Julia Plevin, a 22-year old American, works for an environmental NGO. In her spare time she also write articles on Vietnam that have been published internationally.
The first year after college is a challenge for most people. It serves notice that life is hard and work can be boring.
It is the first time many new graduates are living on their own – balancing checkbooks, cooking meals, starting new jobs in new cities, and making new friends. While starting a job in a new city in my own country would have been challenge enough, I’ve never been one to take the easy way. I decided to move to Hanoi for my first year of adulthood.
My parents were upset over my decision to take a post-graduation fellowship and work at an environmental NGO in Hanoi. They have never been to Asia and, to them, Vietnam might as well have been Mars.
Even through college, I would ask my parents for advice, although I was the only one who knew what was best for me. Always indecisive, I almost backed out of my decision to come to Hanoi. However, I finally decided that I needed the experience of living in Vietnam to fully become an independent person. I stuck with my plan and resolved to never again doubt any decision I make.
When my plane landed in Hanoi, I was terrified, but determined to create a life. I came without expectations and have found life to be both extremely challenging and gratifying. I used to think that transportation in New York City was confusing, but now the idea of orderly traffic and a subway system seems like child’s play .
I am also a runner and did not like having to run in Central Park in New York City, but now that I run endless circles in the Botanical Gardens, I see how luxurious Central Park would be for an urban runner. Beyond the traffic, it is intimidating to live in a city where the language is unlike anything I’d ever heard, where it is hard to find foods I am used to or shoes that fit my big feet.
However, the experiences that are making my first year after college more challenging than if I’d stayed in America are exactly why I am happier in Hanoi than I have ever been. A particular type of open-minded person is attracted to the dynamic life here and I have made some really close friends from all over the world. I am able to socialize with my friends while eating street food, trekking through Sapa, or attending social events at fancy hotels and restaurants.
And Hanoi itself is enticing. Discovering hidden Buddhist temples, taking epic weekend trips, going to fashion shows and art exhibits, eating new delicious foods, and communicating in a new language are just a few of the exhilarating and uniquely Hanoi parts of my daily life here.
I have approached Hanoi with an open mind and I have been rewarded.
I now have the beginner’s mindset that I failed to cultivate in college and am willing to try anything. There are so many people I want to meet and events I want to attend that I can’t find enough hours in the day.
After begrudgingly trudging through college courses, I am enjoying learning how to speak Vietnamese and cook Vietnamese food. There are many books I want to read about life and history here, but there is so much to explore in the city that I cannot make myself sit down long enough to read a book.
There is an energy in Hanoi that makes me feel alive and entrepreneurial. I want to start a t-shirt business here and I have started my own website, www.hanoi575.com. The website is a haiku project because I find the 5-7-5 syllable structure so appropriate for this fast-paced, highly-nuanced city. I hope to get hundreds of Hanoians to contribute haiku to the site.
So while I could have taken an easier route, starting my adult life in Vietnam has given me the confidence I need to face life’s challenges with grace…and a bowl of pho.
(When I can make myself sit down, I am writing about my personal growth in Hanoi on my blog: www.profoundfluxpudding.blogspot.com.)