09 Mar How it is to be an expat intern in Vietnam
Through this series you will learn more about the story of our expat interns in HCMC, what they have learned and experienced from their internship as well as the new life in HCMC (aka Saigon).
David Tuan Anh Nguyen profile:
David Tuan Anh Nguyen is a 22-year old born and raised in Denmark who always knows that he is Vietnamese in roots. David knows and likes most of the sports, or in his own word “sports freak”. He believes that the attitude of being genuinely outgoing, positive, ambitious and curious is the key to success.
Through Studysea, David has successfully got the position of communication & marketing intern at EuroCham Vietnam from January to June 2016. David is one of many interns that successfully combined European mentality with Vietnamese culture to get the best out of the experience. He is now back in Denmark pursuing a higher education and, at the same time, working for Favrskov Erhvervsråd – a business advisory company as a part-time project assistant.
Experience as Viet Kieu (Vietnamese abroad)
What drive you to take this trip back to Vietnam?
The main reason for me was the eagerness to learn about my roots since I was a child. I am a Danish in mind but a Vietnamese in blood and it was important to me to know where my family came from and how I could be more Vietnamese in mind. I know it is not possible to adopt 100 % to the Vietnamese culture but I was motivated to learn and experience the culture that I somehow grew up within but could only acknowledge a “small portion”. When I discovered that I had the opportunity to have an internship in Vietnam I tried to find a company with the aim to gain knowledge and establish a network for future connections.
On the other hand, I always want to contribute to the country’s development as much as possible. I want to help people gain knowledge, change business values and people’s mindset which I believe is possible no matter which background you have.
One of the other reasons for my newly gained passion for Vietnam was the vlogger Kyle Le. I really enjoyed him traveling around Vietnam, showing different angles of Vietnamese people and culture for better and worse.
As a Viet Kieu, what are challenges that you have faced?
The balance of my position in the society
Like many other Viet Kieu, I think the main challenge is to find a stable place in the society and figure out how local/western you are or can be. The locals have many different opinions about Viet Kieu for better and worse. I have trust in people but I am not naïve. Many Viet Kieus can be perceived as rich and spoiled who only came to Vietnam for the fun. Here it is important to stay connected to your own values but still be open to learning from the locals, I did try to show that I really care about the country, the people and that I was here to develop myself and support my surroundings.
The language barriers sometimes are also challenging. If you look Asian but do not speak Vietnamese fluently, local will stamps you as a Viet Kieu/foreigner quite fast and this can affect how they wish and want to treat you.
I have been lucky to grow up with a mix of Danish/Vietnamese culture and this is an advantage, personally as well as professionally. I grew up with strong values and I had the chance to “pick” the best from both cultures. During my internship, the interpersonal skills have helped a lot and made it easier to adapt to Saigon and the surroundings.
At work, the Danish working mentality helps me a lot with efficiency and my approach to work assignments. Moreover, I am an approachable and extrovert person in comparison to many Vietnamese colleagues. This gives me an extra advantage to work on external assignments that EuroCham had such as European Food Festival, Business luncheons etc. I loved and enjoyed representing the company’s face and name in those events.
Your solutions to overcome challenges and your tips to overcome downtime?
Seek advice from the people around you. I was fortunate to know about the culture before and the basic language and could always seek advice from my parents. So, for me, it was not that difficult. Be curious, positive and open to advice are the best ways out of downtimes.
Besides, create a network, join expats groups and get some friendships. Then you will be more likely to explore different areas, food, people etc. Be curious and the Vietnamese people will share what they can with you. I used Tripadvisor a lot to figure out what to do and seek advice from friends and colleagues. Saigon is a great city with a wide range of activities to do, if you’re curious enough, downtime will be awesome!
Recall the time when you were in Vietnam, what were the most interesting memories or challenges that you had?
The most interesting one was to learn more about the culture and the people whom I heard about from my childhood. We as Viet Kieus know a lot but not enough. I really enjoyed visiting my family in Rach Gia – Kien Giang (Mien Tay) and I created many new friendships with colleagues, locals, and Studysea interns/students. I had so many memories from Saigon that it is not easy to recall! Overall, I learned and enjoyed a lot in both local places & “western” places.
How did you spend weekends?
I spent it with friends and colleagues exploring Saigon and if time allows, I traveled to other areas of Vietnam. We did explore monuments, Vietnamese cuisine, Saigon many districts and also the nightlife from a local point of view and a more westernized point of view.
Experience as an expat intern
How do you describe your internship at EuroCham?
10/10. The organization and colleagues were perfect for a person like me. Personally, I like to take initiative and show what I am able to do and where I can be an asset. The internship was not perfect, but I took full responsibility and made it perfect in my own way. EuroCham is a busy organization with very competent people but it was possible to seek advice from top to bottom. The organization was flat and the hierarchy was not as strict as in many Vietnamese companies. I worked hard and earned myself some plus point in from my supervisor and Almut – my boss. I was trusted to be capable of representing EuroCham in different events, lectures and in general being able to be a face of EuroCham and not only a name. At last, EuroCham is a well established European organization with a major network, this has given an expat intern lot of advantages especially when living abroad.
Professionally, my biggest achievement was the European Food Festival and how much influence I had. Hard working pays off! Difficulties were minor to me thanks to Studysea, my background and the support I had from everybody. Small issues didn’t bother me! I overcame them quite fast thanks to my positive mindset.
In your opinions, what makes a successful internship?
A successful internship can be defined in many ways. From my point of view, a successful internship gives you the enthusiasm to learn, develop and challenge yourself. There should be a good understanding between you and the company. The company develops the setup for you and then it’s up to you to define it. It was successful for me because I learned to cross my boundaries and the company showed their trust in me. Through the internship, I learned to believe in my values and then the gold would come somehow. The gold for me was to learn from exceptional business profiles and prove my potential to be an asset to them now and future wise.
What have you learned and gained which is useful and beneficial to your future career?
I learned a lot about myself and which direction I would go in the future. It is in business consulting with an international perspective that I found myself fits best. The internship helps me realize how fortunate I am and that I can achieve everything I want. I gained good experience, created a network and matured a lot as a person. Now I know even more where I can contribute values and the trip gave me more ideas how I can do that. Furthermore, the reference letter from EuroCham definitely helps me when applying for jobs. I am lucky to have more options than before. The trip turned out to be win-win! Even when something did not go well you learned from it and come back even stronger.
I define what I want and Vietnam is one way to accomplish it. It opens more opportunities than what I could dream of. Then I learned a lot from my colleagues on how to engage, behave and succeed in a tough business world. In general, my whole business view was changed after my internship, I learned how tough business can be and how passionate I can be about business.
What do you think that makes Vietnam the great place to kickstart your international career?
Vietnam is a developing country and many expats see Vietnam as a potential future market. They can be manufacturing companies, education institutes, medical industry, tourism etc. The country moves forward step by step and the young Vietnamese are eager to learn! If you have a dream to succeed in Asia, Vietnam is a good step. It opens doors to other Asian countries and for an international career as well.
How Studysea’s support has helped to enhance your whole experience in Vietnam?
Overall, Studysea created a great package for me and the other interns. They really helped me to settle down and the Wednesday dinners were also great! I was able to try different food spots and expand my network and friendships with other interns/students. The whole process was easy and comfortable from the start and I was lucky to have some extra knowledge I could share with my Danish friends. I was honored to connect my Danish friends to the Vietnamese people/culture.
Thanks David for such an inspiring story. Studysea wishes you all the best in your future career, hope to catch up soon in HCMC.