Youth set out on journeys of self-discovery
HA NOI (VNS) — He describes himself as an artist, designer, photographer and animal rescue volunteer, but 21-year-old Tidus Fair is about to add a new string to his bow - global explorer.
|Pham Anh Thu, a Vietnamese girl travelled to the Middle East during her gap year in 2011. More Vietnamese students are choosing gap year as a way to explore far-away destinations and find passion in their lives. — Photo Courtesy
Ha Noi-born Tidus (who only reveals his birth name on official documents) said he went straight from junior secondary school to college, skipping high school and dropping out of art college at the end of his first year.
Since then, he has had all kinds of jobs including motorbike guard, dishwasher, volunteer at the World Wildlife Fund and Save Japan Dolphins, comic book artist and freelance writer.
But in March, he will embark on the journey of a lifetime – walking around the world bare-footed and without a penny in his pocket. The idea may sound crazy to many, but Tidus has been planning his unique expedition since 2009.
"I want to determine my level of strength and whether I can survive in the real world," he said. "I want to collect real-life experiences and of course, enjoy the beauty of all the destinations I plan to visit."
The idea of a gap year – the practice of taking time out to travel, do volunteer work or embark on a working holiday – is taking root among Vietnamese youngsters.
In a society that places huge emphasis on work and education, some are shunning the traditional 9-to-5 job straight after school and choosing a path much less travelled.
Macca Sherifi, travel editor of gapyear.com – a global social network and travel advice website covering every aspect of a gap year – agreed the year out is starting to gain popularity among Asian countries.
Catching up with their Western counterparts, the younger generations in Asia are increasingly becoming more aware of "a world outside their own borders," said Sherifi.
"With the increase of social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter, people are being exposed to new countries and new experiences almost every day." "Friends post messages saying, ‘I've just arrived in Buenos Aires' or upload photos of Petra in Jordan. Seeing these things almost daily seems to awaken the traveller in all of us – people will want to explore, experience and share their stories."
Doing community work is among popular options for those seeking to better themselves and the world around them.
After graduating from high school in 2010, Pham Anh Thu wanted to defer going to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the US despite gaining a place.
Thu traveled to the Middle East, engaged in community activities such as building homes for residents, as well as visiting Syria and Israel, Jordan, Libya, and Jerusalem – the holy city to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
"Meeting people from different countries and religions taught me that we all have one thing in common – and that is working towards better lives," Thu said. "I used to study all the time but after spending time in Jordan and learning more about life, I feel it's most important to take a keen interest in what you do and find the core meaning of it."
Nguyen Gia Ngoc, 20, was recently accepted to St. John's University in the US. Ngoc said he wanted to take a two-year gap to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, although it meant starting university later than his peers.
During the two years, Ngoc volunteered to teach SATs (an standardised test for admissions to US universities), sell greeting cards and indulge his passion by learning about psychology.
"Gap years are more popular in Western countries because after finishing high school, most young people start living on their own," Ngoc said. "Most of us in Viet Nam have no idea what we want to do or learn in university, so it's best to reflect on our ambitions and take time out to decide."
Le Minh Hieu is the leader of Ha Noi Couch-surfing, part of a global network of couchsurfers , the practice of moving from one friend's house to another, sleeping wherever space is available.
Most couchsurfers are those on a gap-year or an extended trip to take in a variety of destinations. Hieu said an increasing number of young Vietnamese are joining their foreign counterparts in exploring, partly due to the internet causing "the world to become more open."
Ha Noi Couchsurfing has catered for travellers from all around the world when they stopped in the capital as part of their extended journey.
"They want to see with their own eyes how people live in foreign countries and not just what is portrayed in the mass media," he said.
Among the inspiring travelling stories is that of 22-year-old Nguyen Thi Khanh Huyen (better known as Huyen Chip), who has become a facebook sensation among youngsters after releasing her book "Pick Up Your Backpack and Go" in September, selling over 5,000 copies in the first four days of release, according to an online bookstore.
In two years, Huyen Chip managed to visit roughly 20 countries with a start-up budget of just US$700, making friends across the world using the couchsurfing network, as well as working and exploring in cities across the world.
Though her story was widely featured on media channels and credited with sparking a new travelling trend among Viet Nam's 90s generation, explorer-to-be Tidus says he doesn't want his story to be classified as part of a trend.
The trip, Tidus envisions, could last for many years, while his goal is simple. "I just want to come back as a different person," he said. — VNS