Ngoc went abroad at the age of 13 and graduated from St Mary’s College in Moraga, California with a degree in Business Administration. After graduation she worked at Macy’s as a Sales Manager for 2 years. She came back to Vietnam in 2013, and two years later Ngoc joined BVIS as our Translator and Copywriting Officer. We asked Ngoc to share with us her thoughts on her experience studying and living abroad for 11 years.
When and why your parents decided to send you to study abroad?
When I was 13, my parents decided to send me to study in an English-speaking country because they thought that moving abroad at a young age would make it easier for me to get accustomed to a new culture, and that living abroad will considerably improve my English. In 2002, there were hardly any good international or bilingual schools in Vietnam for my parents to choose from, so to achieve these goals, going abroad was the only choice at the time.
What was your experience of moving abroad as a teenager?
At the beginning I was very excited about the idea of going abroad; however, the first few months turned out to be the worst experience I had ever had. I went from being very happy and confident living in Vietnam to being anxious, stressed and very unhappy when moving abroad. I was in a new environment, had to make my own decisions, do everything myself, learn new things by myself, and all of this while badly missing my family and friends. I am lucky that I am such a strong and resilient person, but many other international students fall into depression or develop anxiety disorders.
What challenges did you have to face when you were there?
When I moved abroad, initially I really struggled with my English, and therefore I felt extremely isolated, lonely and abandoned. Even though I knew that my parents sent me abroad to give me better opportunities in life, but it was very hard. As a 13 year old girl I found myself not only living in a new country, but also living in a new home, learning a new language and being unable to express myself, on top of all other issues every teenager has to deal with – it was too much to take in. After the first 2 months, my English started to improve and I began to make some friends, but just a couple of years later I had to face another problem. When I turned 15, I badly needed guidance and advice of my parents, yet being so far away and not being able to speak to them in person on a daily basis had created an emotional distance between us. A strong contributing factor was also the Western culture that I was being exposed to, which doesn’t value close family relations as much as we Vietnamese families do.
Did you think your parents made a right decision sending you abroad at that age?
I understand why my parents sent me abroad and it certainly gained some very valuable experience from living abroad for a number of years. However, I wish my parents let me graduate from high school here, and then send me abroad to study at a university there. It would probably have given me the same benefits in terms of my English and learning about a different culture, but I would have been better prepared for dealing with anxieties of living away from my family and friends. My experience of studying abroad made me more independent and open-minded, which is great, but I sometimes wish that I could be more Vietnamese. It was culture shock for me to move back to Vietnam after growing up abroad from the age of 13, and I felt more like an outcast here than a happy Vietnamese person returning home after a long absence. I didn’t have any connection with my mom because we have such different mindsets now, which made me very upset, and it took me a long time to fit back in here, in my own birth country.
What advice could you give to parents who are thinking about sending their children abroad?
If you are thinking of sending your child abroad, please wait until they are old enough to be on their own and mentally prepared. Please remember that teenagers need structure, not the freedom to do whatever they want without parental guidance. Nowadays, parents have the luxury of sending their children to an international school, where your children are being taught in English and Vietnamese. They study with teachers who come from English-speaking countries, and therefore are getting used to Western culture gradually. Most importantly, talk to your child before sending them abroad –after all it is their lives that you are deciding on.
If you would like to speak to Ngoc about her experience in confidence, please email her to arrange a meeting or ask her any questions you might have: