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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 service provided by ABROADER Vietnam is really good. Especially until I get used to living here, I asked support from ABROADER so much. Now I can manage my own life by myself thanks to them.

Sohei Chikama

IT Internship ,Chuo University, Japan

I did have a bit of trouble with my original internship, but ABROADER was very supportive and active in ensuring I got the best experience and helped me switch to a different company. My new company became a place where I learned about company life and got to work on independent projects. It was also great to have the local buddies with us, as they went around town and did different activities with us. The local buddies definitely made my experience here more fun and made it easier for me to acclimate to life here. Also, going around Ho Chi Minh City was actually much safer than I had imagined, and people here are usually very friendly to help out foreigners. My time here went by very quickly, and my summer experience of growing, learning, exploring, and lots of eating is definitely one I will remember!

Jamie Kim

Communication Internship ,Princeton University, USA

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

The experience of doing an internship in Vietnam certainly was not easy for me but I have no doubt that it was tremendouly valuable. At first, I actually had a lot of culture shocks, for example, sometimes it was hard to communicate with Vietnamese people because not a lot of people speak English and some had very strong accent. However, Vietnamese people were very kind to me and took well care of me especially the host family and program coordinator. I realized that it’s difficult to understand another culture but it’s also really necessary to accept other culture, their life and their way of thinking. At the hotel where I did my internship, I could learn a lot of things. For example, I learnt how to communicate politely with customers, how to make them satisfied and how to manage the hotel. Everyone from the supervisor to my co-workers was helpful and accommodating, I was included in all the daily meetings and the supervisor was very open to share her knowledge about hotel management which was really helpful to my future work. I really had a good experience in Vietnam. I appreciate the people I’ve met and the experience I’ve had. This is going to be very useful in the future. Thank you ABROADER Vietnam so much for the valuable opportunity to learn about my field of work in your beautiful country!

Kaoru Mori

Hospitality Internship ,Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, Japan

Words cannot describe how much I gain from this internship. The time here have been productive, meaningful and of course an unforgettable one! When I first came to Ho Chi Minh City for the internship, I was overwhelmed by the culture difference. To the roads packed with motorcycles to the food, everything was different for me. Honestly, I thought it would be very hard for me to adapt to the culture in Vietnam, however, ABROADER Vietnam provide us with a lot of support! They have local buddies that bought us around Ho Chi Minh City, teach us their culture and are very open and happy going! They even bought us to grocery shopping which we needed desperately! :) What’s more they gave me an internship in one of Vietnam’s top IT outsourcing company! The team was professional, always looking for ways to improve and welcoming! They always try their best that i am doing great! Thank You ABROADER Vietnam!

Gerald Heng

IT Internship ,Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

I enjoyed my time and the program greatly in Vietnam. It seemed as if the program tried its best to guide all interns in the right direction and was helpful when needed. The thing I will remember most about the internship will be the people I met, specifically the other interns and the patients I worked with. The various interns I met throughout the hospital taught me how to think in a different mindset in order to problem solve and treat a patient. As for the patients, they taught me their culture, and to always shave a positive attitude and outlook on things. Each of the patients had suffered an accident that had effected their capability to live their lives, and yet each patient had such a positive attitude.

Rylie Dunn

Medical Internship ,Iowa State University, USA

For starters, having gone into this with the full expectation of entering a foreign country for the sole purpose of working, I am thoroughly surprised by the amount of affection and care given through each and every step in more aspects than just work. When people hear the term agency they expect a common, lackadaisical, professional agency that only assists you for queries and links you to your job, but otherwise expresses a rather hands-off approach when it comes to the external factors, such as the things to do on your free time or the places to visit, etc. Maybe I am alone in this thought but through my 5 months internship, ABROADER has given me the opposite of my expectations during the process. Anything wrong with the experience and they're there, anytime you have inquiries they're right at your doorstep, anytime you need a recommendation for a place to cut your hair you got it. They've given me more care, more concern and more assistance in this trip than I can ever ask for, and also an opportunity, not just in a work aspect but in other ways like the opportunity to make friends, an opportunity to explore Vietnam not for what it seems but for what it is, together. Sure, while it is like this it is still a professional establishment, but, what makes them unique and above the rest is that they remember to also keep it personal. It's been a privilege to experience Vietnam with ABROADER and I extend my gratitude. I think the only advice I can give to people coming on this trip is to have an open-mind and to enjoy the process because time passes way too fast if you don't take the time to enjoy the moment.

Adriel Peng Guo Jun

Biology & Environment 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

The study tour was a fantastic program full of cultural and fun experiences in both Vietnam and Singapore. Before the trip both of these places had been on my travel list, so when the opportunity for this trip came up I couldn't say no and I'm so glad that I did it. The buddies, the people I travelled with and the organisers made the trip even better. Industries in both countries were super helpful and our visits to these factories was one of the highlights. Networking with these companies, the food, cultural exposure, the people and the organisers made it a beautiful way to study our university course!! The most unfamiliar food that I tried was definitely chicken feet! Sugar cane drinks were also unusual but they tasted awesome! Thank you!!!!

Jared Haysman

Electrical Engineering and Computing Study Tour ,University of Newcastle, Australia

Vietnam, from my experience, is a very work-oriented and relationship-oriented country. You must come prepared to work a lot, learn a lot, and you absolutely must not try to apply the logic or expectation that you would have in the West. This will do little to nothing to help you and will hinder your ability to learn. Come here with the mindset of a student, not an authoritative figure. There is much to learn in Vietnam that will be very valuable to you wherever you work or live, and it is important that you come to Vietnam with an open and unexpecting mind, so that when you go home you will have been able to learn, enjoy and apply your experiences to your future in a positive way. Come to Vietnam with the ability to motivate and add value to people’s lives. Set an example for people, and remember that you are at all times representing you country, university and culture, so make an impression that will stand out as a positive one. Make friends as much as possible and when you can try to study the language as much as possible, even if it is just the language that relates to your job. Doing these two basic things will make living and working here quite enjoyable.

Jack Sherpa

Hospitality & Tourism Internship ,University of Oregon, USA