Home is where the heart is for these Vietnamese expats

Update: January, 29/2019 - 06:00
A Vietnamese language class for Vietnamese children in Bratislava, Slovakia. - Photo Courtesy of Association of Overseas Vietnamese in Slovakia
Viet Nam News

Khánh Dương

HÀ NỘI — For Đinh Khắc Cử, this year’s Tết (Lunar New Year) is set to be the most special yet.

For the first time in his life, the 70-year-old businessman will welcome the traditional new year in his homeland.

He is among about 1,000 overseas Vietnamese who gathered in Hà Nội last weekend to attend ‘Homeland Spring’, an annual meeting of overseas Vietnamese ahead of theLunar New Year.

“It is such a rush of excitement to see bustling streets with apricot flowers, peach blossom branches, kumquat trees and everyone in a hurry to make preparations. It’s truly the warmth of the homeland that I can feel,” he said.

Cử, who was born to Vietnamese parents in Thailand, has memories of Việt Nam through stories told by his parents and pieces of remembrance collected whenever he went back to the country to travel or visit relatives.

Despite rarely visiting his homeland, he is proud to be able to speak Vietnamese fluently in two accents – of the north where his father comes from and of the central region where his mother was born. Teaching Vietnamese to preserve and pass on his culture to the next generation is his and his Vietnamese wife’s passion.

“My children were also born in Thailand and mostly communicate in Thai at school and at work. But my wife and I always try to speak Vietnamese to them at home. Sometimes we have to use Thai to translate Vietnamese phrases that they don’t understand,” he said.

As an advisor of Association of Overseas Vietnamese in Thailand, Cử is an active contributor to Vietnamese teaching and other cultural activities to connect the community of more than 200,000 people.

Like Cử, preserving traditional culture by teaching Vietnamese is also a passion of Đoàn Lan Hương, a Vietnamese living in Slovakia and vice president of the Vietnamese women’s association in Slovakia.

“A lot of Vietnamese children in Slovakia do not know the traditional mid-autumn festival of Việt Nam. The women’s association every year holds the festival, even makes it a bigger event than the celebration of International Children Day on June 1 so that children who live far from their homeland understand the traditional festival meaning,” she said.

But Hương worries that many Vietnamese children who were born and grew up in Slovakia cannot speak Vietnamese, even though the 5,000 strong Vietnamese community in Slovakia holds Vietnamese classes every week.

The biggest challenge in Slovakia to teaching Vietnamese is the shortage of teaching materials and teachers coming and going.

The Vietnamese class used to be taught by the wife of an embassy’s official. However she returned to Việt Nam when her husband’s tenure finished. Then a Vietnamese student volunteered to take over the class but then she fell pregnant and left the job, Hương said.

“I always think language is the bridge connecting people with the culture. Only when they know and love their language, will their hearts go out to their origin. If they don’t love their mother tongue, they will never love their country’s culture,” she said.

Far in distance, not far from affection

Despite living far from Việt Nam, many young overseas Vietnamese have made contributions to their homeland.

Born and raised in the UK, Ty Phan, a young IT engineer, tries to help disadvantaged people each time he returns to Việt Nam.

He is among 50 Vietnamese members of a charity group called ‘Mái Ấm Việt Nam’ (Vietnamese Home) established in the UK in 2015. With the help of foreign and Vietnamese volunteers, the group has reached mountainous and remote areas across Việt Nam to help abandoned elderly, children and disabled people by giving them necessities and building houses.

Last month Phan and other group members presented flood-resistant floating houses to people in Tân Hóa District of central Quảng Bình Province, an area which frequently suffers devastating natural disasters.

“We want to help build community through educational and healthcare assistance to children and disadvantaged people so that we can give the people who are frequently prone to natural disasters power and inspiration,” Ty said.

The young engineer also hopes to establish an exporting company in Việt Nam.

He hoped the Government would continue to facilitate business activities of overseas Vietnamese and hold conferences on development and investment so young entrepreneurs have more opportunities to research the domestic market.


As well as a reunion, Homeland Spring is also an opportunity for overseas Vietnamese to meet with Party and State leaders, share their concerns and express their expectations.

Kim Bồ Ngô, a Vietnamese living in Canada who plans to start a business in Việt Nam, said that there are a lot of business, finance and investment opportunities for overseas Vietnamese, especially networking opportunities between Việt Nam and the world.

“I expect the State will have preferential policies to connect overseas Vietnamese with local authorities and encourage them to make investment in the homeland, contributing to the national economy,” he said.

Vũ Đức Lượng, renewable energy doctorate degree holder in the Republic of Korea (RoK), president of Vietnamese Students’ Association in the RoK and vice president of Association of Vietnamese people in the Rok, expressed his expectation that the Government will create conditions for young overseas Vietnamese to make contributions to the homeland, for example, facilitating those who wish to return to the country or through co-operation programmes between Việt Nam and foreign countries.

“I hope that with the support of Vietnamese Government, overseas Vietnamese, through various ways, can make contributions and share difficulties with the country in the global integration era,” he said. — VNS



Volunteers of Mái Ấm Việt Nam charity group make Chưng Cake (square sticky rice cake) for leprosy patients in Minh Phú Commune of Hà Nội’s Sóc Sơn District. - Photo Courtersy of the group