I was born and raised in Vietnam and attended an International school. I left Vietnam in 2013 to the U.S to pursue a higher education. I dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College because tuition was expensive. I then moved to California and enrolled myself in a community college. Finally, I transferred to LMU and graduated in 2020. It’s been quite a journey.
Now I’m back home in Vietnam visiting my parents. I love being home but at the same time, I hate it. I miss my privacy. I miss my “me time”! I miss my long walks during the evening sunset when I’m completely alone and free. My true self.
I’ve been experiencing a lot of reverse culture shock which has been difficult.
With the recent movements of #StopAsianHate I thought the issues that I once faced as a child growing up in Vietnam would never occur again. In many ways, I was hoping to never speak about this topic as it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Do you remember a time when you’ve felt like you were “less than” someone?
But I think I’m finally ready to share my story of the racial injustices I’ve faced as a Vietnamese person living in Vietnam.
When I visit a foreign country I try my best to learn the language, be respectful of the cultural norms, and make sure I am on my best behavior. After all, I am a guest in their home country. I think being mindful, courteous, and respectful is a universal language no matter where you go.
However, for foreigners and expats when they visit Vietnam that feeling is not so much reciprocated. Not all foreigners are like this. There are some very friendly and open-minded expats. But the majority of the time I’ve definitely had the feeling of “being less than”compared to my Western counterparts.
Let’s go back to my childhood.
I’ll never forget my first encounter with my Western friends at school. In grade 1, I wanted to join and play with these group of girls from Europe. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to play with me because I didn’t speak their native language. I always felt left out, unseen, and invisible during these years. I couldn’t articulate myself as I was very young. But I knew deep down inside that this didn’t feel right.
The only way to play with them was if I bribed them with my new Pony books. 🙁 I can’t believe I gave those books away. My Dad had bought these books from overseas and they were expensive.
In Middle and High School lunchtime was the worst! One table had all the Vietnamese kids sitting together and the other had all the Western kids. I don’t think anyone was welcome to sit at the Western kids’ table. They made it quite clear with their body language that all the seats were taken.
Now that I’m back home in Vietnam I can still sense the feeling of not being equal. And sadly I don’t know what can be done about this. Some days I feel hopeless.
Racism is not always so overt. It’s subtle at times. Like someone looking at you very strangely, staring at you and judging you.
I always get very upset when I see expats not treating locals with respect. I sense it through their superiority, entitlement, and their disdain for our local customs. I feel angry.
I think we should treat everyone with respect regardless of their race, gender, and age.
Here is my advice for foreigners and expats who visit Vietnam:
Please be respectful.
Vietnamese is the official language here. Not all locals can communicate fluently in English. If you want and thrive more in an English-speaking environment, then Singapore might be a better fit. However, try to learn Vietnamese! And don’t “look down” on the locals that are trying to communicate with you in English. Believe me, it’s a hard language. I just got lucky to go to an International school so please do respect and show compassion to locals who are trying so hard to communicate with you and embrace you in our country.
Please be kind.
You may not understand the culture, the customs but you can at least be inquisitive. Be Curious! Instead of expressing your distaste right away why not ask the locals why we do certain things?
You can also Google! There is plenty of articles, books and videos that can inform and give you a better sense of our values. It might be helpful for you to read Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions! There is plenty of literature that you can browse so you are well-informed.
I understand culture shock is inevitable and may take some time for your to adapt and adjust. But if you are living here long-term and you believe “your way” is still the best way because it’s how you do things in your own country. That is blatant disrespect.
Please be open.
We might not eat the same things like you do. Our food might taste and smell different! But that doesn’t mean it gives you a pass to criticize our food.
Lastly, learn Vietnamese! 🙂
I always think it’s very endearing when a foreigner is trying to communicate in Vietnamese. It shows that you want to be part of our community. We always welcome that!
Here is My Advice for Dealing with Racial Discrimination.
- Don’t take it personally. Most of the time these people who act superior have internalized racism. They are ignorant and there is only so much you can do. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. That’s their job to decide if they want to be open or not.
- You can confront the situation or disengage. You can make the decision to speak or walk away. Normally when I see an expat treat a local disrespectfully I say: ” Excuse me, would you mind asking this server kindly? I’m a local here and we don’t speak to anyone like that.” Most of the time they change their tone of voice or they ignore me. However, in some instances, you might want to walk away. Don’t beat yourself up if you choose to disengage. Some people will be provoked and you don’t want to add fuel to the fire. Best to walk away.
- Spread awareness. I’d love to know more about your story and if you’ve ever experienced racism and discrimination as a Vietnamese person. You can also blog, make a podcast, make music and use other mediums to express and be vocal about this issue. We can change the culture when we do this.
I am aware that racism is not a black-and-white matter. I’ve experienced racism, prejudice within the Vietnamese community here as well as being “looked down” on by the Vietnamese-Americans while I was studying abroad. Perhaps, I will share my experience in another blog post.
I also understand my advice for dealing with discrimination may not be as thorough as I want it to be. I have some limitations so I have to honor that as well.
If you are reading this and you are Vietnamese please know that you are not alone.
I’m excited for the younger generation of Vietnam. From what I’ve seen so far from the news the younger generation gives me a lot of hope 🙂
Goodnight from Ho Chi Minh City