A Whole New World: Vietnam

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I’ve made one of the biggest decisions of my adult life this week: I’ve decided to live abroad in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Vietnam to teach at the Canadian International School Vietnam for two years.

For the last six months, I’ve been on a job hunt. I wanted to move on from my current job and pursue a job that would be both fulfilling and educational in the overall picture of my life. I’ve always been a strong advocate of lifelong learning and my job has gotten to the point where I feel that I have nothing left to learn.

Teaching abroad wasn’t my first choice. Up until this month, I was still applying for jobs around Ontario with titles such as program coordinator, training specialist, educational technology liaison, learning and development officer… But it was to no avail. The jobs I were applying to were a clear step up from my current title as an “assistant program coordinator”.  Any recruiter would look at my resume and think that I am lacking in both experience and education. This made me decide to broaden my scope to include the world of teaching. I haven’t been too attached to the idea of teaching in a traditional classroom despite my teaching degree. I hate the idea of being a supply/on-call teacher, but that is the only way to get a teaching job in Ontario school boards.

One day, my boyfriend and I were talking about what he wanted to do after graduating (he’s studying computer science and will graduate in April). He said something to me that made me stop and think:

Am I really ready to start my career right now? Am I prepared to settle in to a job that I can’t leave, in the hopes that it becomes my career for life?

When I heard that, I couldn’t help but agree with him; I’m not ready to settle down, not just yet. I know I don’t like the idea of supply teaching, but bureaucratic hoops and politics aside, I love teaching. I think it is wonderfully empowering to provide students with the keys to their success, to challenge them to question their own biases and preconceptions, and to introduce them to new ideas. I love working with people and I find it a lot of fun to be in a situation where I am constantly learning and improving my own skills and strategies.

My boyfriend’s words drew me back to hopes and dreams I had from back when I was still in school. While I was an undergraduate student, I tried to apply for a study-abroad term in France. The international exchange counselor shot me down, “Why would you go to France when you’re not even fluent in French?” I thought the obvious answer, “to learn French”, would’ve been good enough, but it was not. It’s been a few years since I’ve graduated but I am “still young” as many have told me, and now I have more freedom than ever to choose to live abroad. I don’t have any dependents or outstanding debts and I certainly don’t have anything left for me in my current job. The only thing that I see there is a void that I will soon fill with adventure, travel, and new difficulties.

Of all the reasons to go abroad to Vietnam, the biggest reason for me is simple:

I am Vietnamese, but I am not Vietnamese.

I am a Vietnamese-Canadian born to two Việt Kiều, Vietnamese-born individuals who are living away from their homeland. I have never spoken Vietnamese fluently, but I feel that it’s important that I learn. The entire job search process has made me think more critically about my future career, my future family, and my future children (don’t worry Mom, I’m not pregnant). I know that I want my Vietnamese heritage to be passed on and a large part of that is the Vietnamese language.

Thus, I am going to live in Vietnam.

I may end up hating it there and come home after six months. I may end up loving it so much that I say for six more years. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there are two things I know for certain:

I want to have a really great going away party, and I am not looking forward to the tropical mosquitos.

Rose-coloured Filters: Making the Cut for Social Media #humblebrag

Snow-capped mountains seen while flying above northern Peru.
Snow-capped mountains, seen while flying above northern Peru.

On September 9, 2017, I took my first international trip without my parents to Cusco, Peru. I’m sure some people will consider that a pretty late milestone at the age of 25, but there I was.

I used to be so awestruck by picture-perfect moments captured on social media. I would see classmates sharing photos of beautiful landscapes in foreign lands, older cousins making their mark in impoverished nations, and friends taking luxury cruises. I wasn’t envious when I saw these posts, but I certainly felt awestruck. There is so much to see out in the world and I yearned to earn my way to have my own adventure.

I was then offered the opportunity to join a few friends of mine on a birthday vacation to Cusco, Peru. My friends were planning on staying for two weeks and using the PeruHop service to travel across Peru and Bolivia. I only had a one week window available, but I was not the only one they invited with that timeline restriction. I decided to jump in on their plans and prepare for my first international adventure.

 

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Machu Picchu, Peru, 2017

To anyone interested in visiting Peru, I highly recommend doing a lot of research in advance. This is a typical piece of advice to anyone traveling internationally, but for Peru in particular, the main attraction of the country is the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Ironically, the only infrastructure setup in the country to get you there is on the high-end of the pay scale. If you (like I was) are interested in taking a more budget-friendly approach, you’re going to need to do a lot of reading.

It’s in part because we decided to take the budget-friendly (and frequented) route to Machu Picchu that we encountered a few complications, complications which you will never see on camera.

So in the name of pulling back the illusion of perfection that shadows all travel posts on social media, here are a few unpleasant things that happened prior to the above photo. 

  1. Out of the 6 members of our travel party, all but 1 didn’t experience any diarrhea, nausea, or food poisoning at some point during the trip. Half of us took Dukoral (vaccine for travelers diarrhea) prior to the trip. A vaccinated traveler still got diarrhea.
  2. We took the combination car-walking route to Machu Picchu from Cusco. This mean6-hour car-ride through winding mountainous roads, only half of which were paved. We then hiked for 3 hours from the closest town to Machu Picchu that was accessible by road. The only other way in was to take the train. Aint nobody got money for that… until we had to make the return trip. We were exhausted.
  3. See that tall mountain in the background? I had tickets to climb up it but I backed out at the last moment. I could barely make it up the stairs to get to Machu Picchu without getting out of breath. The altitude pills I took helped alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness, but I just couldn’t do any physical activity that went beyond moderate-intensity. It is a very strange and uncomfortable feeling to be winded before your muscles are sore.
  4. Peruvian potatoes are absolutely amazing. Even McDonald french fries taste great. They still tasted like potatoes after they had cooled down for about an hour. It was really impressive. This point actually isn’t a negative one, but I just had to publicly fawn over the magic that is Peru and its 251 variety of potatoes.

 

Llama on Machu Picchu in Peru
This is my favourite photo from the trip.

Never take a photo for granted. Social media travel photography is mostly about saving face. Experiencing the adventure is all about acknowledging the not-so-picturesque moments, too.

Happy traveling.