Growth

In the past two months, I have completed my TEFL certification, signed a lease on a house with three kick-butt roommates, and have been working a full-time job teaching English at a Kindergarten. Things have settled down over the past few weeks and I am finally feeling adjusted to life in Vietnam. Living here has been amazing, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. I was sick for two weeks from the pollution, caught a stomach bug, got a nasty Saigon kiss (burn from a motorbike’s exhaust pipe), and have had a few phone problems. If I hadn’t developed a love and gratitude for this country, I probably would have packed up and flown home by now. When a motorbike driver turns my 8-minute drive home from work into 25 because he doesn’t want to look at his GPS or listen to my directions, I get frustrated. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m smiling, saying ‘this is great’ every time something negative comes my way. But at the end of the day, this country is worth all of the downs because it has so many more ups.

I have been doing what I came here to do: have new experiences and grow as a person. I am constantly being pushed outside of my comfort zone, meeting people from all over the world, and learning a new culture and language. Not every day is a huge adventure. Some days my biggest adventure is going to work or taking my laundry to get cleaned – but every day does provide me with learning experiences. You become quick to realize the people who genuinely want to get to know you versus those who just want to use you (especially being a westerner). Although there are some that fall into the latter, there are far more in the prior. The people I have met here, locals specifically, are the most kind, gentle, helpful, and playful people I have ever met. I will continue to stand by that. I have been apologized to countless times because of their English being ‘not good’ (which most of the time, isn’t true) … I’m sorry, what? I am living in their country, they are speaking my language because I cannot speak theirs, and they are apologizing to me?! There is always someone who will stop to tell me directions, help me move tables when it starts pouring down rain, or just wants to have a conversation to get to know me and/or improve their English. Back home I would just do the same things day-in-and-out, but here I am forced to try new things and meet new people. I have learned a lot about who I am, grown mentally, and developed a newfound confidence in myself.

Teaching has also been a huge factor in this. I can’t say I was thrilled when I learned I would be teaching three-year-olds, but now I wouldn’t change it for a thing. I have grown in my communication skills, creativity, and patience. I have also learned to always celebrate the little things. I get SO excited when my kids even say ‘please’ or ‘sorry.’ I’m grateful for this because I realize we would miss so many of the small, but beautiful things in life if we solely focused on the ‘big’ achievements.

Life isn’t meant to be predictable, it’s meant to be exciting, adventuresome, and full of growth. Before I moved to Vietnam, I was working 9 to 13-hours a day, 6 days a week (sometimes more). I would come home, eat dinner, then go to bed – occasionally meeting up with friends to maintain some form of social life. There wasn’t any excitement and I sure wasn’t growing, but I thought that’s how life was supposed to look. Society says that we have to go to university, get married, have kids, and work towards retirement – then you can travel and do all of the things you wanted to do at the age of 65 (or older). We are supposed to climb the ladder at our jobs and make a ton of money – that’s what ‘success’ is. But are the people who have more money than they know what to do with, truly happy? Maybe, but I think life is more than just material things and satisfying ridiculous societal standards for my life. It’s my life. There were many people who told me not to come to Vietnam or that I needed to start ‘settling down’ (honestly laughing at the phrase ‘settling down’. What does that even mean anyway?). I could have let those things stop me, and they almost did. I’m dang glad they didn’t. Moving here was the best decision I have ever made and I couldn’t imagine my life any different. I’m not saying everyone should quit their jobs and move to Vietnam, I’m just saying please don’t let society or other people tell you how you should live your life. Do you. Get to know people who are different from you, continuously push yourself out of your comfort zone, and just grow, man.

Okay, my update-turned-rant is now over.

Until next time,

Hales

Life In Vietnam: Week 1

*This is my experience living in my area (Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh).

As my first week living in Ho Chi Minh City comes to a close, I reflect on my experience so far in this beautiful and chaotic place I now call home. I have learned so much about myself and the Vietnamese culture just within this past week. A common question I am asked by friends and family is what it’s like living in Vietnam. I have written and rewrote this blog multiple times because it’s hard to put into words. So here goes nothing!

This is a quote that I look back to while living abroad:

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” -Clifton Fadiman

It’s easy to be ethnocentric and try to compare a country and its ways to your own. If you do this, you’ll more than likely find nothing but negatives and a downer attitude. You have to remember while traveling anywhere that they don’t design things for your comfort, they do it for their own comfort. When you realize this and open your mind, you’ll see the beauty around you. “Travel like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes, and an uncluttered mind.” That’s how you learn and grow as a human being. As an anthropology minor in college, I loved studying other cultures and decided to take myself out of the books and to learn first-hand. Short term travel is great, but you only get a slight peak of what’s underneath. So why not live long-term amongst a culture completely different than my own?

Vietnam is a world of its own. From the rainy days, messy sidewalks, and chaotic streets, to the wonderful people, good food, and beautiful culture; I have come to fall in love with it all in such a short time. The rain showers have become a refreshment during the hot and humid days, the messy sidewalks tell a story and make for a good laugh (and really who cares if you get a little dirt on you), the chaotic streets are full of life and energy. My friends and I joke that we always feel super powerful as we cross a street while motorbikes are zooming past us. I don’t know why, so I won’t have an answer for you if you ask. As I’m typing this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop blowing kisses to a little baby while she puts on her Hello Kitty pollution mask about to hop on a motorbike with her mom. You’ll find the craziest things watching motorbikes drive by that I’d like to declare motorbike watching is WAY better than people watching! I feel less stressed, carefree, and happier than I have been in my life. (And the food is some of the best I’ve ever had)

But the people here? That’s what takes the cake. The Vietnamese are the loveliest people I have come across in my life. They LOVE westerners. I have never felt so treasured, welcomed, and safe than I do here in Vietnam. Anytime I leave the house I receive tons of smiles, waves, and hellos. They are also not afraid to pull you in for a picture without asking and relentlessly stare at you – when I say stare, I mean STARE. Sometimes it can be a tad bothersome, but as soon as I say hello, I am greeted with a huge smile and enthusiastic wave like the rest and my heart melts every time. They call Thailand the ‘land of smiles’ and although I’ve never been and might be biased, I think Vietnam is the real ‘land of smiles’ hands-down. They are eager to have conversation with you to practice their English and help you with your Vietnamese. For instance, when my group of friends and I were exploring District 1, we were approached by a 10-year old girl named Ashley asking to practice with us, where we then had a 20-minute conversation learning about her and her family. They will also go out of their way to help you find where you’re trying to go, open doors for you, make sure you feel comfortable, and help you move tables when it starts pouring down rain on yours. The kindness I’ve been shown here I have rarely experienced in the States. So, to all of my loved ones back home who are worried sick, don’t be. I’m in good hands!

This unique country has already come to feel like home in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation to see what will come.

Until next time,

Hales

I’m Moving Where?

As I sat in graduation two months ago, I thought I knew the plan for my life (at least for the next year). I was going to live and work in Springfield as I prepare to send out grad school applications, move into my own apartment, and get a dog. Little did I know, life had a change of plans for me.. Throughout the next few weeks I grew unsatisfied with the thought of staying in my small college town. It felt so…stagnant. My goal going into 2018 was to stop living life in my comfort zone. I wanted to experience new places, people, and things. I had always wanted to live overseas and the suggestion my mom gave about teaching English abroad became more than something I just giggle about because it sounds so unrealistic. The more I researched, the more realistic it became. Come mid-July, I had bought my one-way plane ticket to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam!

Why Vietnam?

My heart was originally set on Italy. The magnificent architechture of Rome, rowing through the city of Venice, eating delicious pasta in Florence! It all sounded too good to be true…and it was, for me at least. For starters, Italy would drain my bank account to the point where I’d be barely making it by. On top of that, the Italian government isn’t super keen on giving work visas to American citizens, so I’d be working ‘under-the-table’ aka illegally. I decided to open my mind to new places and Vietnam began to grow on me. It’s an easily overlooked country when it comes to travel, but its amazing beaches, motorbike-filled streets, good food, and beautiful culture drew me in and the more I started to dig, the more I fell in love. On top of that (and much more), it’s decently easy to obtain a work visa in Vietnam and the cost of living is very low. I’d be able to save money moving there. Yes you heard it right, I’d be able to save money moving overseas!

So, come September 12th I’ll be boarding a plane (or three) and flying off to my new home. I’ll be taking a month-long course to get my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate so that I will be able to teach English in Vietnam. Throughout that month, I will be studying English grammar intensively, creating lesson plans, and getting hands-on teaching practice. After that I’ll be free to look for a teaching job anywhere I please!

I’ll make mistakes, miss home, and have bad days, but I’ll also have good days, make new friends, and have the adventure of a lifetime! I’m excited to learn, grow and experience a new culture different from my own. This blog is to keep y’all updated throughout my move to Vietnam, but feel free to reach out to me at anytime!

Until next time,

Hales