Carly in Vietnam

What made you go to Vietnam?

In recent years a lot of people I know have been travelling to South Asia, I started researching the countries and for some reason Vietnam just stuck in my mind. I have been living in the Capital Hanoi since the beginning of March. It is so crazy different from Scotland. I also wanted to move to a city and not a remote place. I have spent all my life living in cities and could not imagine living somewhere totally isolated. I think that is what appealed to me most about Hanoi was the size of the city and the culture shock!

What kind of work do you do?

I spent my first 4 weeks working in an NGO called Centre for Education and development. The NGO aims to educate children about the environment. The cities in Vietnam are so densely populated and polluted resulting in class sizes being so big with little time/room for any outdoor education. The NGO had the loveliest people ever, so committed to changing education in Vietnam for the better. Their passion for their job was so motivating. I spent most of my time doing background research/writing funding proposals/translating/designing power points/editing press releases.

I am now teaching English at a vocational college for underprivileged people in Hanoi. The people I teach come from very poor backgrounds, victims of sex trafficking, orphans, disabled…I can honestly say they are some of the most determined people ever. The college trains them in beauty/sales/graph com/food and beverage. They are all so eager to learn and are super kind when you pass them in the corridor. It is so good that I don’t even mind getting up at 6am and travelling on an Asian bus everyday! The teachers are really inspiring too; the college is so well run.

What is your living accommodation like?

I stay in a big house with other volunteers. It is really nice. Architecture in Vietnam hasn’t changed much from when it was a French Colony. The houses are so pretty and very Parisian looking. It is so beautiful to walk around the town and see all the different houses, it is a surprise I haven’t been run over yet as I am constantly looking up at the houses and never on the roads.

My house also has our own cook, called Nanny. She is the cutest little Vietnamese woman; her food is sooo delicious too. It is always something different and always plenty to go around. (Although some foods just are not available in Vietnam, I am dying on some good cheese and a pizza ha!)

Being the only Westerners in the village is both cool and annoying. Everyone stares and you and says hello. It is nice when you are in the mood but not so nice when you are running late for work or tired after teaching all day. I always try and smile back though.

Why would you recommend it to others?

Honestly, being pushed out of my comfort zone has really matured me. If you want to really push yourself I would recommend it. It is really cool/crazy to set up life for yourself in another culture. I have my set routines…I know what pineapple lady will give me the best deal, I am on first term names with some of the shop owners in the old quarter, I know the route to town/cinema/shops on the motorbike.

Also, it will look so good on my CV. I have shown the ability to go into new situations open-minded and have the ability to adapt to changing surroundings. I have also gained experience working in organisations that have links with other major international companies e.g. the EU and Save the Children.

I have also been able to meet some of the kindest and inspiring people from every corner of the world.

What do you think about the culture and history of Vietnam?

History wise I sympathise with Vietnam. For centuries it was locked in constant battle, always invaded by other countries. In more recent centuries the main culprits have been China/France/America/Cambodia. Before I moved to Vietnam I was pretty ignorant to the history. I have made such a conscious effort to educate myself whilst here. I now have such a better understanding of the Vietnam War.

The culture in Vietnam is quite harsh. I have met some of the friendliest people ever but also some of the harshest! I have found that in less touristy areas people are a lot kinder, in the centre of town a lot of people try and scam you out of money etc. I recommend if you come to Vietnam learn the numbers and a few phrases – it definitely helps you in situations. I can now have a bit of banter with the street vendors and I know exactly when I am being ripped off! I absolutely love Vietnamese food though, if you are a big foodie get to Vietnam now! I think on the whole it is quite healthy too, I am definitely getting my five a day. The fruit it also so delicious here, so fresh and full of taste and so CHEAP! I get a pineapple a day for 30p. The Vietnamese coffee is also so incredible, very bitter and strong. I have also fallen in love with Vietnamese fashion, some of the women here are the best dressed I have ever seen! The way you scoot about on their Vespas so effortlessly is so cool.

What have you learned from your experiences?

I have learnt a great deal about myself. I can do a lot more than I gave myself credit for. I have learnt how to adapt to new situations. I have also seen loads of things that some people in life will never get to see and I am truly grateful for that. Also working with such motivational people has really inspired me in life. It has given me the ‘travel bug.’ I know I definitely would want to work abroad again after university.