Adjusting to a New Way of Life: From Spain to Vietnam

Posted by SE Vietnam - Student Exchange Vietnam

First Impressions: Vietnam

A few weeks ago, Gerard from Barcelona, Spain arrived in Vietnam, unaware of what to expect from this adventure. After giving him his orientation and introducing him to the hospital he will be working at, we sent him on his way to discover what work and life in Vietnam were like. When asked about his initial thoughts, Gerard shared, “the first day when I arrived here with jet lag and tiredness, I thought a motorbike would run over me, but the next day when I was well rested, I felt that my stay here would be challenging, but I should be open-minded if I wanted to enjoy this country as much as possible.” Keeping an open-mind is crucial to enjoying Vietnam. It is much, much different from the western world many of our students come from, so it’s important to come in open to whatever happens. Gerard has spent some time traveling around South America before and remarked on the similarities between here and there, “the smells of the streets full of people, the traffic, the food…it’s quite funny because South America and Vietnam are far away [but] I think they have a lot in common.”

After a few weeks of working and traveling, his thoughts had changed a bit, “I realized that I’m very lucky to be in such a beautiful country. People are very nice to you (if you are nice too), the traffic makes me feel more alive every day, the streets are always full of life and you can have fun in the city whenever you want, the landscapes of the country are breathtaking. To sum [it] up, I am very happy that a motorbike hadn’t fun over me, and I can still enjoy this amazing country.”


Gerard and his foreign colleagues in front of the hospital


First Impressions: At the Hospital

But after marveling over the wonders of Vietnam, it’s important to remember the real reason Gerard is here. Gerard is working at a local hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, one that is famous for surgeries here and is the only hospital that is able to make prosthetics. When asked about what he first noticed at the hospitals here Gerard responded, “The first thing that impressed me was that in every room there are about 15-20 patients…Because of this, I thought the daily work would be crazy because doctors won’t be able to do their job…but then I realized [the doctors must] work really hard and try to do the best for their patients.” Compared to the hospitals in Spain, “Basically, public hospitals don’t have [so many] patients inside the rooms, usually in every room there are two to three patients (maybe more if you are in the emergency department). We also have individual rooms for cases of infections with high resistance bacteria. Here because of the lack of resources [and overcrowding], they [have to] have all patients together.” Getting used to these differences can be very challenging for people in the medical field because often things they are taught get thrown out the window in developing/semi-developed countries like Vietnam due to issues out of anyone’s control such as overcrowding or lack of funding for up-to-date medical equipment.


Gerard and his colleagues all dressed up and ready for work in their scrubs!


Adjusting to Work in Vietnam

When asked how he has been able to adjust and adapt to this new working environment, Gerard answered, “Obviously you need to be really open-minded and try to understand why they work the way they do. You cannot pretend to change a whole system with the few weeks you are here, I think the best you can do is try to learn as much as possible. If you see something [that is not the way you are accustomed to], don’t criticize it.” Changing the system is an unrealistic goal, and as an intern, you come to learn. Gerard has recognized that things are not going to be exactly as they are in Spain, after all, he’s on the other side of the world. It’s important to keep judgments and criticisms to yourself in these situations and learn from your superiors about their methods. Being different doesn’t mean they are wrong, they must adjust to their given circumstances and do the best they can. Coming to Vietnam to work in the medical field is often very eye-opening for our students, yet also a very rewarding experience with a lot of learning opportunities.


Gerard getting some up close work experience


Adjusting to Life in Vietnam

As Gerard’s time in Vietnam continues, we asked how he has adapted and adjusted to everyday life in Vietnam. “The first difficulty I had to face was the food. It is very different from what we eat in Europe. The meal I had the most problems with was breakfast, I’m used to having just a mug of coffee with some biscuits, but here the first day when I had to face a big bowl of pho for breakfast, I was scared! Luckily, Ho Chi Minh City is a very modern city, and it wasn’t difficult to find a place that can fit to my breakfast meal. However, Vietnamese food is delicious (and cheap!), so I always try to eat it for lunch or dinner,” Gerard remarked. Aside from the food, Gerard has had to adapt in other ways as well, “Thanks to all the information you gave me the first day, my adaptation has been easier. In some moments when I was not sure how to act, I tried to remember the basic notions you told me and be as polite as possible. You must be very cautious because some ways to interact may be polite in your country, but not in Vietnam. I realized after this time that the most important thing is to be nice with people because then they’ll be nice to you too.” The Vietnamese people’s kind and welcoming spirits are often the first things noticed by foreigners. Even with a language barrier, Vietnamese are more than happy to assist the best they can. As long as you are nice and polite with them, they will return the favor tenfold. Has the adjustment been challenging? “Of course. All this adventure is really challenging. Traveling alone far away from home, doing an internship in Vietnamese public hospital, [adjusting to the different lifestyle here] … All these I hope will make me learn a lot about life and be more open-minded as well,” he said.


Out to eat with colleagues from the hospital



There is so much to learn in Vietnam, it would take centuries to do and see it all, but Gerard is making the most of his few weeks here. Between traveling around the country on weekends and getting that work in on weekdays, he’s kept busy and active. But is he enjoying it? “Absolutely. This adventure is one of the best times I’ve ever had and I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible,” he replied. It certainly seems like he’s doing a good job of that! We wish Gerard well as he continues his journey through Vietnam, and we are sure Vietnam already holds a special place in his heart now. Thank you for sharing your journey with us so far, we look forward to hearing more from you, Gerard!


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