Study Abroad is a series that explores the experiences, challenges, and lessons of Vietnamese international students.
Education is a gift that keeps on giving — regardless of age, where your home country is, and however far you’ve come. The truth is, the more you learn, the bigger it gets. And for 30-year-old Claire Nguyen, the gift to study abroad came in twice.
Originally from Hanoi, Claire had “a great childhood, a happy family, and supportive friends.” At a young age, she dedicated her time and talents to volunteering for the community and joining international camps, where she developed her confidence.
Claire is currently in London, UK, pursuing her Master’s in Promotional Media: PR, Advertising, and Marketing at the Goldsmiths University of London. But this isn’t her first rodeo. At 18, she left Vietnam to earn her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Events at the Swiss Hotel Management School in Switzerland.
Being employed by prominent names in the hospitality industry, Claire’s exposure to media relations and client solutions sparked her interest in returning to school and honing her interests. When asked what pushed her to leave her home country again for better education, she said, “Having studied abroad for my bachelor's, I miss the feeling of being in a foreign country, adapting and learning a new culture. At the same time, I want to broaden my career opportunities outside of Vietnam. And a boyfriend!”
Whether at 18 or 30, it takes a lot of courage to power through when you leave the comfort of your home. And just because Claire’s done it in the past doesn’t mean choosing to move away from home gets any easier. From her preparation before leaving Vietnam at 30 to her motivations in making the same decision she did in the past, here’s how Claire gets things done.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
Leaving Vietnam at the age of 30 took me on a roller coaster ride of emotion. It’s very different from the last time I moved to another country. I made sure I spent more time with family and close friends. I would go out with each family member separately while on holiday trips with the whole family. As for the things I flew out with, I packed light, for I already know what really matters to bring with me – myself and my dreams and motivation.
On her daily routine:
After the first few months of hectic moving in and settling down, I have finally reached a routine. I would wake up around 8 am (things start much later here), have my morning routine, go to university or the library on days I have classes, or stay home and catch up with reading. Besides that, I also have a part-time job at a bubble tea shop which is a lot of fun and keeps me in working mode (which actually relaxes me a lot). Despite my hectic schedule, I make time to meet my friends at least once a week. However, on any day, I always end it with stretching and 10 minutes of meditation.
On what keeps her going:
Being in a foreign country is tough. No matter how confident and excited and well prepared you are, whether you speak the language or not, it still gets lonely sometimes or often. But whenever I feel down, I reflect on my far journey to be here today. And instead of staying down, I feel a different sense of pride, which eventually becomes my motivation to move on.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
I keep in touch with my family and close friends as regularly as possible. I talk to my parents at least twice a week, the same with my best friends. I also keep in touch with my former colleagues through social media and get on calls with old friends.
On building relationships abroad:
I broaden my social circle when I first move to a new city, then narrow it down to friends I am comfortable with. My friends are from many places – India, Lebanon, and Poland. I also stay in touch with my Vietnamese friends here to talk when we miss speaking our language. The great thing about living in London is the strong Asian community, so I don’t feel too much of an outcast.
On having an English name:
Speaking from experience, it doesn’t matter. You should only have an English name when you want to. I didn’t have an English name during the five years I studied and worked abroad. Recently, I got mine since I found a close attachment to the name ‘Claire’ and decided to use it. But still, I am happy if my friends call me by my Vietnamese name.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
Studying abroad is a unique experience that allows you to grow outside your comfort zone.
Being outside my comfort zone – leaving my family, my circle of friends, and even my language – you need to learn from the smallest thing. From the simplest packing of stuff, dealing with jetlag, and doing grocery runs to the more complex things like building and maintaining trustworthy connections and keeping yourself safe in a new place.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
I get to re-learn these lessons right now, which made me realize I have matured a lot since the first time I learned those lessons. But sure enough, I somehow still made the same mistakes, like catching the wrong Tube train to the university. But that’s ok. I’m allowed to make mistakes twice.
On dealing with challenges:
It was tough, and it still is. Though this time, I am more open to my family and friends, which greatly helps. And make new friends here too. During the first week of uni, I would talk to as many people as possible, join every Whatsapp and Facebook group, voice up and be friendly. It helped a lot because my friends here definitely feel the same.
On her hopes for the future:
At the moment, I am focused on my final exams and then my dissertation in six months. Five to 10 years is really far, but I hope to be somewhere and do something I enjoy and make me happy.
On celebrating special occasions away from home:
No matter where I am, I always celebrate the holidays. For Christmas, since it's not something I celebrate back home (or at least the Vietnamese culture), I would try to do something with my friends or join a Christmas dinner with local friends. That way, I could meet new friends and find new ways of celebrating. For Vietnamese holidays like Tet, I would gather with fellow Vietnamese or friends from countries who are also celebrating it to do something together so I won't miss home too much
This or That
Movies or books?
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Shopping in-store or online?
In-store for clothes, online for mostly everything else
Instagram or Twitter?
Give a speech or write a paper?
Give a speech