My Experience As An American Educator Living And Working In Vietnam During The COVID-19 Pandemic
Myles L. Lynch lives in Hanoi and works for Points Avenue, an education technology company in Vietnam, as its Head of Research and Development and Teacher Training.
After graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 2019, I moved to Hanoi, Vietnam and have been living here for the past 10 months.
I found an apartment, bought a motorbike, and have been clumsily navigating social situations with limited Vietnamese proficiency. I made the choice to move to Hanoi for an opportunity to work for an education technology company named Point Avenue.
Although I am currently living in Vietnam, I catch myself focusing on how the United States has responded to the outbreak. I think: “Social isolation was encouraged over two months ago in Vietnam” and “I can’t believe American schools are still open.”
Regardless of these feelings, the only path forward is to adhere to proven best practices and guidance. Vietnam was prepared for the outbreak and most importantly took quick and necessary measures to reduce its impact. Furthermore, many Vietnamese people focus on community engagement which leads to mutual understanding and support of human basic needs.
Vietnam has done an exceptional job aggressively enacting preventative measures to help mitigate the effects and spread of COVID-19. As of March 20, there are 87 cases and zero deaths in the entire country (source: Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Center). Given the proximity of Hanoi, Vietnam to the initial outbreak area (1358 km or 844 miles: Wuhan, China) and the size of the population (95.54 million), these results are quite impressive.
In general, people in Vietnam have been listening to the guidance from the government and holding each other accountable to meet these standards.
What Vietnam Has Done
Overall, Vietnam has responded well to this crisis. Below are key areas of excellence:
- Most bars and nightclubs are closed (or have strict curfews).
- Restaurants have limited hours (most public places are vacant).
- Most events have been cancelled (concerts, festivals, sporting events, etc.). My room mate is in a band and all his shows have been cancelled (even a wedding gig).
- Everyone is required to wear a protective mask in public places. For example, you are not permitted to enter a supermarket or other public arenas without a mask.
- All schools have been closed since mid-January (8+ weeks) and closures are continuing until at least mid-April when the situation will be re-assessed.
- Mass street cleaning efforts and general sanitation.
- Regular and consistent communication from the government to the general public (multiple languages and platforms).
- The Vietnamese messaging app. named Zalo (similar to Skype, WeChat, Line, Facebook Messenger, Viber) and the ride-sharing app named Grab (similar to Uber/Lyft) have been vital for communicating current health messaging/announcements.
- Mandatory 14-day quarantine for all people entering Vietnam (as of March 18). Only residents and temporary residents are allowed into the country. Conditions have been reported to be quite good in the quarantine facility.
- Promotion of social isolation, reduction of public gatherings, tight border control, and immediate response to initial outbreak has been effective (these practices were adopted fairly early in the outbreak timeline).
- Vietnamese production and promotion of public health song.
What Foreigners Are Doing
The majority of the foreigners that I know come from my workplace, basketball leagues, volleyball pick up games, and random events in Hanoi. I have gathered anecdotal information from various sources. Most foreigners in Hanoi originate from South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, England, USA, Canada, among other countries.
- Many work in the education industry and are leaving Vietnam due to school closures and/or reduced teaching hours.
- Foreigners that work or own restaurants/bars in the service industry are becoming financially crippled (strict curfews/closures for most night life venues).
- The majority of schools are extending their year into the summer (to make up for lost classroom teaching). This will inevitably cause disruption for summer-based and tourist industries (resorts, summer camps, coastal towns, etc.).
- Schools have transitioned to host academic courses online. We are in the process of creating a best practice guide for online teaching and use the platform Zoom for content delivery.
- Many are feeling anxious because of the uncertainty of their job, family, and future. With increased border security, many foreigners are leaving Vietnam or seriously considering their future here.
- With people generally staying indoors, the roads, malls, and parks are significantly less crowded (at most businesses there is a mandatory temperature check upon entry).
- Many cannot afford rent and have either moved to more affordable housing/shared living or have left the country entirely.
- Many are bored. When I ask what they are doing the majority say “Nothing” or “Not too much”. Right now it is a waiting game and no one has a clear picture of when this will end.
How I Feel
For now, I feel incredibly safe living in Hanoi. I believe the Vietnamese government (as well as my employer) have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety and health for all people (both domestic and foreign).
- I am concerned about the US State Department’s recent announcement that all American citizens living abroad should consider coming home (as of March 19).
- I feel that most people are taking precautionary measures to prevent outbreaks via social distancing, washing hands, face mask use, daily temp checks, etc.
- One of my friends had an unexpected knock on his door from a local government official to check his passport and temporary residence card (TRC). I believe many foreigners are overstaying their visa because they may not have anywhere else to go. I am fortunate that my company provided a two year TRC.
- I feel prepared. All groceries and necessities (including toilet paper) are easy to procure in Hanoi. There is no shortage of supplies and supermarkets are well stocked. However, who knows what will happen a week from now – one small outbreak could insight mass panic and disrupt distribution channels.
- I have new apartment guidelines which require advanced notification and limited number of guests (max 3 visitors at any given time). Many apartments do not allow any visitors.
- Prior to the outbreak my apartment building gate was always open. However, the front door is now locked at an earlier time and security guards are more alert and responsive throughout the neighborhood. I have noticed more security and police presence in general around my own neighborhood.
- This pandemic has made me think more about what education is and what it is not. In our digital age, we may need to re-think how we provide education beyond the classroom walls. In other words, it is paramount that we critically think about student and parent engagement strategies. I recommend reading my uncle’s book on the transformation of education for the digital age, in which he articulates the incorporation of technology in the classroom.
Disclaimer: The intention of this post was to provide you with insight and experience from Myles’ own perspective as an American living and working in Vietnam. These views are not representative of every American’s experience during the current pandemic.