vietnam, people use their horns as a form of communication because there arenâ€™t always defined lanes, the horn is used as a warning signal to make you aware of the oncoming taxi or motor bike. If you are driving in Vietnam, I recommend you try and stay calm or just take a taxi. At times, driving even in your own country is a chore, so deciding to drive in a foreign country is a pretty big leap.
It isnâ€™t guaranteed that you will be going to a country which speaks a different language, but if that is the case I recommend that you study the language somewhat. In order to have an in depth experience, I think interacting withÂ the locals will really emerge you in the new culture. If you are simply traveling through the area, I think picking up a few phrases to be safe is a good idea. At this point in my experience here, I can barely count to ten and sometimes struggle with communication. I obviously have people that are able to help and many people do speak English here, but I think in order to fully experience something like this, meeting and speaking with locals really does make a difference.
Giving everything a chance
When you are in a foreign country, many things seem a bit out there; especially regarding food. DuringÂ my time here, I have tried things I would not have even thought couldâ€™ve been food. For me, the strangest food items so far have been eel rolls, a whole tilapia fried with the scales and head remainingÂ (my uncle ate the tail!) and a salad with lobster semen dressing (no lie!).
When you are traveling, you want to get the most out of what is offered in order to feel totally engaged. Things like zip lining, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, etc.. I suggest you try most of what is put in front of you whether it be food or a pamphlet about sky diving. On journeys nearly halfway across the world, there can be no time wasted, so know that if you are to turn down an experience that in the long run, you may regret it. Allow yourself to be open-minded. For me, I have always tried to accept everyoneâ€™s opinions and listen to what is said. I really think being open minded while traveling will make you feelÂ at ease especially if you are a bit nervous.
When traveling abroad, being aware of your safety is something that has to be done. I recently spoke with a couple of backpackers about an experience they had had. They were having a day at the beach and making the most of being by the water, so they were wading in about 50 feet away from their belongings. They weren’tÂ paying much attention, thinking that it wouldnâ€™t be a problem. When they then returned to their spot everything was gone! Not a single cent had been spared.
So in these types of these situations, what are you supposed to do? They wereÂ miles and miles away from their home without a penny to their name. So I really do suggest that you take measures before traveling abroad, because if you ended upÂ in this type of situation I would feel like I hadnâ€™t done my job. Be cool, but stay safe.
Also, be aware of your surroundings andÂ the people you associate with while traveling. Not everyone has good intentions. I believe as long as you are aware of what is going on, and youÂ keep an eye on yourself and your limits, you will have a smooth ride.
In many countries staring is slightly rude, kids have become quite disrespectful to their parents, wearing spaghetti strapped tanks tops is fine, people donâ€™t usually use their horns while driving, and women have equal rights. In Vietnam, I would have to say none of these things apply. All I can say at this point in my travels, is that everything seems to vary from country to country.Â So, when traveling to any country make yourself aware of their taboos. It is only respectful.
Saying yes to new experiences (new foods, people, activities, lifestyles, etc.),Â will allow you to become more in touch with who you are. IÂ have now experienced traveling abroadÂ for the first time, and I believe with more experience comes knowledge. Â I am only sixteenÂ at this point in my life, and to have an opportunity such as this internship is quite life changing. Within the last week Iâ€™ve met people from a few different continents, many countries, and hundreds of cities. I have already done so much with my time here, and I hope with your travels you are able to do the same and really make it an experience of a lifetime.
I will be staying in Vietnam for a month. I leave in early August and will return back to a normal, structured everyday life where I will be waiting for the next opportunity to fly halfway across the world. At the end of the month I will be doing a podcast with my uncle through TEFL tales. Stay tuned and safe travels.
If you want my Ten Tips for how to avoid airplane and airport boredom, you can download my ten transit tips by clicking on the button below.