Adam in Vietnam
I’m Adam and I have been working for a small sustainable development NGO in Hanoi, Vietnam.
MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS
My immediate impressions on the drive from the airport was how busy everything was with motorbikes everywhere, and how unbelievably hot and humid it was. I was lucky enough to arrive with some other volunteers so I was able to share this initial shock but you do get used to it fairly quickly.
My project was working with a local NGO that does not have many resources to help support their work within the development field. My role in the project was mainly to assist in developing project ideas and write funding applications to charitable foundations. I also worked with the local staff to improve their English and edit documents they had written in English.
MY HOSTING SITUATION
I lived in a large volunteer house just outside of Hanoi with around 25 other volunteers, which was also the office of ICYE-Vietnam.
A TYPICAL DAY FOR ME IS…
I usually woke up around 6:30am to have a relatively leisurely breakfast of bread and fruit before leaving to walk to the bus stop around 8:00am. It was around a 20 minute walk to the bus stop where I would catch the local bus into the city, which took around 30 minutes to reach the office I worked in.
I started work at 9:00am and generally worked straight through until lunch at midday, unless we had any meeting to go to. Lunch was served for everyone just down the street in the house of the director of my NGO and was excellent home cooked Vietnamese food. I finished work at 4pm before catching the bus back to the house where I could relax with the other volunteers before dinner, which again was good Vietnamese food. In the evenings we often went to the cinema or to the local shopping mall to pick up some essentials and enjoy the luxury of air conditioning.
WHAT I’VE BEEN UP TO WHEN I’M NOT VOLUNTEERING
There is no shortage of things to do in and around Hanoi. On the weekends I often stayed in the city centre with the other volunteers I lived with where it was much easier to enjoy the sights and the nightlife. I also had the chance to go on various trips during the weekends to place like Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site that everyone has to see when they come to Vietnam. Vietnam has a lot of tourists so it is easy to sign up to trips during the weekends and it is generally very cheap.
THE MOST DIFFICULT THING ABOUT LIVING & VOLUNTEERING IN VIETNAM
For me the most difficult thing about my time in Vietnam was those days when you just wanted to blend in because you were tired or missing home, but obviously been a very pale tall westerner made this essentially impossible. Even though Vietnam has a lot of tourists once you leave the main tourist spots you will rarely see another foreigner which makes you a source of constant fascination for local people and you will generally always get charged a higher price just because of the way you look which can be irritating. However on the whole I found Vietnamese people to be very friendly and generally they are just curious, often they just want a chance to practice their English.
THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING AND VOLUNTEERING IN VIETNAM IS
This experience was a great way to really experience Vietnam and all it has to offer. I feel I would have enjoyed Vietnam a lot less if I had just come as a tourist. Some of my most interesting times were when I was on my way to work and you would get to see everyone going about their daily life in a way that is so different to Europe. I will never be surprised to see anything on the back of a motorbike again, be it roasted dogs or giant vases. It is a massive culture shock but once you get settled you will start to enjoy all the weird things you get to see. Also the food is absolutely amazing and ridiculously cheap and it is definitely worth experiencing Vietnam’s famous street food.
FROM MY VOLUNTEER PLACEMENT I LEARNT
I learnt a lot about myself during my placement and was surprised by how well I learnt to adapt to a culture that is so different to the one I am used to. This helps to boost your confidence a lot and makes me only want to travel more. I also learnt a lot about communication during my time, not just with Vietnamese people but also living in close quarters with people of many different nationalities really teaches how to express yourself in a way that everyone can understand. It is a real privilege to get to experience a country in this way and I would definitely do it again.