Mistakes I Made in Vietnam (and How to Avoid Them)

When you move to a new country, you’re bound to make a few mistakes. They’re unavoidable, and they’re ok. You really do learn from them. As an Asia-virgin with no solo travel experience, mistakes were frequent, and they were tough. However, I moved abroad to learn, and learn I did. I’ve compiled a list of my most significant mistakes when moving to Vietnam, coupled with advice on how to avoid them, so that you too can learn from my various blunders.

Not Saving Up Enough Money

I saved up just about enough to comfortably see me through the first two months in Vietnam (around £1500, though I can’t remember the exact amount), but I ended up getting a job a little later than I planned. My pay check to tide me through month three was much skinnier than anticipated and money was tight.

I was flat broke for all of June, and as a consequence, pretty damned miserable. I ended up renting a crappy room because it was dirt cheap, taking a job I wasn’t happy with and working seven days a week because I couldn’t afford not to. I felt a million miles away from the glorious expat experience I was supposed to be having. I could have made life a lot easier for myself had I just stuck at my office job for a month or two longer. A little dolla goes a long way in Vietnam, so even just an extra £500 in my pocket would have made a world of difference.

Advice: Save up as much as you can- it will be worth it, and make everything so much smoother. Try to get a job as soon as you can if money is tight- I wish I’d started applying before my TESOL course ended.

Taking the Wrong Job

This follows on from my first mistake; in my desperation for dollar bills, I accepted a not-great job in the middle of nowhere. It meant a lot of long and uncomfortable motorbike journeys during rainy season. The school were efficient and paid on time, but they also expected a lot from me and were very inflexible when it came to taking time off. I should have asked about all of this before accepting the job, but I was so anxious about money that I was in no position to be picky. I worked long hours for a salary that really wasn’t worth it. The schedule made meeting people difficult and I didn’t have much free time to experience the wonders of Saigon. I felt very homesick and was unsure about how long I wanted to stay here. I don’t think Saigon truly felt like home until I left that job, and I regret not doing it sooner.

The happy ending is that now I work roughly half the hours, make more money, can take whatever time off I want and have made some great friends in my new job. I’ve become more involved in the expat community, my social life is a lot busier and recently a few people I hadn’t seen since leaving ReadingStar have commented how much better/happier/healthier I am looking.

Advice: Sob story/moan over, BE PICKY ABOUT WHICH JOB YOU TAKE. Ask questions about time off, hours, work permits and exactly what is expected of you. Don’t make any assumptions. I work for VUS now, who I really recommend. But even if you don’t want to work for them, WORK FOR SOMEONE GOOD. DON’T WORK FOR READINGSTAR.

Putting Up With Too Much Crap

I’ll be honest: when I moved here, I was desperate for friends and roots. I was afraid of ending up alone in a totally strange country. Friends, I thought to myself, were the key to success and happiness. I don’t think that that was totally wrong, but I should have been more specific; they had to be good friends. I ended up spending time with a few people I later realised I didn’t really like, and yet I still wanted to be their friend. In my head, friends equated to safety and security. Yet it was actually one of my “friends” who made me feel the most insecure during those early months.

Don’t get me wrong: I made friends here who have been worth their weight in gold, but not everybody you meet is going to be golden, and that’s okay.

Advice: If you wouldn’t put up with it at home, don’t put up with it here. Certain people are detriments, not assets, to your life. Give people a chance, but if they keep letting you down, let them go.

Being Too Hard on Myself

Obviously, we all want to keep our mistakes to a minimum, but please, don’t be so hard on yourself. In the first few months here, I felt like I was perpetually screwing up, and I berated myself because of it. Every time something small went wrong- which was pretty much every day- I felt like a colossal idiot. I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself. Getting lost when trying to find the bank didn’t really make me a failure and having my sim card stolen didn’t actually mean I was the world’s biggest loser. Yet all I could think about when these things happened was how useless I was and how I should have been doing better.

Advice: Take care of yourself. You’re only human. You’re going to make mistakes. You will probably make a lot of them. Take some time out to breathe and ask yourself whether or not this mistake is going to matter in ten years, or five years, or even next year (most of them won’t!) Forgive yourself for the things you get wrong. If you don’t, they’ll only get worse.

For this post’s more positive counterpart (Things I Got Right in Vietnam) click here.

Have you ever moved to a new country? Which mistakes did you make? 

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16 Comments

  1. June 16, 2018 / 12:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience and helping others not to repeat your mistakes. I especially like your last advice that we all are only humans. It is so true. I hope you enjoy your Vietnam experience now!

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      June 16, 2018 / 2:05 pm

      Thanks Anita! I am much happier now and I’ve learned so much.

  2. June 16, 2018 / 1:42 pm

    I feel like those are great advice and can be taken into account for a lot of things! It’s okay to make mistakes its part of life, being an expat can be hard but it’s a unique experience.

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      June 16, 2018 / 2:04 pm

      Thank you! You’re so right, and it’s all been worth it.

  3. June 16, 2018 / 4:41 pm

    I think we all make mistakes when we travel. Skills improve as you take more trips but, with so many variations of what can happen, you will be confronted with a “situation” once in a while. On my last trip, we didn’t have a phone with an international data plan. That caused a lot of problems since a lot of the places where we were staying had no reception and you have to call so somebody comes to check you in. We were stranded in the street with luggage like two times. But, to me, the important thing is to learn from those mistakes.

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      June 18, 2018 / 9:54 am

      Yeah you’re right. It’s why travelling is such a learning experience. None of us will ever be perfect!

  4. June 17, 2018 / 1:32 pm

    Oh man you surely had some trouble in Vietnam. I can relate because I also worked and taught English in China. I basically just grabbed every work opportunity that came my way but I ended up too tired from work that I almost didn’t enjoy my time in China. Note to self: set some time just to enjoy. 🙂

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      June 18, 2018 / 9:53 am

      I really did! Sounds like we made the same mistake and learned the same lesson there!

  5. Ellie
    August 5, 2018 / 3:42 pm

    Loved this blog post! I’m considering applying for VUS! Do you have to have a TESL/CELTA to teach there?

    I’d love to know more about the HCMC branch, what staff are like, holidays and your overall experience there!

    Also, where you ever tempted to stay for another year?

    Thank you!

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      August 6, 2018 / 8:59 am

      Hi Ellie! Thanks so much!

      You should definitely apply to VUS. You do need a certificate to teach there (like all schools) but I don’t think they’re very fussy about which type it is.

      There are loads of branches of VUS in Ho Chi Minh City, with one or more in almost every district. Obviously staff and management will differ from branch to branch but in general the atmosphere is quite relaxed. They’re very flexible with time off- you can take up to twelve weeks at a time and keep your job, although holidays are mostly unpaid. I’ve had a great experience there and made some really good friends.

      I am indeed returning for another year in about a week’s time, and I’m so excited about it!

      Good luck,

      Hannah

      • Ellie
        August 19, 2018 / 10:11 pm

        Brilliant!

        Can i do an online TEFL and work at VUS or do i need to do an in person course?

        Can’t wait to hear about your adventures! Hope you enjoy being back

        • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
          September 10, 2018 / 1:54 pm

          Thanks so much Ellie! You can indeed do an online TEFL and VUS will still hire you, so long as you pass the demo class.

          Thank you! It’s great to be back.

  6. Jazz
    August 14, 2018 / 3:34 am

    Hi Hannah

    Just wanted to say that I love your blog and your honesty is refreshing. I really liked the paragraph you’ve written about friendship and sometimes pushing for one that really isn’t worth. I have that tendency but I am learning over time that it truly isn’t worth it. Really love your blog and keep the good work going.

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      September 10, 2018 / 1:53 pm

      Thank you so so much, you have made my day!

  7. November 17, 2018 / 8:00 am

    Ah, how much I relate to this post is astounding. I made the exact same mistakes. I arrived with an optimistically low amount of money and took the first job I could get. I read too much into how much my race played a part in my employment and settled way too early. Ended up living in Long Thanh, Dong Nai which in my opinion isn’t a great place. I was bitter only until I found my cosy little residence in District 3, on the more Vietnamese side of the area but when I got a bike and explored… Things changed. Great post, Hannah! 🙂

    • hannahstephenson1994@hotmail.co.uk
      November 17, 2018 / 11:49 am

      Sorry you had a rough time at first but it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who fell down that rabbit hole. I’m really happy it worked out for you too! Thanks so much 🙂

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