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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

LGBTQIA/LGBTQ+

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.

local Vietnamese with their beautiful and sincere smiles

DRESS & PHYSICAL FEATURES

Dress

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.

ABILITY

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.

SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS 

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.

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 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.

Have questions about any of the above identities, leave us a message here or contact us at apply@abroader.org

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.

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 Polytechnic, Singapore

I had a great experience interning in Vietnam, I made new friends, experienced new things and learned a lot through the program. ABROADER's staff were really helpful and friendly, making me and the other interns here get used to life in Vietnam. Being an engineering student, I was placed in an engineering company. There, I learned a lot about working life and knowledge that would help me in my future. I also got to experience Vietnam's culture, their way of life and explored the country. Overall, I had a good time over the 5 months I was in Vietnam, experiences good or bad, will likely stick with me for the rest of my life.

Harris Bin Hazri

Technical Sales in Engineering Internship ,Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

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, USA

I did a 4-month internship in the National Children Hospital in Vietnam. The entire organization for me went really well, all you need is time and patience but when you reach the point where all is settled it went really smooth and if you have problems you will get help asap and they will find a solution for you. I gained a lot of new experience and was surprised by the high practical skills of the Nurses and Doctors. Even though not everybody could speak proper English and sometimes communication was hard, there were ways to communicate with the colleagues (Google Translate, Body language). All in all I just can say I would do it again, and I wouldn't be the person I am today with out going on this adventure. The way I see things definitely changed and I go home with new knowledge and some wonderful memories. A big thanks to ABROADER Vietnam and especially Miss Ha who made this all possible.

Japheth Uruejoma

Nursing Internship ,FH Campus Wien, Austria

I was very appreciated and valued at the host school, they were extremely welcoming and friendly. The teachers provided me with plenty of opportunities to interact with different year levels and observe classes. In addition, even though it is not their responsibility to, they were also very keen on showing me Vietnam and making me comfortable, I got to go on a trip to pagodas in Ho Chi Minh where I got to wear ao dai and get to know more about another aspect of Vietnamese life. One inconvenience I had would be that my accommodation was quite far from the school and I was by myself. But overall, this can be improved on and I would recommend the internship program to anyone interested.

Alexandra Baulch

Education Internship ,Monash University, Australia

The ABROADER team in Vietnam does an amazing job at trying to engage the interns with each other and with the local culture in Vietnam, which is especially difficult in a virtual setting! They really strive to make the meetings a safe space where people are able to share their cultures in a creative and heartwarming way. They are also incredibly supportive to making sure their interns succeed in their professional internship and act as a great liaison between the interns and the host company. The program was a very positive experience! The incredible support system was great for those who have never interned before, and refreshing for those who have more professional experience.

Gigi Lam

Architect Remote Internship ,University of Pennsylvania

Having an Internship program away from home is not an easy decision because you have to think of so many aspects like entering a new culture, encountering language differences, living in a new environment and so many other things. At first, I was very nervous because it was my first time in Vietnam, but ABROADER made me feel that I made a right decision to come for an internship here. They will not let you feel away from your home as they will treat you not just like a student intern but as a part of the ABROADER family. I never felt alone as they are always there to guide and support me during my internship despite of the culture differences. The very good news is I am starting to learn and immerse myself into the Vietnamese life with the help of not only my on-site program coordinator but also my lovely Vietnamese co-workers in Ha Long Bay. My program started with an orientation on my internship in Vietnam at ABROADER’s office, during which they also taught me some basic Vietnamese language that is very helpful while I am here. Afterwards, we had a welcome dinner where I tried different Vietnamese dishes which I immediately fell in love with. They were all very “ngon” which means delicious in Vietnamese :) . The next day we had a day of city tour with my local buddy – Ngan where she showed me around tourists spots in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and French Quarter. During the tour, Ngan also brought me to local restaurants to enjoy traditional Vietnamese foods and drinks like Egg coffee which I like best. To make it even better, she took me to a place near Hoan Kiem Lake where I got to discover the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted in my life.

Marvin M. Napi

Hospitality - Cruise Management Internship ,Mariners' Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Philippines

It has been awesome trip and experience for me. Thanks for the people that have provided help and support throughout the trip. during my 5 months here, i get to learn this country's culture, people, food and the work life. Comparing Vietnam and Singapore, it is a new experience for me and the other students too. So, if you get the chance to come here and learn/experience, go out and explore. Be adventurous, daring to try out new things/stuff. making friends with the local, explore different part of the city or maybe even traveling out of the city. It is worth to spend your time to the fullest here!! “Don’t travel just to see. Travel to try, listen, feel, taste. That way there won’t be any place you cannot find beauty.”

Xiong Binsong

IT Internship ,Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

The people at ABROADER helped me transition into moving to Hanoi and beginning my internship. They helped me find a homestay at this place called Bui Xuyen Viet Travel Coffee, which is a small coffee shop that is all about travel. I really love my home stay. The people are some of the kindest I have met in Vietnam and extremely helpful in helping me navigate through the city and experience a local perspective of life in Hanoi. As for my internship, the staff has been very supportive and encouraging. They have helped challenge me and encourage me at the same time to contribute in any way I can to the company. After only a few days there, I could tell that I would really like my co-workers. They are a young, energetic, and sarcastic bunch who truly care about the company. It definitely feels like a team at the office. I know that I can talk to them about any questions I may have, and they are patient in letting me learn along the way. The experience that I have so far at ABROADER has been helpful in get a better idea of what I want to pursue after I go back home to the U.S., and my experiences overall in Vietnam that were very much made possible by ABROADER are experiences that are invaluable and that I will cherish for a lifetime. Vietnam is a beautiful country, with its breathtaking nature and tropical beaches, there is no doubt about it. But what really makes Vietnam feel like home and a place that I have become fond of is the people, the friends that I have made along the journey.

Nancy Vazquez

Marketing Internship ,University of California, San Diego, USA

My internship in Vietnam with ABROADER was a life changing experience. I was a marketing intern at a travel company in Hanoi and now work for the same company as a full time employee. Being in Vietnam has taught me so much about different people and cultures, as there are many other foreigners working here as well from all over the world. My internship coordinator at ABROADER was so helpful, and was a huge support for me whenever I needed it. I would definitely recommend ABROADER if you are looking to do an internship here. They really cater to your needs and care about what you want and are looking for.

Lillian Sarah Grant

Marketing & Communication Specialist Internship ,University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA