Be You, Bravely – Maile’s Journey of Internship in Vietnam

Maile HL B
Meet our lovely intern from Oregon, the United States, Maile. She has been in Hanoi for roughly two months to work in a Public Health Internship at the Vietnam Public Health Association (VPHA). Maile herself is an outspoken and independent student who is very passionate about her major public health at the university and had overarching experience doing activities and working at fields related to public health prior to this internship in Vietnam. During her time in Vietnam, she has able to go out of her way to enjoy different experiences here (bargaining while shopping, travel with locals, move out of her own apartment,…) Maile stories are not the most special story about living in Vietnam you can find out there, but they are definitely very inspiring on a personal level. So we thought it would only be fair if we share with you Maile’s account on what she had  learnt, gained and experienced both about Vietnam and about herself during her internship in Vietnam. 
Here it is…
This post wont be a story or a lengthy update on the events going on here, but rather something that has been pressing on my mind lately. 
So last night I was starting to make dinner (might be a slight story), I had planned and prepped to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and my landlords son who is in his later twenties early thirties maybe, was eating dinner and strikes up a conversation with me while I start to cook. I don’t mind at all, we usually wind up talking when I am cooking and he speaks really good English as he went to college in the States. And he saw me pulling out all the ingredients: the rice paper, meat, egg, veggies, etc., and he asks where I go shopping – I tell him when I first arrived I did all my shopping at the Lotte supermarket, but it was expensive and a Uber drive away, so when I discovered the local market up the street I started to shop there instead. He immediately goes to tell me that I am so brave – now I chuckle and say its not a big deal, but he says that it is and that even he is afraid to go shop there and how do I barter with the vendors. I explain that I do a lot of non verbal communication and simple say a number lower in Vietnamese (I have the numbers memorized well enough to buy groceries now!) – again, “you are so, so brave”. After he left the kitchen, I made a mess of the spring rolls – I’m talking not edible, the rolls completely fell apart and wouldn’t cook, I ended up throwing it out and eating fruit for dinner – was 100% humidity and I was hot and frustrated after spending almost an hour and a half cooking. Was not my finest moment, but hey you can’t have every new recipe work out for you, can you?

At this moment – I was hot, sweaty, frustrated, and just didn’t feel like I was doing well let alone brave. 

But him telling me that wouldn’t leave my brain all night (didn’t get to sleep until 4am because of the heat) why did something as simple as going to the local market seem to be something courageous? 

This morning I got to thinking, it may not seem brave to me, but I grew up going grocery shopping with my mom and as a person – lets just say I am very outspoken and independent. So in my mind the local market is cheaper and I need to eat, so the language barrier is just a hurdle I will have to face. But I also realized its not just about grocery shopping in a local market, or dealing with me not speaking the language. This is about me learning valuable lessons as a person… 

So with a strong cup of Vietnamese coffee I began making some realizations about my internship – ones that are not the on the “academic requirements” or the “internship guidelines” for my degree

​1. “As the crow flies” I moved over 11,1196.1 miles away from home – alone, to a place I knew nothing about, a place that the US had a war with, a place where I didn’t even know how to say Hello in their language. That’s no small feat – especially when I have never lived anywhere except Oregon. I miss my home, my bed, my family, I miss being able to at least tell you the major highway that is by the city – I am lucky if I can pronounce the street I am on if I walk around Hanoi. 


Maile and her local buddy joing the Color Me Run in Hanoi.

2. I moved into my first apartment – ever 

I knew it was a big blessing to be able to live at home through college, but I have an even deeper appreciation for it now. I am paying bills – I pay for my running water, my electricity, shoot I have to buy water for me to drink as the water is not sanitary from the pipes. I certainly do not leave the light on, on accident when I leave for work in the morning. That means I am responsible for all my grocery shopping – if I don’t buy food and prepare it I don’t eat. The shopping also includes toilet paper, hand soap, and the coffee. Speaking of toilets I also had to deal with my toilet breaking TWICE in one week. 

Internship in Vietnam Maile

Maile making spring rolls with us in her new apartment

3. Uber is my transportation & it costs money 

Back home I am the proud owner of a truck named Mikey that I paid for myself. I can drive Mikey wherever and whenever – I am responsible for my time, but here I am at the mercy of my Uber driver. If I wake up late I cannot hope in the truck and speed myself there, I have to adequately time my morning to allow my Uber driver to come get me and take me to work. I am also at the mercy of the driver to be safe. Thankfully MOST of my drivers have been safe but I have had a couple rides where I legitimately shut my eyes and prayed I would get there safely. Each ride is a game of am I going to burn my calf on someone’s muffler today? Is the taxi behind me going to hit us? Is the old man on the bike overflowing with metal going to hit us? Are we going to hit him? Nobody knows! 
4. Street vendors can be PUSHY 

The first time I went to the local market by myself I had four Vietnamese woman aggressively calling me to come buy from their lot and to be honest – its rather intimidating. Especially when you go to pay and the start shouting in Vietnamese about the prices. I have learned that they expect you to barter the cost with them, but its tricky when you don’t want to disrespect them with a price that is too low because they rely on the minimal money they make from selling produce but you also don’t want to pay FOUR times what the Vietnamese person in front of you paid. Navigating the local markets is not easy, and sometimes you will still overpay for groceries – I did this morning with bell peppers and tomotoes for dinner, but not everything will be easy. Some days my favorite vendor has what I need and I get home quickly and without spending a lot, other days I meet someone new and over pay. It’s life – but you still have to barter and decide. 

5. Waiting in line doesn’t really work

The queue. lines. They are more of a guideline here. If you are waiting in line for something I guarantee someone will walk up behind you and cut in front of you if you hold back at all. Its not rude here, but if you are like me and you try to be polite and not counting the hairs on the person in front of you’s head someone will take the opening and you will get cut out of line. I noticed life is kind of this way too – you don’t need to be rude and malicious, but if you hold back things will pass by or you will be “cut” in oversight. I saw that as take advantage of the opportunities in front of you – but you can still do that with kindness and a smile. 

6. You will get pity looks for being alone. And it is okay to like being alone

 I am an independent person, but I love people too. The introverted extrovert – an ambivert I believe. Being a female here and alone – people look at you as if to say “where your boyfriend?” “Why she so lonely?” as if a woman cannot got to a movie alone or treat herself to dinner by herself. But I have also come to find that I enjoy the solitary time. I enjoyed going to the movie by myself – I could eat all the popcorn without having to share. The museum was wonderful – I could sit and rest my toes as long as I wanted, and I could reread the same exhibit information because I wanted to try to pronounce the ethnic group in my head. I was never afraid of being alone, but I have come to enjoy doing activities on my own even more here. I was always afraid of being rude if people wanting to hang out or do something with me too, but sometimes it is okay to say no – that this is a me date. 

​*I will continue this list and repost when I finish my internship in Vietnam

internship in Vietnam (3)
Maile visiting the local market where she finds her perfect pinapples and brush up on her haggling skills
​While these are not giant, earth shattering revelations – these are real. These are experiences I have never faced before. Let alone experienced in a country where I am the only one looking out for me – yes I have my wonderful host family, and friends from SE Vietnam, but they are not living in my apartment with me to check in like my mom does. Looking at all that I have grown with the last five weeks in reflection and not in the day to day like I had been – I am proud of myself. I like to believe I am a mostly responsible young adult, but since coming here I have grown quite a bit. I am more confident in myself, I am loving expanding my cooking skills (the spring roll incident included), I am learning to navigate confusion and frustration at work, I am learning how to budget my money, so I don’t spend the weeks budget on milk tea and milk buns, I am navigating how to communicate when I cannot directly express what I mean to say, I am learning how to balance missing my family and experiencing everything here. 

So, in conclusion – I do feel brave. This internship has been amazing and making grow as a person in a crash course, and it may not seem that big sometimes. But it’s helping foster what was there to begin with. 

Being me and simply me, bravely.
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