Moving to a country you’ve never been too before is definitely out of most peoples comfort zones. Personally, I spent hours on Google searching for blogs about living in Vietnam, hoping to get some insight and prepare myself. I came across some glowing reviews of people who swore they’d never leave again, and across severe criticism about never returning. Factual information about the logistics of moving to Vietnam, especially the first few weeks, seemed hard to come by. So, here are my top ten things I wish I’d found in my endless internet searching in the months leading up to my Vietnam Internship.
1. The language has six different tones
This means if you think you’ve learnt a word, saying it with a different intonation could mean something entirely different. Example: Pho – said ‘fuuuuu’ is a delicious noodle broth with different meat, said ‘foe’ is a prostitute. Speak wisely!
2. Download Grab
Grab is an Uber equivalent for taxi’s and motorbikes. You can order them on an app, the motorbikes bring you a helmet and there are set prices so no roadside haggling. Reduce stress where you can.
3. The food can be misleading
One Vietnamese delicacy is a bowl of broth and noodles, along with heart, liver and intestine. This is not always evident from appearance – do not point to someone else’s meal and say you want that unless you’re sure. This one is from personal experience.
4. Wildlife is plentiful
Including in your new accommodation. Get some cockroach spray.
5. Towels are hard to find
In particular a towel big enough to cover your whole body, that doesn’t disintegrate after one use. Bring an emergency back up to use until you find your biggest home ware store (in Ho Chi Minh City, CityMart seems to be best).
6. Splitting a bill is not a common concept.
It can be done with lots of miming and patience, but expect it to take longer and be aware this will be a strange request for them (if paying on card, or wanting individual change – otherwise it’s obviously simpler).
7. Crossing the roads will seem like a death mission every time
Don’t fall for this ‘just walk and you’ll be okay’. Walk with purpose but also look carefully – bikes will swerve to avoid you if they have enough time, cars more often will not. I’ve been told it’ll get better, and I’m waiting hopefully for that day.
8. Accommodation is basic
If you’re doing a programme that provides accommodation (e.g. internship) – you’ll probably be told to expect basic. Basic in your mind may not mean basic here. It’ll take some getting used too. Important things to check your accommodation includes: air conditioning in your bedroom, cooking facilities and furniture.
9. Vietnamese people are friendly (huge generalisation as I have clearly only met a small proportion)
They will smile and appreciate your attempts at thank you, pronounced cam-on (I think), they will want you try certain dishes, often want to take your photo and love to practice their English on you. If you stay somewhere less touristy, it’ll take a while to get used to the stares.
10. Moving away from everything and everyone you know is scary
Even if it’s something you’ve always wanted, or always planned to do. The people you meet will be the ones who get you through. I never expected to meet so many people from different places that I could relate to so quickly. Something about knowing you’ve all made this choice to move here connects you, and makes you feel at home the second you’ve arrived.
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