by Trung Hieu-Nguyen Linh
Looking at the record book of Nguyen Bich T, no one can guess that she is a third year student at the English Department of Foreign Languages University.
The 23-year-old girl has been doing domestic work to earn money since her first year, to reduce the burden on her parents.
She has a lot of experience working as a tutor and a waitress, and now she is a domestic help for a foreign family working in Ha Noi.
"I found this job accidentally but this work has brought me substantial income," she said.
Every day, T gets up at 5.30am, cycles nearly 6 kilometres to her employer's house and begins her work.
The job includes cleaning the house, arranging flowers and preparing coffee and breakfast for two children. The job seems simple enough but she has to finish all work and dress the two children by 7.15am every day when the driver arrives to take them to school.
The school is not far from their house but the children's parents want them to stay away from the complicated traffic of Ha Noi. So T has to accompany the children to school always.
After that, T returns and begins cleaning the entire house and wash the family's clothes in the washing machine.
While working, she also "glances" at her notebook to prepare for her class in the afternoon.
At 11.30am, she locks the front door and leaves. The parents pick up their two kids in the afternoon and another help prepares dinner for them.
T said she took a few months to search and compete with other candidates - just as rigorously as applying for a company job - for a part-time job with an income that is not low for a student (VND2.3 million per month). Many young students work happily as domestic helps for a salary that can make others "envious".
This work is not too hard and involves jobs like cleaning, doing the laundry and pet care. Some "higher-level" helps teach Vietnamese to foreigners or play with their children. This job can improve communication abilities and the salary is high. So many students like doing it.
If working for Vietnamese families brings a monthly salary of about VND2.5 million each month, the help can be paid up to VND8 million or about US$370 a month by foreign employers.
Also, if she does a good job, the help can get a bonus. Those who work for a long time can receive their 13th month salary too and travel with the family.
Mai Phuc Hung, director of P H Company Ltd in Doi Can Street which specialises in job promotion, said the domestic help services for expatriates has been there in Viet Nam (mostly in Ha Noi and HCM City) for a long time but really blossomed only in the last few years.
"Not everyone can do this job. An imperative condition is they should speak foreign languages, have good health and have a clear CV. This is because when they hire you, the help is like a member of that family with her own keys. We aim to hire students or people who have recently graduated and have not found a job yet," he said.
Ngoc Bich, a student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, worked as a helper for two years before she graduated. While she was looking for a job, she got the employer's offer to work for his company.
"Thanks to the time I spent working as a helper for David, he recognised my ability to do a good job. So he invited me," Bich said.
Earning a living with hard work is not bad, but most of these helps are shy and don't want to talk about their jobs.
Student T said: "We earn money with our labour but many people have expressed their disdain when talking about this work. Some considered us an inferior class in society. So we avoid talking about it. Even my best friend does not know about my job. She still thinks I worked for an office."
For several years after graduating from Culture University, Tran Thanh H could not get a job till she found one as a help with a German family in Tay Ho District.
Her employers are fond of her, considering her good social behaviour, English skills and ability to play the piano.
H initially did simple work. Now she is teaching three children Vietnamese and how to play the piano. That means her income has increased. At present, her salary is nearly VND5 million a month.
"I've been doing this work for over two years and will continue to do so until the host family returns to their country," she said.
However, H still sighed: "Doing this work, we are often looked down by many others, so I did not tell anyone at all. Even my parents, brothers and sisters still believe I work for a company. Surely, if they come to know, they will protest."
Sometime, fortune smiles on those who work hard.
T has been introduced by her host family to teach Vietnamese to their friend who has just arrived in Ha Noi, after they learned about the life of the energetic and poor student.
My Lan was born in a well-to-do family, but the Ha Noi University student still works as a help for a French family. The husband and wife are away during the day, while their two daughters study at an international primary school.
Lan comes to clean the house daily and goes to buy food according to the family menu.
"I like working with westerners. They respect us and if we can do a good job and keep their house tidy, they love us," she said.
"In addition, they asked me to teach Vietnamese to their daughters. Thanks to this job, I have learned the life style of the Westerners. In this new academic year, I did not have to ask my mother for money anymore." — VNS