Expats get to grips with new normal

10:31 | 19/05/2020
A sense of relief and normality is creeping back into Vietnam for the expatriates of the country, many of whom were without enough work while schools remained closed. And while complexities still abound, their plans can start to get back on track, with their social lives also being given a boost.
1492p24 expats get to grips with new normal
Expats in Vietnamese cities are relieved to finally be able to go out again

Aaron Levey, a 32-year-old from the United Kingdom, had his 2020 plans torn to pieces once social distancing measures crept in earlier in the year. He and his partner had been planning a major move to South America this summer after enjoying Hanoi and saving money by working as English teachers. The flight out of Vietnam was previously booked, but with coronavirus crippling the globe, it’s not likely to happen as scheduled.

“I have been able to mostly work from home, but ultimately I did lose some teaching hours,” Aaron said. “Other people I know have been more badly affected, but right now the biggest issue for most seems to be the uncertainty and costs involved in obtaining visa extensions.”

Aaron added that although his position isn’t one of too much strife, he knows of schools that are not putting on English classes for now while they get back up and running. Reopened schools are a positive for the country in general, but not all teaching expats can take advantage of it.

As for the visa issue, Aaron and others are required to decipher the ever-changing policies of both Vietnam and other countries when it comes to extending or renewing. The Vietnamese government was already in the process of overhauling some visa regulations in July, confusing the situation further.

“I had to extend my visa for three months in April, with two flights suspended the previous month,” said another British teacher, who has worked in Hanoi’s Cau Giay district ever since she first visited the country. “I had to pay $375 for the extension and also have not received a refund for either suspended flight as both airlines I was going to fly with are obviously overwhelmed with requests, and make you jump through ridiculous hoops to get your money back.”

While the ESL teacher is happy to have work again, uncertainties remain for her. “I’ve no idea when the school term is going to end for me, and work permit renewal is going to be a complex matter too. I’m so lucky to be in a country dealing with the global situation so well, but things won’t get back to normal overnight,” she added.

Towns and cities across the country have slowly opened back up in recent weeks, with previous daily activities that were perhaps taken for granted in the past being more appreciated today. “I wasn’t able to see my friends in person, or go out and exercise, which was difficult,” said Aaron. “I especially missed not being able to go out and have some pho whenever I wanted. However, I could keep in touch with people via video calls, which actually brought me closer to friends from back home.”

Elsewhere, university students have been back to school for some time. However, while Vietnamese students could finally return to their classes and enjoy the social life that comes with it, international students in some areas are still waiting for the situation to relax further.

Samuel Kim, a South Korean student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities Hanoi (USSH Hanoi), said he felt comfortable going out on the street again after being unable to do so during social isolation. “When I did go out occasionally while we had the distancing measures in place, I didn’t even see kids outside. It was so boring.”

Although Samuel enjoys the vibrance of Hanoi again, his study programme still takes place entirely online as some of his classmates are still in South Korea and China.

With the situation abroad remaining unclear and complicated, Vietnam currently upholds the regulations for people entering the country, meaning that everyone who wishes to enter Vietnam may face 14 days of mandatory quarantine measures – an understandably unpleasant barrier for foreign students to return back to Vietnam.

Samuel told VIR that “continuing to study online is quite okay and keeps everyone in my class safe – plus, we got kind of used to it already. I’m happy that at least most of the shops are open again and that I can travel around the city without worrying too much.”

For Samuel and his classmates, who all study at the Faculty of Vietnamese Studies, the prevailing security measures most likely means that they will not see each other in person this semester.

“The dangers linked to COVID-19 have not disappeared yet, despite the impression you could get here in Hanoi. I hope that Vietnam will continue with the decisive measures as they make me feel quite safe.”

Since studying online comes with overall shorter lessons, Samuel can spare his free time for some much-missed outdoor activities and to contemplate other important things in life. “I wish that Vietnam and its economy can quickly recover from the lockdown measures that had to be carried out, and that the rest of the world can also fight the virus successfully.”

Aaron from the UK expressed similar hopes. “I feel extremely lucky to be in Vietnam right now, as things are gradually returning to normal. Having said that, it is important to not get too complacent and assume the virus is never coming back,” he warned. “In the meantime, I’ll spend my remaining time here eating the amazing food and making some short trips to the countryside with my friends before we leave in the summer. Hopefully.”

By Hoang Minh

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