Your Social Identity Abroad
YOUR SOCIAL IDENTITY ABROAD
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 in light of how they 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
Image Source: VNExpress
Vietnam is a friendly destination for LGBTQI travellers. In recent years, the country has made positive strides in 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 January 2015. Viet Pride marches take place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City without opposition. That said, the country is far from perfect . 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, it is worth noting that the same holds true for straight couples. As long as LGBTQI travellers use their discretion and respect local culture, they will have no problem while staying in Vietnam. There are no established LGBTQI-only bars and venues but most places are LGBTQI-friendly.
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.
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) - these are groups advocating for minority rights in Vietnam, and famous for its queer advocacy campaigns.
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 and some other information.
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.
SEXUAL HEALTH & GENDER RELATIONSHIPS
In Vietnam, strong displays of affection are 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 sex holding hands, but it does not necessarily mean they are a couple, it is just a local custom of showing affection.
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 only acceptable 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.
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 someone else, 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 people of the opposite sex, 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.
RACE, ETHNICITY & NATIONALITY
How Vietnamese people perceive the notion of 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. The people you encounter may make certain assumptions about you based on your physical appearance, the fact that you are speaking English or that you are speaking the local language with a foreign accent. Some may be interested in learning more about your culture or nationality, but others may react in ways you don’t expect. For example, people may stare at you, try to touch your hair or your skin, or ask personal questions about your cultural heritage, physical features, or national origins. Children in particular may approach you as something of a novelty if you are studying abroad in a location where people have had little or no contact with foreigners of varied races or ethnicities.
In these situations, it is advisable to try to assume positive intent, that people may not have bad intentions when doing so and may simply be curious to know more. Political correctness here may be less common than what you expect in your home country. Nevertheless, if an encounter makes you uncomfortable, it is best to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible for your safety priority and report the situation to your Program Coordinator.
Even though you may be part of an ethnic minority in your country, you may be part of the majority in Vietnam, or vice versa. Hence, before you go to Vietnam, please consider the following so that you can be aware of attitudes toward foreigners in the area where you will be studying/doing an internship.
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 an 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” person in Vietnam you will be in the 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 history of discrimination towards black people in Vietnam in particular so we expect that 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 be surprised that you are African Americans or African French and not from Africa, the continent, due to the lack of international exposures and Vietnamese 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.
Asian: As an “asian” individual in Vietnam you may appear similar to the local and thus, don’t 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. Vietnamese locals are familiar with meeting Asian people and therefore, 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!
Why do Vietnamese people stare at me?
Overall, if you are of different ethnic or national 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 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.
After all, what you’ll remember most is their welcoming smiles and sincere attitudes
Onething you will find while staying here is that Vietnamese are extremely hospitable. The locals are generally friendly and tend to treat visitors nicely and give them special treatments - for example they might give you free food or try to invite you to hang out and show you the city. It is not something to be seen as a burden or an unusual request, but rather, you can express gratitude and feel free to offer to do something nice for them in return. Via the platforms like Quora and Tripadvisor, you can read a lot of stories describing kindness and warmth in the attitude of the Vietnamese towards foreigners and felt that rather than just a display, it came from the bottom of their heart.
DRESS & PHYSICAL FEATURES
As a general rule, try to follow what the locals wear - dress to 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 both practical and flattering.
Difference in physical features
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 standards, including light weight. In Vietnam, among locals, people can comment directly on other people’s weights, for example: “You are gaining weight” or “You should lose weight”. If this happens to you, try to not be offended by understanding the cultural differences - for them it might just be 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: Vietnamese locals have natural black hair, so if your hair is of different, very bright colors, it might stand out. However, nowadays a lot of people, especially females, dye their hair so even bright hair colors are being viewed as normal.
In Vietnam, according to data by Isee (2017), 7.8 to 15% of Vietnam’s population live with disabilities. The definition of people with disabilities in Vietnam, according to the Law on Persons with Disabilities, is limited to health deficiencies. People with disabilities experience little discriminations, however, there is still a gap in public awareness in creating disability-friendly infrastructure and disability-inclusive activities between urban and rural areas.
In an attempt to place students with standard accommodation, we also endeavour to customize student’s needs. When it comes to recreational activities, elevators at supermarkets and malls are equipped with handicap-friendly functions. However, if you visit suburban or rural areas, there is a high likelihood that the accessibility to those infrastructure is limited.
Many students who struggle with mental health issues or consider themselves physically disabled in their home country may think that study abroad and international exchange opportunities are not available to them. However, you can be best prepared for your internship or study abroad experience by understanding your circumstances, conditions in your host country and how you will be supported when abroad. You may want to check out our Getting to and Living in Your Location for more information. Take a look at this video made by one of our Northwestern interns in 2019 portraying her summer internship with her ASD.
Visitors to Vietnam, especially from Western countries, are often identified as “rich” by locals. 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, or 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 comes with it. Local Vietnamese are generally friendly and curious about international visitors and want to befriend you, that does not mean they want something back from you - in many cases the locals go out of their way to help visitors. Lastly, it is always good to not promise things that you do not intend on executing, such as promises to send money, gifts or support once you return home, cause people might genuinely believe your promises and get disappointed if you cannot follow through.
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 a small number 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 the country’s past leaders, 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 free 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.
Click here to learn about how our past students experienced their life in Vietnam.
Feel the hospitality of the locals and excited to visit the country, check out our programs and apply today.
Medical Internship ,Iowa State University, USA
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Medical Internship ,Loyola University Chicago, USA
I think my experience is different from others. I think many people who joined the internship say something like ‘I find what I wanna do in the future’ or ‘I find discover myself.’ But for me, I cannot find my future job. I cannot say working at hotel is my future job. Before I go to Vietnam, I really wanted to work at hotel or be something it cherishes the hospitality such as a flight attendant. I thought I’m really open minded and it is best job for me. After finishing the internship, I thought the job at hotel is really nice job, to do best for the people all the time like I thought once but now I cannot say I wanna work at hotel in the future with 100% sure. It’s because I feel stressful when I receive the bad service as a customer. More and more I polish my service, I’m really dissatisfied with the service of others. So now I wanna put a distance from the service job. So now, I’m looking for what I wanna do in the future in Japan and challenges many things. But this is what I can say with 100% sure It was best decision to take the internship in Vietnam. It is because thanks to the challenge of internship in Vietnam, I became to love challenges much more than the time before going to Vietnam. Before going to Vietnam, I had a fear to challenge. But now, I challenge many things and I realize my life is really full one! And I wanna recommend this internship to other Japanese students of course. You may be able to find your future job and yourself or not, no matter how different you feel about internship after finishing it, I can say with 100% sure it will be worthwhile to your life in some way.
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Heather Joann Sheffield
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Electrical Engineering and Computing Study Tour ,University of Newcastle, Australia
Education Internship ,Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan