This week I exchanged words with two individuals living abroad, Daniel and Reed.
Daniel, originally from Canada, has lived in six countries over the span of seventeen years. Married and with two beautiful daughters, Daniel now divides his time between a farm he owns in Buriram Province, Thailand, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Reed, a Texas native, has spent over two years residing in Hanoi after falling in love during a visa run. He currently works as a marketing manager for an export company and runs @HanoiHandbook, a resource for inspiration and knowledge regarding travel in Vietnam.
Continue below to see what they had to say.
I asked about their experiences settling into a new country, finding an apartment, renting vehicles, etc.
Daniel and Reed seemed to have found success by different means. Daniel, who began his travels before social media was in full-swing, relied heavily on the word of mouth of locals.
People are nice where ever you go. I have found way more people who have helped me than I have found locals preying on gullible, newcomer expats. Every place where I’ve had to set up shop I have always just lucked into the best rentals and the best transportation always with locals helping me. I bought a brand-new truck in Thailand in 2005, and I owned several luxury vehicles in my time in Dubai and an assortment of large motorcycles, all with great luck. And boy do I have the luck of the Irish when it comes to landlords. I shit you not 17 years I have never had a bad landlord. My current landlady in [Ho Chi Minh City] is such a sweetheart. I don’t know what she thinks about foreigners, but she drops a 2×4 of “333” beer off once a month. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I had quit drinking and they are starting to pile up.
Reed, on the other hand, leveraged Facebook’s communities to seek out verified shops, reputable rental agents, and other resources that were “tried and tested” by the expat community:
Before becoming an expat I didn’t realize how powerful of a tool Facebook can be. [Abroad] Facebook is the place to turn to for job opportunities, and apartment rentals, shopping, and everything in between. Living here without Facebook would have been 100x harder as you would be only relying on blogs, local agencies and local connections. It really only took me a month to get settled here whereas I think it would have taken a lot longer without it. I was able to find the most recommended place to purchase a motorbike, online shop for the best apartment, find work and group events to meet people at all through Facebook.
Trusting and relying on locals can sometimes be difficult for some, especially when there is money involved. The truth is that caution is absolutely necessary. The mechanic, landlord, boss, or even the police have been known to prey on foreigners. But, beyond all the scams exposed (and perpetrated) by social media, it’s important to open up and take risks, trust the local saying something you think too is good to be true.
When I asked Reed and Daniel to reveal some of the expectations or preconceived notions they left their home countries with, their response was unexpected but not surprising.
They both seem to have come at with their minds as open as the situations allowed. They consciously tried to keep from forming too many opinions, researching too much, preferring instead to explore and adapt accordingly.
I never do research. Basically, I am going with no preconceived ideas. Weird, I know, but it is the god’s honest truth. I never look shit up or watch YouTube videos. I just go. Worked well so far.
Reed, who is from Texas, didn’t know much about Vietnam prior to his arrival and his only contexts came from war movies and documentaries.
Honestly before coming to Vietnam I thought the Vietnamese people would hold a lot of animosity towards US citizens for the Vietnam War. All I had ever known about this place before coming here was war movies and documentaries. So in my head I had made all these assumptions about this place that absolutely weren’t true.
He goes on to echo Daniel’s experience with the locals.
The people I have met have not treated me any differently from any other expat here [due to my nationality]. More often than not they are excited to meet, talk and share stories. I can honestly say that from my experience, the majority of people I have met have gone above and beyond to help when I’ve been in need and have shown great kindness and hospitality towards me.
When asked to think back on their initial challenges abroad, the unifying theme among their responses is undoubtedly language.
Recognizing himself as an “adaptable and very tolerant” person, Daniel was nonetheless impacted by the challenges of language.
I am not very good at languages and it takes me about 6 months to feel at home in a new place. Hanoi was the absolute hardest of all my new homes and adjustments. But two years later when I left, although I was so fucking happy to be leaving, I had grown to appreciate the special things about Hanoi that you will find in no other corner of the world
Having taken Vietnamese classes with Reed myself, I know he immerses himself as much as possible and practices frequently. Not speaking to his language-learning abilities, Reed still encounters difficulty at times.
Today I am visiting my girlfriend’s parents in a more remote town and spent two hours getting all the things needed at the market that probably could have been accomplished in less than half the time […] in the US. There is a constant language barrier and while my Vietnamese is getting better it is still very challenging to speak after living here for almost 2 years. I will say my charade skills have become top-notch.
So far it has been interesting to see areas of overlap as well as areas of divergence in their initial experiences abroad. I’m thankful to both for volunteering their time and energy.
Learn more about their experiences next week as I grill them about their lowest lows and highest highs, find out if their experiences abroad have had lasting changes, and discuss their greatest successes on foreign soil.