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MY IDENTITY IN VIETNAM

My Identity in vietnam

When travelling to a new culture, our own identities can influence the experiences we have interacting with local communities and individuals. By considering some of our own identities and learning how these might be perceived abroad, we can be prepared for how we are received, treated or interacted with and how we might need to consider our own behaviour and attitudes in the local environment.

1. Gender

In Vietnam men and women may experience some difference based on their gender.

Equality

Traditionally in Vietnam, the family is patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal, often with two to four generations under one roof. The father or an older male is often considered the head of the family - having ultimate responsibility and acts as a leader while delegating tasks and involving others in the decision making. Even though each family might have different dynamic, typically in a household tasks were divided along gender lines: fathers typically are the breadwinners while mothers were responsible for domestic duties such as homemaking and raising children. If you are staying with a host family, you might expect to see these divisions based on genders among family members. It is important to approach this matter tactfully and avoid applying your standards to their ways of living.

Nevertheless, gender equality in Vietnam still has a way to go. Women still face hurdles when reaching manager level or entering male-dominated careers, while are expected to balance between working full time and adhering to beauty standards and family responsibilities. Family violence against women is still an issue especially in more conservative parts of the country and where women are not aware of their rights or do not not dare to open up for support.

On the other hand, women are arguably given more respect in Vietnam than in other countries. With the history of war when mothers taking over father's role and become heroes, and the increased number of women working full time and having their own careers, the gender dynamic is becoming more balanced. According to Voice of Vietnam’s statistics in 2019, Almost 71 percent of women work. Women make up 25 percent of company leaders. In public both sexes are free to mingle and express their identities through appearances, behaviors etc.

2. Safety

Vietnam is relatively a safe place for travellers with low crime rate, including for female travellers. Vietnam is relatively free of serious hassles for women. The most common threat is petty crimes. In order to stay safe and avoid scams, avoid flaunting your wealths, take care of your personal belongings, such as purses or jewelry. If such a situation happens and the penetrator is stronger than you, it is best to prioritize your safety above financial values.

Late at night, if you are travelling alone, you might want to take cars over the popular motorbike. Motorbike is more exposed and thus you might be the target for purse snatchers. Also, avoid walking around by yourself at night, especially around dark alleys or sketchy backstreets.

Another tip is to try to blend in – since local generally dress conservatively, wearing super shorts or see through will make you stand out and draw unwanted attention or being propositioned.

Some men, often older, can also think it is normal to catcall or flirt with women walking on the street; even though the females feel uncomfortable and sometimes scared. In such unfortunate incident, try to ignore and walk past them, since in most cases they mean no harm and will not show violence or persistence. Staying calm is best to ensure your safety. If needed, call for attention from passerby and contact your friends for help.

3. Dress

As a general rule, try to follow what the locals wear - so dress ensure that the clothes you wear at least cover your legs and shoulders. Dress in loose-fitting, breathable clothing is a good idea to cope with the heat. This does not mean you cannot be stylish - a lot of female travellers find a culotte trousers or a maxi skirt with a cute top is both practical and flattering.

4. Race & Ethnicity

In Vietnam, almost 85 percent of the population is of the same ethnicity; and you will see that the country is rather homogenous. People, especially in more rural, less touristy areas are not familiar with seeing people who look different from them. Your ethnic appearance may attract attention and local stereotypes and perceptions may result in situations that you might not be used to handling.

Consider the following:

Caucasian/ White: As a “white” individual in Vietnam you will be in the Minority. As a result of this you may experience;

Regarding appearance, pale skin is one of the biggest markers of beauty in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. People can get fascinated by your white skin, blonde hair, or your heights and you may expect to get compliments based on your physical features. As people may not be familiar with the idea of ethnically diverse society, people can sometimes associate Western world with being white.

Overall, with the increased tourism from Western countries to Vietnam, people are getting more and more familiar with Caucasian visitors. Stories of white visitors getting stared at or asked to take photos with locals are becoming less.

African/ Black: As a “black” individual in Vietnam you will be in the Majority/Minority. As a result of this you may experience;

There are not many black people in Vietnam so people might be curious and stare at you. There is no discrimination in Vietnam towards black people in particular so you will be treated like any other tourists. In Vietnam there is no pejorative word for black people and people often address race by skin color directly, so don't be offended if people call you black in Vietnamese. If anything, people may be curious and get surprised to see you (some may surprise that you are African Americans or African French and not from Africa the continent, due to lack of exposures and Vietnamse homogenous society). In rare cases people can also be hesitant to interact since they never see someone like you; they will not harass you or say anything, they will just avoid making contact with you.

More sharings from black travelers in Vietnam: Here and Here

Asian: As an “asian” individual in Vietnam you may appear similar to the local and thus, do not stand out as much. Because of increased trading and tourism, there are a lot of different Asian citizens from Japan, South Korea, China etc. in Vietnam. Vietnamse locals are familiar with meeting Asian people and thus there is little difference in terms of communications or treatments towards you. The only thing that may happen is that they may be surprised you are of Asian descent but come from a Western country, but that is about it.

Overall, if you are of different ethnic backgrounds that make your appearance stand out from the local crowds (darker skin, lighter skin, super curly hair etc.) you may expect some stares, especially in rural areas where people do not meet foreigners very often. Vietnamese people can stare even at other Vietnamese people if they are curious or if that person stands out. Staring is very normal in Vietnamese society, so don't be too worried about being stared at. As you are in the big city where there are a lot of visitors, staring is less common.

Another thing you will find is Vietnamese hospitality. The locals are generally friendly and tend to treat visitors nicely and give them special treatments - for example they might give you free food to try or invite you to hang out and show you the city. It is not something to be seen as a burden, but rather, you can express gratitude and offer to do something nice for them in return.

5. Body Shape and Physical features

Additional to your race, having a different body shape to typical local people may also identify you as different in Vietnam. Consider:

Height: Local people are generally shorter (average height for men is 1.7m and for women is 1.55m). If you are taller than a local, you might get compliments.

Weight: Typically local people are thinner than many Westerners. Body image sensitivity is not very common yet, and because of history and long-held tradition, people tend to adore certain beauty standard, including in terms of weight. In Vietnam, among local, people can comment directly on other people’s weights, for example: “You are gaining weight” or “You should lose weight”. Avoid being offended if this happens to you and understand the cultural differences - for them it might just a way of showing consideration and for small talk.

Body Piercing, Tatoos: Historically piercing and tattoos are worn by gangs, and thus are still associated with someone of murky backgrounds. However, nowadays it is becoming more and more popular to get piercings and tattoos to express style and identities and it is increasingly viewed as acceptable, especially among young people and in urban cities.

Hair: Vietanmese locals has natural black hair, so if your hair of different, very bright colors it might stand out. However, nowadays a lot of people especially female dye their hairs so even bright hair colors are being viewed as normal.

Physical Disabilities: People with disabilities experiences little discriminations, however, there is still a gap in public awareness in creating disability-friendly infrastructure and disability-inclusive activities.

6. Sexual Identity and Gender relationships

In Vietnam:

Strong displays of affection is often frowned upon, since affection and intimacy is considered a private matter. Couple holding hands is pretty easy to spot on the street, however kissing is normally shy away from. You will also find people of the same sexes holding hands, but it does not necessarily mean they are a couple, it is just a local custom of showing affection.

Sexual health:

Norms: Sexual health and sex in generally is considered a very private matter and seldomly talked about even among close friends or families. The traditional view is generally conservative towards sexual expressions and needs, and that sex is after marriage. However, among urban young people, the view is getting more and more liberal, which is in contrast with what happens in more rural areas. On the street nowadays, you can see people, particularly women, dress in tight-fitting clothes that accentuate body parts, which was much rarer just 10 or 15 years ago.

Expectations at your accommodation: Generally speaking it is expected that you approach sex matters in conservative manners and avoid talking about this subject unless it is brought up by somebody, since you do not know who will or will not be comfortable talking about this subject. When you are staying with a host family, dress conservatively, avoid talking about sexual subjects, refrain from bringing someone over to your room to stay overnight, especially of the opposite sexes, and refrain from having sex while at your host family accomodation.

Contraceptives, condom and other safe sex measures are becoming more and more available in Vietnam. In big cities, they can be found in supermarkets and drugstores.

LGBT+:

Image Source: https://ione.vnexpress.net/photo/hong/cong-dong-lgbt-dieu-hanh-cau-vong-tren-pho-di-bo-ha-noi-3985865.html

Vietnam is a relatively hassle-free destination for LGBTQI-travellers. In recent years, the country has made positive strides recognising the role of the LGBTQI community. Same-sex relationships and same-sex sexual acts are legal, and a ban on same-sex marriages was lifted in in January 2015. Viet Pride marches take place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and gay characters appear in mainstream television and films. That said, it is far from a gay utopia. Vietnam remains a socially conservative nation and many continue to hide their sexuality from their families. And while same-sex marriages are no longer illegal, they are not legally recognised either.

Travellers, however, are typically exempt from social stigma and usually find Vietnam to be an extremely hospitable and welcoming destination. While displays of affection will likely draw disapproving glares, the same holds true for straight couples. As long as LGBTQI-travellers display some discretion and respect local culture, they will have no problem visiting Vietnam. Just don’t expect to see many rainbow flags hanging from gay-only venues – the low-key gay scene found in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is largely limited to gay-friendly and gay-owned establishments.

Queer culture in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): The most populous city in Vietnam boasts a number of bars, restaurants, saunas and hotels that are gay-friendly. The largest gay club, Republic, features a drag show each Friday, live music on Saturdays and a large dance floor. Full Disclosure puts on raucous monthly themed-LGBT parties with live music, drag shows and DJs that go late into the night. Gay-friendly parties can also be found at La Fenetre Soleil (44 Ly Tu Trong). Whiskey and Wares is another popular bar owned by American and Vietnamese partners that attracts a mix of gay and straight expats, locals and travellers.

Queer culture in Hanoi: The gay scene in the capital is more low-key than Ho Chi Minh City. GC Bar is the best-known and longest running gay bar in Hanoi. Located within walking distance from the Old Quarter, it gets packed on Friday and Saturday nights. Savage, an underground electronic music club, also hosts popular monthly gay nights. Pride festivities are biggest in Hanoi, where LGBTQI film screenings, panel discussions and other various events accompany the annual bicycle pride parade. Source: Intrepidtravel

Local groups for LGBT+:

Cong dong LGBT in Vietnam (LGBT Community in Vietnam) LGBT Vietnam Official iSEE (The Institute for Studies of Society, Economics and Environment) - this is forefront NGO advocating for minority rights in Vietnam, and famous for its queer advocacy campagins

International resources you might find helpful:

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) offers Lesbian and Gay Rights Maps that detail legal climate. Other useful information is available throughout their website.

The National Center for Transgender Equality provides air travel and airport security tips for transgender individuals.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office offers some guidelines for LGBT tourists travelling abroad.

The US Department of State’s US Passports & International Travel Department has LGBT Travel Information for LGBT individuals going abroad.

7. Socio-Economic Status

Visitors to Vietnam, especially from Western countries, are often identified as “rich” by locals in Vietnam As travel is less common for the local people, the ability to travel in itself is often attributed to being a pursuit of the wealthy, and by you being able to travel to their country, you may be (often incorrectly) labeled as wealthy. This may make you a target for scams or other petty crimes such as purse snatching. People may also get surprised when you choose to use local amenities, such as public transportation, eat at local eateries. However, with the influx of tourists to Vietnam, people are getting more and more familiar with tourists and more aware of the diversity that come with it. Local Vietnamse are generally friendly and curious about visitors and want to befriend you, that does not mean they want something back from you - in many cases the locals offer a lot of things and go out of their way to help visitors. Lastly, it is always good to not to promise things that you do not intend on executing, such as promises to send money, gifts or support on your return home, cause people might genuinely believe your promises and get disappointed if you cannot follow through.

8. Religion

Vietnam is officially declared as an atheist state. Although most Vietnamese list themselves as having no religious affiliation, religion, as defined by shared beliefs and practices, remains an integral part of Vietnamese life, dictating the social behaviours and spiritual practices of Vietnamese individuals in Vietnam. In general, the religious belief of the common Vietnamese is a synthesis of the three traditional religions (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) which have been coexisting peacefully for centuries in Vietnam. Around 7 percent of the population is Christian, and there are also tiny numbers of Hindu and Muslim believers. As with other countries, the Vietnamese have several popular beliefs such as animism and theism.

Ancestor worship is another common part of religious life in Vietnam, and many Vietnamese families incorporate ancestor worship into their other religious practices. In many Vietnamese homes you’ll find a shrine that has photos of grandparents and great-grand parents, complete with offerings of flowers and incense. It’s also common to worship rulers of yesteryear, including Ho Chi Minh, the founder of Vietnam’s Communist Party.

One important feature of the religious attitude of the Vietnamese is its great tolerance. With a long history of several religious influences over thousands of years, the locals are familiar with co-living with people of different religious beliefs. In daily lives, there is little to no segregation between people of different religious groups. As a traveller, it is rather open for you to express your religions or ask about other people’s religions’ practice - in fact locals are happy to introduce you to theirs, of course as long as the communication is genuine and respectful.

Before the internship in Vietnam, I have always been interested in being a teacher of Japanese and this internship has made me realize how hard it can be teaching someone my own language but also how fun it can be. For anyone who are not used to working in groups, this program pushes you to, a lot of times, with your students, with your fellow interns and with your supervisor. No matter how much I fear working with a group, I realized, through my internship in Vietnam, that teamwork is key to success and you would be surprised how much opening your mind and listening to people’s opinions can get you far.

YUMI KANEYAMA

Education Internship ,Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

The 5 months spent in Vietnam was not only enjoyable but also felt enriching. I have become many times more independent than before and thoroughly enjoyed working at Vinmec General International Hospital- A conducive and enjoyable workplace for those interested in a career in Healthcare.

Skye Lee

Healthcare & Pharmacy Internship ,Republic Polytechnics Singapore

In general, I am satisfied with the Internship Service provided by ABROADER before I came to Vietnam. My host family placement exceeded my expectations. My host mother and father were all very friendly and helpful; they really made me feel at home. My local buddy Linh, even though she lived 2 hours away, she still made efforts in taking me on day-trips that catered to my interest in Vietnamese Cuisine. I contacted ABROADER for the Culinary Internship in Vietnam on my own and and given the amount of money and time I will be investing, it was extremely important for me to feel that I can trust ABROADER Vietnam. My host for the internship was Ngon Villa Restaurant. The host company staffs were very friendly and welcoming, one chef at the restaurant was in charge of my internship. However, due to perhaps unforeseeable needs in the company, my supervisor was not able to spend more than a day with me. ABROADER Vietnam found an excellent opportunity for internship in Vietnam for me; however, the host company was not able to fully deliver the experience I was looking for.

JINHUA ZHANG

Culinary Internship ,City College of San Francisco, U.S.A

Everyone from the program coordinator to my local buddy was extremely supportive! The experience would not have been as great as it has been if I was by myself. I felt very satisfied with the service ABROADER Vietnam provided for my Nursing Internship in Vietnam at Ho Chi Minh Hopspital of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation. I was clear about the rules and expectations required of me during my placement. My supervisors instructed me and helped me with language translation and clarifications of responsibilities. With their help, I felt I was well equipped for the job I was assigned. I brought my equipment from home to the workplace and it provided great assistance for my work. During the internship in Vietnam, I was glad I was able to learn technical skills from the nurses from the hospital. They have all been very supportive, friendly, patient and open to my help. They trained me with techniques quite different from how it is occasionally done back home. I will definitely recommend this program to my colleagues!

SANDRA GOMEZ VEGA

Nursing Internship ,University of Texas Austin School of Nursing, U.S.A

I have always wanted to become a teacher of Japanese in the future and this internship in Vietnam definitely brought me closer to doing that. Being able to spend one month teaching Japanese to Vietnamese university students and supporting the teachers means a lot to me in terms of both professional and personal growth.

SUZUNA ISOHASHI

Education Internship ,Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

Prior to arriving in Vietnam, I had never had a so-called “life-changing” experience. There is no guidebook on how to achieve one, nor was I able to grasp such a concept, moments so strong as to change the path for your life. That is until I went to Vietnam. There is so much more than meets the eye in the beautiful country of Vietnam. A tourist or temporary visitor may only be granted with picturesque views of rice fields and the women in their hats, the mountains of the north, or a steaming bowl of Pho placed on their plastic red table. And while these experiences are all incredible in their own right, there is so much more to discover, whether it be the story of the people under the hats, the sellers on the streets, or the history of the land that you have the opportunity to travel. ABROADER Vietnam granted me the opportunity to uncover such stories, and an internship with memories that has left me longing to go back since the moment I returned home. Vietnam has become my second home. Granted, I had gotten the opportunity to travel and become accustomed to Vietnam for about four months prior to starting the internship. My University had allowed me to study abroad during which time I adjusted to the food and language, learning about almost every aspect of Vietnam culture. But this was only a preview of what was to come. My time with the internship let me interact with the people, practice my Vietnamese, take trips with my coworkers, and uncover passions for things I didn’t know existed. I have too many incredible stories to be able to write them all throughout this review, and so I’ll pick a few of the mostly little interactions that really meant the most. ABROADER Vietnam set me up in a homestay, perhaps one of the highlights of my journey, and I can say with complete honesty that I felt like part of the family. There was a cook by the name of “Vui”, meaning happy in Vietnamese, and how appropriate as she radiated happiness onto me throughout my entire stay. She did not speak any English, but somehow I was able to coordinate trips to the market, request my favorite food for dinners, and convey to her how much I loved her country. She bought me 21 roses on my 21st birthday, only proving her kindness. The mother of the household, unlike Vui, spoke some English. She often taught me Vietnamese when I had free time, as well as took me to the market, and made me feel extremely welcome when I felt the slightest bit homesick. But as for the internship itself, I was placed in two hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, one directly in the center, and one located more on the outskirts. I’m not going to lie and say that there were no challenges. Originally people were confused to why I was there, I got lost several times, and some days I had no one to teach me, but those were a minuscule few days as most, out of a ten week internship. I made friends with the doctors who taught me about topics from infectious diseases in Vietnam, to the catheder lab, and even more in the surgical urology department.. We frequently went out to eat, where we exchanged stories, and I answered curious questions about my time in Vietnam thus far. Other friends I made were medical students, originally too shy to approach me, but through my time in the hospital gathered up the courage to speak to me. I served to help them practice their English and was happy about it as I know how many opportunities it can open up for them. They invited me for bubble tea, food, and even once to a Vietnamese fruit farm, two hours by train. I was gifted the opportunity to dress up in the MOST attractive brown cloth attire, and proceed to pick and eat as much fruit as humanly possible on perhaps one of the most humid days. While I felt almost at home, eating to my hearts desire, I most certainly looked out of place with the brown pants acting more like a short capri on my long legs. It was days like this that I got to thinking of how grateful I was for the opportunity to stay in Vietnam for a little bit longer. I learned lots about my friends, and one of my favorite aspects of their culture is how open they are to strangers; how they just immediately let them in to their personal lives, and are completely honest. It is something that I miss the most. And lastly, as I don’t want to write a novel here, I have to talk about my experiences with the nurses at the second hospital that I worked in. The first week as usual was slightly stressful with not much sense of direction, but I quickly made friends, and their generosity was incredible. My days consisted of learning from doctors for a few hours, walking from room to room, checking patients vitals, or just practicing Vietnamese. But as soon as I took a break in the nurses “lounge”, I was bombarded with different Vietnamese foods coming my way. Each nurse wanted to share with me a piece of their dish, and talk to me as much as they could. Each morning from there on I would be asked in Vietnamese “Ali an sang chua?”, a phrase meaning “have you eaten breakfast yet?” Per usual I had not, and my answer encouraged them to start making me a coffee, and once again piling different foods in my bowls and encouraging me to eat mysterious shaped foods. My response that the food was delicious, or “ngon”, only encouraged them more. This routine continued until the end of my internship. The goodbyes were not easy, and there were many I had to make. Each attempted goodbye always ended with another attempt by them to try and meet up once more, at which I sullenly had to refuse. There are only a few things I will say to end this review that went much too long. These moments that I experienced were granted to me due to my opportunity to take up an internship with ABROADER, who set me up in the select hospitals, with my host family, and opened the doors for me to make connections. And of course when you take on an internship you have to do your part. You must be open, able to laugh when things don’t go your way, and not let any roadblock deter you. Looking back I know that I have changed. While I couldn’t see it in the moment, the internship boosted my confidence and improved my relationship with failure. It also made my more open with myself and those that I met. I wished my internship could go longer, and perhaps I will find a job in Vietnam one day, so for now all I can do is reminisce through reviews about the most life-changing time I had with my internship and with ABROADER.

ALISON BURELBACH

Medical Internship ,Loyola University Chicago

Joining this internship in Vietnam with SEND, I made a very important realization that is I can’t do everything on my own. The challenges presented during this internship got me to talk to other people, hear their ideas and craft up a conclusion. I learnt to cooperate with friends instead of struggling with any probem alone and we were able to find a solution to almost any problem that we encountered.

RYOSUKE ASAI

Education Internship ,Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

I was very impressed with how organized ABROADER Vietnam was in preparing my internship in Vietnam. The Skype meetings before coming to Vietnam made me feel confident about my safety and expectations during my internship. The Program Coordinator met me at the airport, even though my flight arrived at 1 a.m. The orientation was very thorough and outlined expectations from both myself and the University of Economics HCMC – where I would be working as an intern. During the summer ABROADER checked in with me often to see how I was doing. They even came down to Ho Chi Minh City a few times to visit the other interns and me. Whenever I had a problem, they were always available on Facebook and did their best to resolve it. It is clear that ABROADER Vietnam is a reliable organization that cares about its participants.

IAN ROHR

International Relation Internship ,Tulane University, U.S.A

Before, I didn’t really like my personality as I was a timid girl and afraid to speak up for myself. I am also a perfectionist and would like to spend as much time for preparation as possible before I do something. However, the internship in Vietnam changed that for me. Through interacting with my students and fellow interns I opened up a lot and become more outgoing. In my work, after going through some troubles with cultural difference, I realize one thing for myself that is: Preparation is not always good and if you don’t prepare you are given the chance to do things more freely and more out of the box, so next time even if you’re asked to do something when you’re not prepared “Just Do It

NANA MIHARA

Education Internship ,Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

Everything so far, from preparation before departure to the whole internship execution has been good. But what I am most satisfied with must be the helpfullness from the local buddy and coordinators through the whole process. Eventhough I am a more independent individual and have no problem exploring new places alone, I felt that their presence made me feel more safe and that I have friends in this new environment. All in all a great experience that I would not have gone without. One of the best experiences I have had. For my internship, however, there was a big part of the different tasks I could not be involved in because of the language barrier. They have given me a great experience and done at great deal to show me the process from how everything works in the different departments/shops to taken me out to see the farm where the organic products grow. They have kept me well informed and all in all been a great place to work. If there is anything I would suggest for improvement it would be better if there were more tasks that could be done in English. I am really happy with my experience and definitely will recommend it to anyone friends who are interested.

TRINE HANSEN

Marketing Internship ,Copenhagen Business School