Recently I made the decision to move to another country – Vietnam. Now, before assuming that I’m some responsibility avoiding, privileged, 20-something-year old (admittedly I am privileged and 20-something) who is galavanting around the world…this has been 2.5 years in the making! I’m also here for what I hope is a good cause – the research that will eventually become my Ph.D dissertation.

Moving can be a challenge – even if you have a return date in 12-months like I do. You leave your friends, comfortable apartment, familiar transportation routes, trusted road bike, the sense of knowing where you are at all times, and the ease of not having to rely on google maps for every footstep.

Instead of maintaining the familiar, I dived into my research while simultaneously embracing a new lifestyle.

Today and everyday for the past 3 weeks I have said good-morning to the 10 million residents of Saigon, braved the city streets with my motorbike alongside up to 14 million other motorbikes, eaten street food on tiny plastic chairs, and gone (almost daily) to the morning food market located in the maze of alleyways at 7am for fresh produce. As familiar as I am with Southeast Asia, I feel as though I am still no match for Saigon yet. I rely on my phone’s GPS like my life depends on it while honking the horn of my scooter every 5 seconds to let the others on the road know “I’m here!”.

I don’t really need to tell anyone that “I’m here!” though – people stare, they notice my blonde ponytail sticking out of my helmet, they point at the pale girl in shorts who exposes her skin to the sun’s rays. They notice me all right.

Blending in anywhere when you first move can be hard…so how do I fit in here where I so clearly don’t blend in? I have my ways but I think it’s safe to say they’re not the most common among foreigners (or expats) in Saigon.

First, I take studying Vietnamese fairly seriously. Not only is it important to my research to have a conversational understanding of the language but it’s also important to me to know what’s going on around me. I want to be able to read the signs and “fit in” with some of the everyday banter happening all around me on the streets.

img_0050**Wonderful shot of my roommate after one of our morning workout sessions by the pool**

Secondly, I wake up (almost) everyday at 5:15am with my roommate to embrace the cooler temperatures of the early morning. I spent the first two weeks working out while watching the sunrise from my rooftop pool deck. This week I joined the surprisingly large number of Vietnamese people who are up and out alongside the canal doing morning exercises before the sun comes up. Running zig zag patterns through the people along the canal sidewalk is an incredible thing to be part of. Nods and smiles of approval meet me during the early mornings as I run past instead of the harsh points and gawks I generally receive at midday on a motorbike.

This just goes to show that really no matter what I choose to do here in Saigon I will undoubtably stand out. My best chance of survival is to stay unique, accept that I am different, adapt, and relish in my moments I can capture as an intimate outsider at 5:30am…because in the darkness of dawn, it really is harder to tell people apart.

That’s all for now,


Published by Sarah Allen