Despite the fact that the expats in Vietnam and around the world have been through a pandemic, a lot of good has happened and we managed to get quite a bit of it. If you’ve never heard of “Something Good”, now’s your chance.
This story is brought to you by Nguyễn Lệ Diễm – a freelance journalist based in the capital Hanoi.
As Covid continues to cut a disruptive path across the region, expatriate communities have been hit hard. In the unique situation of living far from home in a totally foreign country like Vietnam, a trio of Kiwis shared their stories with local journalist Nguyễn Lệ Diễm.
They have one thing in common: a special journey in Vietnam through the pandemic.
Each experience is distinctive, but they all have memorable moments, including new opportunities and life-changing decisions, during difficult times.
Andy Morley: Project Manager, Industrial Site Services
Andy Morley, a mechanical engineer, from Rotorua, has worked and lived in New Zealand, Indonesia and Vietnam for the past five years. He was initially based in Hà Nội and previously worked in the city of Quy Nhơn, now he is in Lâm Đồng province.
His job requires a lot of travel, but because Vietnam has kept its borders closed until recently, he was unable to travel, while foreign expatriates were not allowed to enter the country.
But the lockdown in a small village was the hardest part as his area was quarantined for 40 days after one of the local security guards contracted Covid, which had a huge impact on their project.
In addition, Lâm Đồng has taken a very hard line with Covid restrictions compared to some other provinces, which are trying to “live with Covid”.
“For example, during an outbreak in the village, the authorities tried to force all people into testing stations, which basically brought the population together in the same place in poor conditions,” he said, “Meanwhile, some other local businesses seemed to have less restrictions and that was very frustrating, however, the locals and medical personnel on the front lines have been incredibly supportive of foreigners during Covid.”
Having also lived through the Covid lockdowns in New Zealand, he reflected on the similarities and differences between the two countries in responding to the outbreak.
“While in New Zealand, there was resentment from a section of the public who objected to restrictions. In Vietnam, people adjusted to the new normal much faster and were more successful in controlling the virus, although the lockdown seemed a lot stricter,” he said.
In addition, there is greater empathy and support from authorities for businesses and staff in New Zealand, while in Vietnam support has been much more limited and has led to business closures.
Lately Saigon seems to have accepted Covid and is trying to maintain vaccination levels and live with his presence, while Hà Nội is still reacting harshly (similar to Lâm Đồng) and instead trying to get it under control.
“The numbers seem similar, but at least quality of life in HCM has improved dramatically,” Andy said.
After more than a year away from home, his first wish is to visit his two sons back in New Zealand once the government tackles the quarantine system, before finally returning to Vietnam to continue his projects. “It has been an incredibly tough year and we have had no shortage of challenges. But because of this, our bond with our local team has kept us in good spirits and supportive of each other. It’s an experience I will cherish forever,” he said.
Lili-Lucia: private English teacher
Lili-Lucia, a social worker from Wellington, planned to stay in Vietnam for only one year in 2013, and felt it wasn’t long enough to explore the country and the rest of Southeast Asia and decided to stay longer. In the blink of an eye it is now eight years ago.
Expecting nothing, she has a new life in Vietnam after discovering her passion for teaching and learning languages in the country. “I found more pleasure in teaching English and working with children.
It was more satisfying compared to working in New Zealand,” she said, “The progress my students have made from knowing no English words to speaking English confidently is a more visible fruit of my work, and it felt in some ways meaning more worthwhile.”
Unlike many other English teachers, she didn’t work for international schools but for a local kindergarten that was closed during the worst of the pandemic.
2020 was a difficult year for her as she was out of a job for about five months and reliant on her savings.
But she did not leave Vietnam. Instead, she used the free time by taking private lessons and learning Japanese and playing music.
Fortunately, she had her building manager and some Vietnamese friends help her buy food during the lockdown when she couldn’t because of the language barrier.
She also quickly received her second vaccination after registering with the government. As a member of a church community, she also received support when she needed it.
“I knew full well that there were a lot more people who were worse off than me, so I was grateful for the help and for my good health,” she said.
She said she has become “more Vietnamese than Vietnamese”, as her local friends used to joke.
She missed the country so much and even had a reverse culture shock when she returned to New Zealand. “I consider Vietnam my home, I think because part of my heart is here and home is where the heart is,” she said, “I think if anyone is considering moving to Vietnam from New Zealand, come with an open heart and an open mind .
It’s what you make of it and learning the language will really help you!”
Anna Baldwin: teacher at the European International School and coach at Crossfit
Palmerston North native Anna Baldwin came to Vietnam in 2019 with her husband and their dog. It was her first time in Southeast Asia and she immediately fell in love with the “sensory overload” of the smells, sounds, scooters and the extremely fast pace of life.
It’s actually relatively easy and fun for expats in Saigon, who may find it hard to live abroad.
While her colleagues feel that family and parents are deeply involved in school life, it’s not just about work, it’s about the great community and social life here. “It felt like working in a small town in New Zealand, but unbelievable in such a big city!” she said.
Despite the severe lockdowns that lasted for months, Baldwin was still able to maintain good mental and physical health, thanks to active online classes with her four- and five-year-old students, along with Friday night drinks and quizzes with her colleagues. Outside the lockdowns, they could see a different Vietnam, completely free of people and tourists.
It was also a bit of a blessing for her. Like many others, it gave her time to think about her goals and next plans. “I’ve come to a point where I want to use all of this experience to make a broader impact within the education and development sector,” she said.
Her next step is the NGO field, thanks to a new job in the UK that will see her leave Vietnam, but never forget her special time here. “There are so many things, such as Phở, rice wine, karaoke, coffee, bia hơi (draft beer), beaches, caves, etc, I am going to miss so much of this welcoming and warm country that gave us during the crazy Covid time.”
“So many memories and adventures have been made over the past three years, but the hardest part of being an expat is always the people you have to leave behind, especially the friendships we’ve made here in Vietnam,” she says. . said.
By Nguyễn Lệ Diễm @ Asia Media Center.
Nguyễn Lệ Diễm is a freelance journalist based in the capital Hanoi. She has contributed to leading travel magazines in Vietnam and South China Morning Post.