Today, most young expats and local returnees arrive in Vietnam with a degree in their pockets. They often finished degrees at a prestigious overseas school and have either a bachelor or a masters degree. For most, they already have international experience, primarily through university exchange programs. Is everyone an educated expat though? We meet Clément, a 22 years old expat, adopted at an early age by a French family to get the scoop on his decision to come to Vietnam instead of going to university.
Who is Clément Cuong Herissard?
I come from France, Bretagne and I’m 22. I didn’t study much. I have a high school degree and decided to stop there. From the age of 14 I accumulated a lot of work experience in sales (mainly through internships): merchandising, retail, trade fairs, call centers, sales in a shoe store, door to door sales for a solar panel company. For the last one, every day I went door to door selling the company’s product: a solar panel. I think that those kinds of experiences make you stronger and reinforce your character and skills.
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Why did you drop out of school?
I enjoyed my work and was productive. I knew I wasn’t doing well on the academic side. It became clear to me that I had to drop out of school to focus on work.
Why did you choose Vietnam?
I wanted holidays. And that’s when my father told me “we should go back to Vietnam together”. I was 20 and we spent 3 weeks in Vietnam. But I never really left.
I’ve stayed. And it’s only thanks to the people I met. Once I was shopping at the Ben Thanh Market and I overheard this old Vietnamese guy speaking French. I started to speak with him. He told me he was adopted, so was I. I asked him “did you chose to live here, in Vietnam?” He briefly answered: “of course, here is way better than France”.
I was stunned by his straight response and I kept that in mind. After 3 weeks, I told my father that I will stay a little more in order to find my biological mother (I’m still looking for her). Five days before my back-home’s flight, I met another guy who offered me a job. And I was just like “ok, let’s try!”.
What is your career here in Vietnam?
I’ve worked with the same company for two years now. I work for a distributor of a French brand, Delabie, in the commercial homewares industry: sinks, bathrooms, other industrial grade equipment. We specialize in hospitality establishments (hospitals, hotels, office buildings, airports, school, factories). We have high standards, our products are designed and made in France. As a sales representative for the company, I interact directly with all the stakeholders of the building (engineer, architects, designers). I started as a sales executive and I’m today business development manager.
What’s it like to work in an industry you’ve never heard about before?
I never expected to work in this sector. But in the sales world, all you need is a well-made product that you believe in. And there is something concrete about it: you learn a lot about the real estate market, architecture, buildings, etc. At the beginning, I was the only sales representative for the whole Vietnam. Crazy, right? Now we have an entire team.
What was it like adapting to the Vietnamese style of working?
The Vietnamese way of working is: ‘the faster the better’. Quality is often overlooked. And in my industry, it’s particularly the case. They think short-term and not long-term. So, to sell high standard products where the advantage is quality (and long-lasting), it’s difficult. You have to make Vietnamese understand that it costs more right now, but in 10 years it will have cost way less thanks to our high standards of quality. Over the last two years, I already can see a changing opinion about value. More Vietnamese are now focused on quality.
Do you speak Vietnamese?
When I arrived, I couldn’t say a word. But I’m learning and I’ve made good progress. I used to play piano, it helped me to learn foreign languages. Music is a language and by practicing music you practice your ability to learn foreign languages. For work, I mainly speak English.
Does your young age affect how people perceive you?
It happens that I feel like I have to say that I’m older. If you say that you’re 22, people think you lack experience. They don’t look at you at the level they should.
What about Vietnam is easier than in France?
I think life is easier in day-to-day basis. Here, you have access to activities such as restaurants, night life, spa center, swimming pool, sport facilities, etc. Meetings are also easier. You meet tons of people who are open to share their story with you. It’s like reading a living book.