I love to reflect upon my time in a place, so it’s fitting that after a year as a expat in Vietnam I sat down and actually thought about what I’ve learned about Vietnam, Asia, and myself. It wasn’t an easy road, and until I met some local friends about 6 months in did things turn around and I was able to make sense of the place with their help. Yet I wouldn’t give up my year long experience in Ho Chi Minh City for anything. It was full of laughs, tears, confusion, elation, and lessons. These are lessons I will take with me for the rest of my life.
What I Learned From Living in Vietnam as an Expat
- Patience…patience, patience, patience
- Stop lights are merely suggestions
- How to embrace chaos and find meaning (see how I learned to drive a motorbike in Vietnam)
- How to swing dance
- How to eat healthier, smaller portions and be happy about it
- Your type is impossible to change. My type A personality is here to stay no matter if I’m a corporate executive or an ESL teacher
- I know what present perfect simple tense, adverbs of frequency, and superlatives are; and I know when to use them
- Virtual relationships can be just as strong as face to face relationships
- How to turn left by taking 3 rights
- Traveling somewhere and living somewhere are not the same
- How to be happy with pineapple for dessert
- I never want to be alone at Christmas again
- I don’t melt in the rain, and neither will you. Learn to embrace rainy season in Vietnam.
- How to eat noodles with chopsticks
- The best food is bought at street vendors
- How to embrace luke-warm showers
- How to cope with being invisible to the opposite sex
- Sweetened condensed milk is amazing in coffee
- How to drink and enjoy beer with ice – not to be confused with ice beer…totally different thing!
- Anything is possible
- Dessert doesn’t have to be thousands of calories
- The end of a meal is not dessert, it’s when the toothpicks are brought to the table. Here’s some tips on what to expect in a Vietnamese restaurant.
- All saran wrap in Asia sucks
- If people around you don’t react to things such as getting cut off in traffic, then you grow up thinking that there’s nothing wrong with cutting people off
- How to not be in a hurry
- How to sleep through crowing roosters at 5:30AM
- Don’t worry what’s behind you when it comes to driving…or anything in life for that matter!
- Geckos are my friends, ants are not
- It’s acceptable to text someone at 6:30AM…on a Sunday
- It’s worth it to talk to strangers in restaurants and coffee shops – they may become your dearest friends
By Chris October 19, 2009 - 12:13 pm
Sherry, you are my travel, writing and photography inspiration! I LOVE your writings! Only now am I starting to truly understand some of them because I am now teaching and living abroad.
By Anil October 19, 2009 - 4:28 pm
Swing dance!! I’m going to search around here to read more about it…
Be careful with the stoplights are merely suggestions though. I tend to carry that lesson with me everywhere which I’ve found a bad adaptation in many places!
By mint October 19, 2009 - 4:58 pm
I’m an expat living in Hanoi, i’ve been here just over 3 months now and whoa…some of your lessons strike a chord ie embrace chaos, stop lights, condense milk in coffee, not hurry, cuf off in traffic, invisible in the opposite sex … love your work and best wishes in your upcoming adventures!!
By Heather on her travels October 20, 2009 - 2:00 pm
Stop lights are only suggestions is what they also say about Beirut and a few other places around the world no doubt!
By Shannon October 20, 2009 - 5:28 pm
All saran wrap in the US sucks too. Love this list!
By David October 21, 2009 - 11:36 am
I’m scared of that woman on the photo who’s all in colour, yet the rest of Vietnam is in black and white. Maybe she’s radioactive or something.
By Mark H October 21, 2009 - 2:13 pm
The Christmas one is interesting. I lived in the UK for three years and Xmas was the dullest time for me as everyone else went off to families and loved ones. It makes you realise how precious family and close friends are.
By admin October 22, 2009 - 5:08 am
@Chris – hope you are doing well in Korea! I”m in Nepal now (actually typing this at 9000 ft in a small mountain town on the Annapurna circuit – so will get back to you when I come down to earth again!
Everyone else – thanks for the comments!
By Tarrah October 26, 2009 - 12:39 pm
that was a GREAT collection of lessons to have learned – and you’re right – there is something to be said about spending a good chunk of time somewhere. it allows you to become a part of a culture rather than simply looking at it. you are a great writer! here is a cool photo journey through SE Asia that i put together from one of our guest bloggers submissions – they traveled through the same part of Vietnam! http://www.beachhouse.com/blog/?p=2066
By Elisse Jo Goldstein-Clark December 17, 2009 - 9:50 pm
Your article made me miss Vietnam SO bad! DREAM of returning w/hubby ASAP! You are SO lucky! Eat lots of wonderful food! Pho & snake wine & green mango salad & taro wine & lemongrass chicken &… 🙂
By Will Peach June 8, 2010 - 8:03 am
Great list Sherry,
Although our differences are quite similar some of the things you touch on are only too true.
– Learning to live with the sight of people spitting and those around not thinking anything of it
– That negotiating a price is not an offensive act
Love the colour corrected image as well. Photoshop?
By admin June 8, 2010 - 12:58 pm
Yup – Camera Raw – not the best – but it’s ok if I keep the image small! I”m still learning photoshop!
Ah…the spitting…forgot about that. I actually inherited that into my routine when I run now! Yes – I actually prefer the negotiation – it just got tiring every day to negotiate a Xe Om prior to me learning how to drive myself to work!
By Janice June 21, 2010 - 11:04 am
Hi.. Which part of Vietnam you are living now?
I will be one of the expat to be there soon.
By admin June 21, 2010 - 12:01 pm
I’m actually in the US now, but I had been living in Ho Chi Minh City in 2008/2009. If you are going there, let me know as I still know many, many expats there and am happy to help in whatever way I can!
By Cindy C. July 12, 2010 - 5:32 am
In HCMC right now. Have been here for 3 days. Very hot, oppresive weather. Don’t think I’ll ever get used to all the scooters: they are everywhere!!! Got a taste of paying for wet nap last night. Just kinda laughed about it since it is VERY minimal. Will try to eat off food stall tonight. Good tip about tipping. Will stop tipping now, and not feel so guilty.
By admin July 12, 2010 - 7:26 am
Cindy – have fun! Yes – make sure you plan plenty of breaks inside in AC in order to not melt! I always found Wrap and Roll as well as Juice Bar great places to stop in for cool, refreshing food if you need a break! Have fun and let me know what you think of your time there! Oh – and you will get used to the scooters…else you’ll never get across the street!