Culture shock at its finest
25 October 2019
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Having finished my degree, I decided to take some time to travel and work abroad - and Vietnam was the destination. My companions were 3 girls... and we were ready for adventure. We did our homework and were well prepared. I remember telling everyone, 'I'm fully prepared for a culture shock'. Little did I know.

We did everything through a well-established company that repeatedly assured us of their legitimacy, and that they were the best and safest option for us. So off we went, bags packed, ready for a year of travel and exploration. After a week of training, we were placed in a very small, rural city. English was non-existent as was any trace of a Western lifestyle. The jobs we had were not difficult, in fact too easy. Some might find that working in the evening has its perks. But it didn't work for me. I could not get used to having nothing to do all day... and time dragged.

The town offered a choice of two coffee shops, both with very average cappuccinos. Going out for a Western-style meal was not an option, unless you count the below-average pizza restaurant. Stepping outside of our air-conditioned flat was the cue for immediate sweat from head to toe - literally. The heat was unbelievable, so was the Vietnamese idea of a braai which included entire pigs... or dogs!

Our "legal, very safe" company messed up. We discovered that for the first few months of our time in the country, we had not been working legally. Someone at the company phoned to inform us that we were being relocated for a week - we did not yet have work permits and the police were on their way to do a check. Wait, what? How were we so blissfully unaware of this? The police raided many times after that, and often teachers were sent away or made to stop work until the police had left. We were terrified of being deported. Our safe and legal company had also neglected to tell us about the 183-day tax law in Vietnam. If you leave the country within that time frame you become liable for a huge tax fine. One of the girls who came over with me went to visit her aunt and uncle in Malaysia, returned to Vietnam for two months and then decided to take a job in Cambodia. Big mistake. Her final payslip was taxed at 50%.

My 8 months in Vietnam taught me many lessons. I was forced to grow up and handle whatever came my way. I was pushed way out of my comfort zone and realised how incredible South Africa is. Like many other countries it has problems, but trust me, we are very lucky to be here. The greatest lesson was leaving expectations behind when stepping into something new and different. You can never be fully prepared for anything, and that's okay. What you can prepare yourself for is that things will be out of your control... and you'll just have to roll with it and come out smiling. I am really grateful for the experience, but incredibly happy to be back and following the career of my dreams.

By Dani Spall
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