Stacia: Adventures from Vietnam
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Vietnam, etc.
I am a Teacher-Librarian and tutu-wearing adventurer. After growing up in Upstate New York (United States) and completing my undergraduate experience, I moved to Denver, Colorado to gain my Masters in Library and Information Science and then began teaching as an elementary Teacher-Librarian.
Come the spring of my second year teaching in Denver, Colorado, I found out that my position was being cut in budget cuts for the 2011-2012 school year. It was definitely a bittersweet spring but I had wanted to teach abroad for some time and I figured there could not be a better time for me to take the leap and teach abroad. Losing my job opened the world up to me!
I began looking for job openings abroad; I applied to over 30 schools but it was tough going with not many responses to my cover letters and resume. Southeast Asia was really never on my radar during my job search. As my search abroad continued, however, I kept randomly hearing wonderful things about Vietnam here and there. My interest was piqued and I began researching about the country and available jobs.
I heard about a position for a middle school Teacher-Librarian in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from another librarian in my school district. Within two weeks of applying, I received an offer letter and began getting into the mindset of moving to Vietnam!
Since moving to Ho Chi Minh City in July of 2011, I have grown to adore this crazy, energetic city. I am on a two-year teaching contract at an international school and am loving the adventures that living abroad brings!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Once I accepted the teaching position in Ho Chi Minh City, I created a blog in order to document my experiences, travels, and adventures. I figured it was an easy way to stay in touch with family and friends and have them be able to ‘see’ my life abroad and what I was up to.
I sent an email to many of my friends (both in New York and Colorado), telling them that I began a blog… and included a link to the first post for them to check out. That first post announced that I had lost my job due to budget cuts in the school district… and that I had accepted a teaching position in VIETNAM! …Quite the announcement to read, I guess!
At the time I began my blog, I had no idea that a year and a half later I would still be updating it and posting blogs… daily. My ‘Adventures from Vietnam’ blog has become like a lifeline to me while I am so far from ‘Home’ in the States. Sharing my daily adventures (and mis-adventures) makes me feel like I am closer to home in a way – knowing that many of my family and friends wake up and check for new posts while sipping coffee/tea in the morning.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- An ostrich riding adventure
- My favorite alley in Singapore – I found it!
- Than lan face (Than lan means lizard or gecko in Vietnamese)
- Most of my friends have had a laugh over my numerous encounters with lizards (than lans) in my apartment… another one…Sneaky than lan
My interest in photography has blossomed since moving abroad… every corner I turn (especially with the travel opportunities!) there are amazing sights to be seen and to capture…
Tell us about the ways your new life in Vietnam differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Vietnam is very different from my home in the States. With that, however, a lot of my life here is just ‘normal’ to me now. I try to think back to how my family and friends would view something… and then realize how different everything really is.
A huge difference, which is awesome but I feel incredibly spoiled… is that I live in a serviced apartment. This is quite affordable in Vietnam. My apartment is cleaned daily, including the dishes and laundry. I have a lovely garden balcony area and all of the plants are cared for as well. There is a security guard on duty 24/7 at my little apartment building and I call him my Renaissance Man… I go to him for anything and everything that I need!
The cost of living in Vietnam is very low. Depending on your personal preferences and way of life, you can save a lot of money… or spend it all. I have tried to find a balance of saving money, traveling, and treating myself. (‘Treating’ in the sense that I can get a manicure in my neighborhood for 50 cents! Or a 1-hour hot stone body massage for about $12 USD.)
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Vietnam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I wish I could go back to when I arrived in Vietnam… and have that same mindset now! Living in Vietnam is my first time living and working abroad, and I came into this experience with an open-mind and an up-for-anything attitude. This perspective is something I try to keep in mind now but I definitely feel more settled in my life here.
Also, being a librarian, I like to organize! – I came here after a LOT of preparation and paperwork… I definitely recommend trying to be organized in everything that needs to be taken care of when moving somewhere like Vietnam (…or anywhere!).
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Moving to Vietnam, I thought I would never drive a motorbike in this city with its insane traffic! …One week in, I bought a brand new Yamaha Cuxi, having yearned for freedom in getting around the city. I practiced on my apartment’s little alley road for a couple weeks… and finally braved the main roads. (Well, I did topple over sideways about two hours after purchasing the bike. Whoops!)
My first night attempting to make it back to my apartment from District 1 (which is a straight shot, maybe 10 minutes or so), I was lost and ended up at the AIRPORT! An extremely nice Vietnamese man (whom I tried to ask directions from when stopped at a traffic light) took me back to my neighborhood… taking 45 minutes out of his way! I was happy the next time I went to the airport… that I had luggage and flight tickets with me!
I have also learned that my attempts at a smart shortcut do NOT work in Ho Chi Minh City. The streets are a maze and many are one-ways. I love my motorbike and cruising through the city… it is a great way to feel more a part of the city.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Vietnam?
Gosh, three tips, huh? Ok… before embarking… see your doctor and get all the vaccinations he/she recommends! Make sure you have a Visa set up. Finally and, to me, most importantly – come to Vietnam with an open-mind, no expectations, and be ready to for what might end up being the most incredible time of your life!
How is the expat community in Vietnam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Ho Chi Minh City is so big. There are many expats living here, but sometimes it feels like there is a small crowd of people to get to know. The more I put myself out there and the more social events I attend, the more people I meet. Great resources for expats to keep track of social opportunities can be found in The Word and AsiaLife magazines (available for free in many cafes and public places throughout the city) – as well as the AnyArena website.
I have met amazing people… many of which I believe will remain lifelong friends of mine.
How would you summarize your expat life in Vietnam in a single, catchy sentence?
My life in Vietnam is a mixture of adventure, frustration, exhilaration, cute cafes with lattes, and a whole lot of learning to be independent.