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A step-out-of-zone internship with Derek from Princeton!

ABROADER October 02, 2022 7 minute read

How to spend a both chilled but challenging internship in Vietnam? It’s Derek’s story about his wonderful summer. Come check it out!

About Derek


21-year-old Derek Johnston from Princeton University is our very first friend coming for a Medical research summer internship in Vietnam this year. Vietnam welcomed him with bright and sunny summer heat, and a challenging but exciting internship in collaboration with Princeton OIP and HUPH (Hanoi University of Public Health) awaited.

Become a beginner again in Vietnam by living as a Hanoian

Why a brand new destination – Vietnam

When coming to a new place, we will learn to begin from scratch, and so did Derek. While looking through the list of possible opportunities he could take from Princeton that matches his major – Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, it seemed that Vietnam was going to offer him the greatest challenge, where people do not speak English and live in a very unfamiliar culture to him. A summer internship in Vietnam would force him to take risks and encounter many new things.

Trying the new and “real” Vietnamese food

Indeed, a two-month journey in Vietnam has brought him brand new things. First of all, try signature dishes in Vietnam, like “Bún đậu” (Rice vermicelli with fried tofu and shrimp paste), “Bún chả” (a dish with rice noodles, pork patties, and fish sauce), and “Phở” (P/s: Derek said nothing beat the authentic Phở). Just like a real “Hanoian”, his top favorite food which accounted for a big part of his diet here is “Bún chả”. Besides, challenge himself with balut and frog hot pot, which may sound quite weird but interesting to taste! Here are some authentic food recommendations for you when coming to Hanoi.

Hop on the exotic Vietnam-like traffic

Want to dive into the hustling traffic and observe the beauty of the streets in Vietnam? Let’s try moving by bus, just like every Vietnamese student, and I’m down that it’s a totally different experience! If you have traveled by bus in Vietnam before, let us know below!

Exploring new places

On the first days in Hanoi, we organized a city tour around must-see destinations in our city named The Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison, Old Quarter… Spending time wandering and feeling the authentic atmosphere of the city has been such a memorable day.
Outside of Hanoi was a short trip to Lao Cai in the north of Vietnam. As he said “It was way too much fun. I was with some of my co-workers for about two days. They had a bunch of business meetings to join. But I got to enjoy the banquets with them, stay at the hotel and see some of the countryside, beautiful mountains, scenery and all of that. It was a very nice time.”

During his two-month summer internship in Vietnam, we had a chance to participate together in many fascinating events. For example, spending a meaningful volunteer day with planting activities and gift-giving at the hospital. And trying as a speaker at an event organized by Hanoi US Embassy and ABROADER to share about student life in the US with Vietnamese students. What a new experience!


How to keep in contact with US life?

If you are concerned about how to stay in touch with your family and friends, there are some useful tips from Derek.
“In terms of staying in contact with people from back in the US, I feel like there is enough time overlapped when we are awake, so it’s not much of a concern. Right now, it’s almost midnight Wednesday here in Vietnam, which means that most people who have things to do on a Wednesday are awake in the US. So, I can text them or call them now. And when I wake up in the morning, it’s going to be evening or night for them. They will still be awake and I can talk to them then. And even if it’s in the middle of the day, I can drop someone a text and they will see it when they wake up.”

First time experiencing the work life in Vietnam

Daily tasks in his summer internship

You may wonder what he did in his internship in Vietnam. At HUPH where he interned, an ordinary day would consist of many research-based things and manuscripts for review. For example, some research on mental health in Vietnam, musculoskeletal (back pain when office workers sit at a desk for too long), some other stuff like nutrition and children with diarrhea, etc.

Step-by-step learning from experiences

The first time working in an unfamiliar environment must have had some challenges. But to Derek, he did not meet that much difference. From what he had experienced, there is one similar thing in both working cultures, that is everyone tries to be productive and get the work done, and work in teams and projects. In the environment that he worked in at the Hanoi University of Public Health, things were generally pretty chilled. Long lunch breaks, and people taking naps after lunch, … – were not necessarily what he was exposed to in the US.

Having had a few experiences when being thrown outside of his comfort zone, living and working in different areas and different countries, Derek would say that he was expecting any feelings of discomfort, confusion, and being lost, … To you guys, there weren’t seem to have shock like in “culture shock”, but there was still something like “Where am I?” or “What’s going on?”. All those things would definitely happen. So how can you solve that issue? The way that Derek handled them is that: Just do not take yourself too seriously and dive into the challenge. When you wake up the next day, you’re not going to remember that you might have gotten embarrassed or whatever. It will go away. But the lessons you’ve learned or the cool experience you’ve encountered, they will stick with you for a long time.

Growing from experience, Derek has accomplished his internship well and received compliments from his supervisor and colleagues for his responsiblity, hard work, responsiveness, high-quality researches, enthusiasm and willingness to help others. And they are happy with his time there.

Derek with his mentors and colleagues at HUPH

Something he likes

As part of a summer internship in Vietnam, you will get the opportunity to talk and discuss some topics with people that have different backgrounds from you. And that’s what Derek found the most favorite thing.

“One example in my office is stuff relating to mental health. It’s interesting to come from a country where I feel like there is decent access to mental health resources and then go to a place where there are comparatively fewer. I just see how that may impact people’s opinion about the importance of mental health, many certain taboos, and how those things also appear in survey responses.”

Wrap up

Looking back on his past two-month internship, he thought that it was absolutely a rewarding experience and some valuable things to practice in terms of editing and working in a team on some research things and he is looking forward to some more opportunities like this in the future.
When asked “Would you consider doing it again?”
“I would definitely do it again you know. As I was saying it was a very valuable experience and hopefully in the future, I can perhaps be working at the head of maybe some research projects and you know just kind of having more input when it comes to these sorts of things.”

What’s Derek’s internship look like?

Our programs can be great choices for you to consider to make a step out of your area. Opportunities coming to Vietnam this year have not ended yet with our Vietnam Tropica program this December, check it out!

Choose yourself a customized opportunity right there:

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