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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 whole experience of doing internship in Vietnam, living and meeting the people in this beautiful country will be a memory I’ll always remember. My host organization was ABROADER Vietnam. For the most part, I was clear about the responsibilities & rules expected to accomplish & follow during my filming and photography internship at the company. My supervisor and the program coordinator cared a lot about me, even when they didn’t pay attention to me, the only downfall was my skills on graphic design which I still need to improve to support my work in the company. My work was crucial at a marketing and branding level, which is the image of the company itself. If there is anything I wish to do that would make the internship in Vietnam perfect was that I could stay in Halong Bay one more day.

Miguel Fernando Del Moral

Filming and Photography Internship ,Relativity School, USA

The placement I received was great. ABROADER Vietnam has helped me the whole way! I would recommend this program if they are looking to go somewhere completely different and cool!

Cole McDougall

Optometry Internship ,South Dakota State University, USA

An Internship that Brought a lot of Happiness During a Tough Time My internship through ABROADER was truly a worthwhile experience. Not only did I genuinely enjoy the work I did for my host organization, but having ABROADER's support and community really enhanced my remote internship. Having weekly culture sessions and buddy chats, and getting to talk regularly to the ABROADER staff and local buddies, made me feel like I was actually in Vietnam. I think this aspect of their program is really unique, because it makes doing an internship in a brand new place much less intimidating; everyone is so friendly and welcoming, I never felt alone when navigating this new adventure. I genuinely feel that I was able to connect with people and make new friends despite being thousands of miles away. What was your funniest moment? With the culture sessions and buddy chats, there were a lot of fun, happy moments. I think I laughed the hardest when making a video with a fellow intern and two local buddies for ABROADER's farewell group session. We tried creating a parody to Grease's Summer Nights, but being that none of us are musically talented, and we had to deal with the lag from Zoom when singing all together, our finished product was quite chaotic. Regardless, it was a lot of fun to work on all together, and seeing our video at the session gave me a really great laugh.

Joanna Georgiou

Program Assistant Remote Internship ,Princeton University

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

Doing my internship Vietnam, will be an unforgettable experience for me because reflecting back to the past 4 months staying in Vietnam I have learned quite a lot in Vietnam in terms of culture, people, work ethics and values, it grows me as a person to become a better person with the way I interact with people, working with them on a project and how to deal with problems whether big or small. At the end of day, people are people, they are not going to be your ideal circle of friends or co-workers that is going to go your way all the time, but what you can do is to make the best out of it and always end on a positive note :)

Kang Feng Wei (Derek)

IT Internship ,Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

The study tour was a great was to experience Vietnam. The academic industry visits provided insights into how the manufacturing industry operates in SE Asia, relevant to our engineering course on Control Systems. Then many cultural experiences helped out understanding of the Vietnamese people and how the modern country has been shaped through the conflicts of the 20th century. Visiting the Mekong Delta was a highlight of the trip, living at a homestead and preparing/cooking a tradition Vietnamese meal was amazing. Overall the local buddies that helped us on our trip were amazing, providing us an insight into Vietnam through the eyes of other young adults.

Nicholas Zander

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

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

I am grateful to everyone who has helped organize my internship in Vietnam this summer. I am grateful to ABROADER for finding me the best placement that I could ever hope for and for being so caring, accountable and responsive during my whole internship duration. I am grateful to my supervisor and all the coworkers at my host organization for being so hard-working, responsible, encouraging and supportive. Without their kindness and support, my holistic learning experience while in Vietnam would not be that worthwhile. I would definitely recommend this internship in Vietnam program to anyone that is interested in doing an internship abroad.

Bryant Chu

Culinary Internship ,Master’s Degree at Stanford University, USA

It was an overall enjoyable experience having my internship done through ABROADER Vietnam. The host company that they connected me with has been welcoming, friendly, I have been able to experience a lot of different elements of the company’s culture, helping different people and learning new things about not only the company but also working in general. I felt that I contributed to the host company and my particular help with the MWRP (checking English) was of great importance to them as the deadline approached. They have given me feedback and said that some of my research into potential donors and other youth initiatives in climate change adaptation has been of use to them too. Regarding ABROADER Vietnam intern service was my placement and the amazing support from local staff and volunteer in Hanoi. Would I recommend the internship to anyone interested, definitely!

Maarten Van Balen

Environmental Engineering Internship ,University of Edinburgh, Scotland

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