I thought I knew what kind of experience I was in for when I decided to teach in Vietnam. I was an experienced traveller having lived in Italy and spent time as a flight attendant. I believed I was well prepared for the move, I wasn’t. Life here is fast, chaotic, and busy. Living back home in Minnesota was the opposite for me. Life there was slow, calm, and boring at times. My life in the United States was much easier than what life is like now in Vietnam. Easier does not mean better though. I think when you move to Vietnam you’re looking for a challenge, something different than what you’re used to. Now that my experience here is coming to an end I can reflect on it all.
I expected Hanoi itself to be different. I had no clue how populated the city would be. The population density is high here and pretty much anywhere you go your forced to be conscious of the surroundings. Traffic flows everywhere. I expected laws to be enforced strictly but was surprised to find that traffic laws are severely relaxed. It was shocking to learn how people just go at their own pace here, few people actually stop at red lights. I never expected to ride a motorbike in Hanoi. Soon after I arrived I decided it was necessary to rent a motorbike though. It takes time to learn the flow of traffic but I eventually got the hang of it.
Before coming to Vietnam, I thought there would be few westerners living in Hanoi. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a large amount of expats living here (expats meaning foreigners living abroad). Tay Ho, the district I live in has a rather large community of expats which makes it fun to meet new people. I had originally planned on eating strictly Vietnamese cuisine here. However, I soon found out that Hanoi has a ton of restaurants that cater to a range of preferences. The food-scene here is awesome and it’s not just because of the Pho and Bahn Mi. I’ve had some of the best burgers and pasta in the world here. Cheese is the one ingredient that is rather scarce. Sure you will find cheese at certain restaurants, but it is not a part of Vietnamese diets so it isn’t easy to find in grocery stores. That said, there are a few western grocery stores that offer a variety of products that’s difficult to find in Vietnamese stores.
A part of me was a bit concerned that the Vietnamese people would resentment me for being an American. I thought that they would be cold to me because of the Vietnam war and all the destruction that it caused. However, that could not be farther from reality. The majority of the people here are unbelievably friendly, kind, and warm-hearted. It’s been extremely humbling to be here and experience this. I can’t say how many times a Vietnamese person has gone out of their way to help me. They truly are an amazing and generous people, I could not be more thankful for what they’ve done for me.
Having expectations of a place or experience is always shattered by reality. You might have a picture of what you expect it to be or a desire for how it should turn out, but reality always is different. It’s okay to have expectations, everyone does, but it's important to be open to the experience and how it transforms you. Have fun with it and enjoy living in a different culture!