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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Bien Hoa, Vietnam

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Bien Hoa

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

I didn't get any pre-trip training. Nor did I seek it out, which was my mistake. I had lived in SE Asia for a couple of years when I was a child, so I didn't expect to be "shocked".

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I knew nothing of Vietnamese before I moved there. I didn't even know which writing system they used. I spent six months there & tried very hard to learn the language, but it was very difficult to learn, not only because the language itself is difficult, but it was difficult for me to meet Vietnamese people to practice with.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No. I didn't expect to be "shocked" at all. It was only later that I realized that the frustration I was experiencing was culture shock.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Pretty significant. I was so unhappy there that I moved away after only six months. I didn't realize that my frustrations were due to culture shock. If I had known that while I was experiencing it, I might have been able to stay there longer. It's important to understand what culture shock is to be able to recognize it in yourself.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Sure. At first I was excited to be living in another country (honeymoon stage), taking lots of photos & describing my daily life on my blog. Then found myself increasingly irritated at the cultural differences, & I moved away before I reached any of the other stages.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Frustration, homesickness, anger, depression.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I love being able to ask how old someone is.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

It's very difficult to be a Western woman living in Vietnam. The Vietnamese culture is very male-oriented, so it took several months before I was able to make any friends - & then it was just one friend. I felt lonely most of the time.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

I probably did, but you get away with a lot in Vietnam. They just figure you're weird because you're a foreigner. For example, Vietnamese women don't drink or smoke unless they're prostitutes. But I could do both without consequence because I'm a foreigner.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

I think the most important thing when dealing with culture shock is realizing that you're dealing with culture shock. You're not crazy. The frustrations that you feel are a normal part of the process of adjusting to a new place & a new culture. Once you understand that, it's much easier to handle.

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Comments about this Report

Sep 17, 2010 23:20

You mentioned that being a woman in Vietnam was harder as it is Male dominated. I am looking at living there for 2-5 years with my Husband and three daughters. They will be attending international school but you have given something else to really consider. Thank for your honesty.

Dec 16, 2010 02:06

Hello, I am Peter and come from US . Now, I am living and working in Viet Nam, I hve lived in Viet Nam for 5 year. I feel interesting when living in Viet Nam. It has brang me many new experiences in my life. At first, I had difficulties such as language, culture, life style and so on. While changing weather could affect health, different culture and customs might influence my mind and made me become less confident. Every day, I had to struggle for survival in a strange country. And now, I adapts to a new which is a real challenge for evey foreigner. I have chances to dissover new culture, ways of thinking, history, custom and life style. As a result, I had overcome myself and had the interesting experiences as I had expected. Now, I am living with my family in rent house Ho Chi Minh. The rent house is very convenient with full facilities. I am satisfied with present life in Viet Nam. Living in Viet Nam is really a interesting life. You can visit our web: Living in Vietnam Thanks,

Feb 17, 2011 02:12

Should have stuck it out. Guess that's all a part of being new to Asia. I live in Bien Hoa. Been here 7 months now, love it, and have lived in 7 countries around the world and have extensively traveled through about 20. I am also a female (25) and though sure at first it's hard to make friends and find your way around, if you stick it out and send positivity out there, things usually turn around. Also managed to find a few foreigners in town too which makes things better.

May 8, 2013 01:40

I've been living here for over 5 years now and I absolutely love it ! The people of Bien Hoa are actually quite friendly. They are very curious about Foreigners and eager to come to know and understand them. You should have learned a little Vietnamese so you could communicate with them - and even spend some time drinking with them on the weekends. I hate to think you felt that way while living here all that time. What a Tragedy ! Well, good luck in your future travels.

Sep 9, 2013 04:19

i am staying in Vung Tau, Vietnam and I am very happy. When yor in another country, cultural change will bound to come but if you see in right prospective then Vietnam is quite better place than many countries, people are cool, peaceful, cheerful and happy and they welcome strangers with smile. I love Vietnam, any body who does not like Vietnam problem is with him or her and nobody is forcing to stay them here

Mar 22, 2015 23:39

regardless of your disposition, life in Vietnam can come with a number of frustrations. the culture here is significantly different from the west and accomplishing some simple things can require more effort than might seem reasonable. 'Foreigners', like Myself are given a high degree of latitude so whatever cultural mistakes i might commit are quickly forgotten. If you live in Bien Hoa or the surrounding area you might try to reach out to other Westerners, such as myself, for the occasional chit chat over coffee lest your inherent conversational wit might waste away

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