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Homecoming challenges test returning students

Update: April, 28/2015 - 16:14

by Moc Mien

Every day, a sizeable number of Vietnamese youth get the opportunity to study at renowned universities abroad, making up a new generation of competent workforce that is well equipped and possesses a global worldview.

The country is proud of such talent, who receive multiple scholarships from universities around the world, such as Ton Nu Ha Anh, Ngo Di Lan, Hoang Tu Anh, to name a few.

However, the homecoming experiences of students, who have studied overseas, are often overlooked. As a matter of fact, quite a number of students find their life back home challenging in many aspects.

The difference in working style and life values results in a struggle, whose origin is hard to define.

Dang Kim Anh, 26, made such an arduous journey back home. Having studied in the United Kingdom for seven years, she majored in critical psychology at the University of Westminster, London, and graduated with master's degree.

Taking psychology as a major had a huge impact on her: she started observing and questioning things in her daily life, and challenged societal conventions. Given her personal crisis, Anh decided to go back to Viet Nam, instead of continuing with her PhD studies.

But she felt shaken after returning to Viet Nam as the field of psychology was still largely overlooked in the country and she could not find any outlet for her intellectual curiosity.

"In the United Kingdom, there are numerous professional conferences on psychology, where I can easily network with other psychologists for new ideas and share my own. Attending these kind of events is my dream in Viet Nam," Anh said.

Unlike Anh, D. Nguyen, 33, has a more well-defined professional outlook. He graduated from the Toulouse Capitol University with a Bachelor's in economics and a master's degree in information technology (IT).

After having studied in France for a decade, he took the decision to return home and take care of his family. "I'm working for a foreign company at the moment so the salary is good."

"Compared with France, living costs in Viet Nam are much lower and life is also easier. I can afford more things for my family," Nguyen said.

The fact that IT in a developing country like Viet Nam is an applicable field and in high demand has made Nguyen's transition a far more easier one than Anh's.

"Everything was good in France, but given the improved life quality, I'm happy here," Nguyen said.

Both Nguyen and Tran Huong Giang, 28, have experienced limitations in the working environment in Viet Nam.

"The problem is the way in which a problem is approached here. The scientific field has helped me develop an analytical mind set for dealing with problems. However, the dominant culture in Viet Nam's workplaces is heavily emotion-driven, somewhat superstitious," Nguyen said.

"People just don't make decisions based on solid reasons," he added.

Coming back to Viet Nam with a bachelor's in marketing after seven years studying and working in Germany, Giang was surprised by the stark difference in the working methodology between German and Vietnamese firms.

"In Germany, the marketing department directly plans the selling campaign for every product, equipping it with all the necessary marketing materials. However, in Viet Nam, the sales department has all the say in both the marketing campaign and the marketing materials," Giang pointed out.

Besides working operations, an uncooperative, bureaucratic company structure, along with an uncooperative work culture, and even dispassionate employees are few among the many other drawbacks Giang talked about.

Even though most students who study abroad face a different reality when they return home, each person has their own assimilation strategy.

"This so-called existential crisis made me withdraw from the outer world into a shell and I took an interest in writing. It helps me reflect upon who I am, who I want to become, and what values I want to bring to the society here," Anh said.

Writing helps her overcome a mental block and she has started taking action aimed at some change. At the moment, Anh is incubating a non-profit psychiatry service for children, aged 10 to 17, with mental impairments or illnesses.

She is also collaborating with two local psychiatrists, who directly diagnose and provide treatments to patients under Anh's supervision and a lawyer, who takes care of legal matters. The project has given Anh a chance to re-examine what matters to her in life and taught her a good lesson about adaptation.

Nguyen was luckier as he sought help and support from his old friends. Thanks to them, he managed to overcome the challenge of getting used to the working environment in Viet Nam, and more importantly, filled the gaps in the working method and professional mind sets in France and Viet Nam.

After working at and quitting several companies, Giang has also finally landed a job she is relatively satisfied with.

The homecoming period is definitely a challenging yet exciting part of studying abroad.

T. Le, 23, came back to Ha Noi last summer after 3 years of studying interdisciplinary arts and working in the United States. Since last year, he has participated in an independent film production, and facilitated dance classes with help from friends, which was his dream in the US.

"Even though the vibrant arts scene in the United States is appealing and incomparable, the living costs here are much lower than that in the States, which has enabled me to invest more time and energy in my personal artistic pursuits. Everything is new and you have to start everything from scratch to be able to succeed here."

Le realized that art was his calling in life after landing and quitting various unsatisfactory jobs.

"Trying things out helps me test my boundaries and confirm the direction I am taking. You understand yourself better and trust your instincts more after each time," Le explained.

In conclusion, while it can be more challenging for some individuals, there are opportunities for students studying abroad when they return to Viet Nam. The essential ingredients for success are the ability to adapt quickly to a new environment, to self-motivate and take actions to change the status-quo, and develop a can-do attitude.

I hope that students who have studied abroad will start looking at homecoming as another exciting chapter in their careers and fill it with more challenges that have to be accepted and the many lessons that have to be learnt. Coming back, just like going away, is an enlightening journey itself. — VNS

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