It’s true, nothing beats the first time you travel abroad — you learn about yourself and the world, and you grow as a person. And traveling makes a lasting impact on your mind and heart, regardless of how far you’ve come.
To Lê Thục Hiền or Hannah to her foreign friends, being exposed to traveling at a young age nurtured her love for exploring new places and embracing different cultures. Growing up in a comfortable household, the Hanoi local was also introduced to learning English before she started formal education. She attended an international school in high school, which helped her “develop cultural intelligence and a good ability to transition to new environments quickly.”
Hiền earned her Bachelor of Professional Communication and Master of International Business degrees from RMIT. “I studied at RMIT University Vietnam, which had an exchange program that allowed students to study in their Melbourne campus for up to a year,” she said. “I went for that during my Bachelor’s, and I loved the experience so much that I decided to choose Melbourne again for my Master's studies.”
Melbourne became Hiền’s home for years, where her passion for languages and creative studies grew stronger. After working in both communication and marketing fields, “I felt like I needed to expand my knowledge of how businesses work, as I plan to start my blog or Youtube channel later. So I picked International Business for my Master’s,” she shared.
When asked what motivated her to study abroad, Hiền said it was the pressure of living up to society's expectations. “Growing up in Hanoi, I always felt pressure to behave in certain ways that society expects me to. I felt like people around me weren’t open-minded enough to accept individuals who think and act differently. Consequently, I never felt confident enough to live my true self.”
From how her outlook on life evolved when she left home and the independence she found living alone to becoming a lover of solitude and building relationships abroad, here’s how Hiền gets things done.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
As I’ve traveled quite a lot internationally before, living abroad wasn’t too shocking for me. I already knew what to pack, navigate my way around, and do during my first days in a new city.
The only thing I had to prepare was helping my parents get used to not seeing me daily and assuring them I could handle everything. My dad was generally supportive of my decision to leave Vietnam, but my mom needed more time. In fact, I had to discuss with her my plans to study abroad two years before I left.
On her daily routine:
It depends on which day of the week, but I’m usually up by around 7-8 in the morning. I then had a simple breakfast of cereal and milk, grabbed my lunch (that I had already prepped the previous night), and went to uni.
Between my classes, I’d occasionally enjoy my lunch, cup of coffee, or bubble tea, chat with my friends, and spend time in the library. I did some tutoring and freelance projects for uni, so the library is a perfect place to relax and complete my work. In the evening, I often cook my dinner. To save time and resources, I make bigger portions to bring them to uni the next day.
On days when I had free time, I’d have a picnic or explore the surrounding suburbs with a mate or two. You could hop on a train, tram, or bus and end up at a beach or rainforest in less than an hour. And don’t skip brunches - these meals may not be budget-friendly, but they’re worth trying from time to time—a feast for your eyes and tummy.
On what keeps her going:
As I mentioned before, it’s hard to get bored in Melbourne - you’ll always find something new and unique to try. I often visited sites like Timeout Melbourne or Weekend Notes to find new activity ideas and places I hadn’t been to before.
RMIT also has free therapy services for students, and I couldn’t thank them enough. Whenever I had problems, I could always come to them or talk to my friends for advice.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
I did talk to my parents once or twice a week and held video chat sessions with my Vietnamese friends every so often.
On building relationships abroad:
Initially, my friends were all Vietnamese. They’re mostly people I already knew before or those I meet daily (e.g., housemates). It was not until the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne that I realized I had to expand my social circles.
Being locked down at home meant I pretty much just socialized with my housemates and friends back home, and spoke Vietnamese most of the time. Then I realized my English was messing up, and making foreign friends was the only way to force myself to speak more English.
I joined a social mentorship program at university, where I joined a friend group where I was the only Vietnamese. They remain my best friends until now. One of them even let me stay at her place and helped take care of me when I had an accident a month before returning home.
On having an English name:
I do have one, Hannah. It is the name my first English teacher gave me. It doesn’t matter at school/uni, but it might make a difference in job searching. In Australia, locals are given priority over foreigners in job opportunities, so using an anglicized name makes it harder for recruiters to tell that you’re an international student.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
I like learning languages, traveling, swimming, writing, and crafts. I was a member of Kirrip (a social mentorship program at RMIT), a Vietnamese students’ association, and joined other clubs’ activities.
While staying in Melbourne, I noticed that many Vietnamese students do not engage in extracurricular activities or socialize with people from other cultures. I understand they have work and bills to pay, but if you’ve traveled from Vietnam to study here, you should find ways to make the most of your time.
I learned a lot about Aussie culture, made more friends, and improved my English by joining these activities. There are lessons I would not learn in a classroom setting.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
Top of my mind would be embracing that my thoughts and opinions would be challenged and changed in the most unexpected ways. For instance, I used to associate Islam with terrorism (from all the news I saw on TV), but the Muslim friends I made in Melbourne are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I realized that not everything I see or hear is 100% true, and I should always ask myself questions and observe.
In addition, thanks to the opportunity, I learned to do things independently. In Vietnam, if your lights go out or your bed/door breaks, you can call a tradie to help fix them. You can’t do that in Melbourne, as the tradies will charge you a hefty amount. As a result, I learned how to assemble a bed, a table, and a chair on my own and fix minor glitches in household appliances.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
Because of my experience abroad, I became more open-minded. I’ve learned not to judge anyone or anything easily and to always look at the situation from the bigger picture and multiple perspectives. This helped me solve many problems at work and in life effectively.
I also found ways to enjoy solitude. This can help when I don’t have anyone I can turn to for help. Besides, I developed hobbies I can do on my own and discovered that traveling solo is no less interesting than traveling with friends or family.
On dealing with challenges:
I sometimes miss my parents and furbabies at home, but thanks to video chat and social media, I get updates on them regularly.
The real challenge I had was dealing with the lockdown caused by COVID-19. Melbourne was hit the hardest in Australia, and we were put under a stage 4 lockdown - no traveling beyond 5km from your house, a curfew at 8 pm, and only an hour for grocery shopping each day. It was stressful, but I eventually got used to it and found ways to entertain myself.
Finding a place to stay could be pretty tricky as well. Melbourne has a free tram zone, but apartments within that area are tiny and expansive. Suburban apartments are bigger and cheaper, but that comes with transportation fees and not-so-convenient locations. Finding a decent place that meets all my needs is always a struggle.
Besides, if you want to sign a housing contract directly with the landlord, you’ll need to provide a bunch of documents, which can be time-consuming. Subleasing is another option, but the state government won’t protect you if something happens. I must admit that I had to move five times before I settled in a place that suited most of my needs.
On her hopes for the future:
Returning to Vietnam was never part of my plan. I initially planned to apply for a post-graduation visa, but I had a serious accident, and my dad’s health was failing back home, so I had to return to Vietnam. He passed away in May 2022 after losing his battle with cancer.
For now, it’s hard to say where I’d see myself in 5-10 years, as I’m still recovering from that heartbreaking loss. And as it’s hard to predict for that long, I’d say I’m doing well as an editor for an online media in Vietnam and will remain here for a foreseeable amount of time.
I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in the future, and if Melbourne gives me one more chance, I’d probably take that again.
This or That
Movies or books?
Movies. I’m not that patient to finish a book. I do read novels, though, just not too often.
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Shopping in-store or online?
In-store. I can’t recall how many times I’ve picked the wrong size shopping online, but I can always try them on in stores.
Instagram or Twitter?
Give a speech or write a paper?
Write a paper. You’ll probably hear more of “um” and “ah” in my speech than I’d be talking about.