Study Abroad is a series that explores the experiences, challenges, and lessons of Vietnamese international students.
Pham Huynh Phu Thinh, or Paul to his friends, is a Saigonese native who describes himself as a “shy and silent boy.” After finishing secondary school, he started his journey in Singapore with his siblings, and that experience changed him a lot.
He spent nearly two years in the Lion City living and studying, as well as exploring and making connections. When asked why he decided to go, “There were not many special reasons behind it, but my mom wanted me to go,” he said.
Phu Thinh joined Kaplan Singapore and graduated with a Marketing Diploma. Since October this year, he has been an intake student at RMIT University and taking up Digital Marketing.
Unlike most Vietnamese students who went to the US or Europe, Phu Thinh settled in Singapore comfortably. But it wasn’t all joyful days for him. He had to face difficulties, too, leading him to lessons he’ll keep forever.
From his daily routine and how he copes with homesickness to his hopes for the future, here’s how Phu Thinh gets things done.
On his preparation before leaving Vietnam:
Since Singapore is just close to Vietnam and does not have that many differences, I only felt excited about going to a new country. I had nothing too big to worry about. Because my siblings are also in Singapore, I got instant companions, and I wasn’t technically alone.
I’m the kind who never thinks about pre-planning stuff, so I also did not overthink before going. However, if there’s one thing that bothered me, there’s no going back for me, at least regarding my studies. Since I started my overseas journey in grade 10, there was zero chance for me to fly back home and finish high school in Vietnam.
So, for someone who doesn’t plan, I was forced to look forward to a future I couldn’t change. But then, on a more positive side, it also served as a source of determination for me. I had a goal set, and that was to finish my studies abroad. And that kept me going.
On his daily routine:
Every day I travel by bus to school or meet up with friends. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to get to school every morning. Then, depending on my schedule, I would attend classes for 2-4 hours daily.
After that, I regularly drop by the supermarket to buy food and ingredients for cooking. Among my siblings, I was the only one who could cook, so I was the one in charge of meal preparations and actual cooking. It was fun, and whenever we felt homesick, I made Vietnamese dishes for everyone to dig in.
Aside from my responsibilities at home, I also take time to move around and discover exciting spots around the city.
On what keeps him going:
As I mentioned, the fact that I can’t just hit restart if I go back home kept me going. It was my anchor thought because I didn’t want to disappoint my mom, who was expecting a lot from me.
On staying connected to his family and friends in Vietnam:
Being only an hour ahead, keeping my connections with family and friends wasn’t that hard. I ensured I got in touch with them as often as possible.
On building relationships abroad:
More than half, or maybe 60%, of my circle of friends were Vietnamese, and only 40% or even fewer were foreigners. And they’re primarily Chinese and locals in Singapore.
We had students from India, but unfortunately, I didn’t get to talk to them. We had a group of Vietnamese exchange students in the school, and I lived with my siblings, too, so my circles were full of Vietnamese people, but it didn’t mean that I stayed away from foreigners. I don’t know; it just happened.
On having an English name:
I have had my English name since I was in secondary school. It was ‘Po,’ and I got it from my game account. Then, when I moved to Singapore, my friends kept mishearing my name as ‘Paul,’ I just let it happen and eventually used Paul as my name. Compared to Po, Paul sounded more professional.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
There’s a lot, but since I am still figuring out my passion, I continue to work hard at school and enjoy learning as much as possible.
I love to explore and learn and do creative projects such as designing and creating social figures, among others. Whenever I run out of ideas, I surf the web and teach myself new skills.
I need to go beyond academics and find other means to learn, even if that’s the primary reason why I left the country.
On what he learned from studying abroad:
Since the education curriculum of the two countries is different, I’ve learned and improved many of my skills. However, unlike me, most students were highly focused on their studies.
They always tried their best to contribute during the lessons and have a great effort for self-study. I did learn a lot from them so that I can be more active like today. Moreover, we learned from real cases very close to the theories through different activities, which helped me significantly improve my soft skills like presentation or teamwork.
On how his outlook on life has evolved:
After going abroad, my views about money changed a lot. I understand how difficult it is to earn money; more than that is how to treasure and spend it reasonably.
During my first few weeks, I didn’t think much and splurged my money on every new thing I saw in Singapore. Because of that, I nearly cleared my bank account and spent the whole month living on a tightrope. I remember the days and nights when I only had instant noodles.
Those hard days made me treasure every coin and spend it responsibly. That was a challenging but great lesson for me.
On dealing with challenges:
I was staying with my siblings, so I did not feel homesick that much. We’re good emotionally until Tet comes, and that’s when it hits hard.
On his hopes for the future:
Is it crazy to say I want to be a billionaire in the next ten years?
Kidding aside, I wish I knew since I wouldn’t say I like planning at all. I do not overthink that, but I live in the present. I think it is better to focus on the current because your future will depend on what you are doing now, right?
Everything you are doing or taking will create your future, so I think I better work hard and live all for now. I might become a billionaire for real in the future. Who knows?
This or That
Movies or books?
Movies: I cannot stay focused on something that is too long or has too many words.
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Fresh juice: I prefer soft drinks. Smoothies are pretty creamy for me.
Shopping in-store or online?
In-store: Seeing and touching actual products help me to buy better.
Instagram or Twitter?
Instagram: It’s more professional, and I’m not on Twitter.
Give a speech or write a paper?
Give a speech: I believe it is much easier to talk in front of people, even though he is quite an introvert.