Solo in Saigon

The year was 2012. I was 23 years old and had just finished my Master course and was about to finalize my Master’s Thesis. It was the perfect moment to leave Europe and go live in Vietnam for a year. Can you imagine the face of my mum when I told her that I would need to put my thesis on hold for a year, 2 months before the due date?! When I look back, it is precisely that decision, that moment, which has completely changed me and made the person I am today.
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My body and Soul needed to discover Asia starting by the beautiful Vietnam. I had the opportunity to work for a social enterprise project very close to my heart called AIESEC in Vietnam which aims to develop leadership among young students and graduates. This job not only allowed me to travel across Vietnam but also other parts of South East Asia. Here are the key highlights of my adventure in Vietnam…
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Good Morning Saigon…

I remembered the day I arrived at the airport and was so looking forward to meeting my future colleagues. The moment I stepped out of the airport, time stood still. Yes, exactly like the Mannequin challenge! Picture that- me, a young black lady with my Afro and voluptuous curves in front of a homogenous Vietnamese crowd. It seems logical that I should have expected that but, to be honest, I did not think about it until I was there. It dawned on me that I was not in Europe anymore. And I was not there for holidays but for an entire year. My whole world was about to change. I was eager to see the diversity of Asia until I realized that I would most likely become the diversity of the country itself! Good Morning Saigon…
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My team was amazing from day one and helped me discover and understand Vietnam very quickly. Cheap & delicious street food (from Banh Mi and cafe Suda to Pho and Bun Cha!), ridiculous traffic due to endless motorbikes in the streets, expats & tourists everywhere, the constant sense of family and generosity, the will of locals to get to know you and your story (even though English was an issue) and finally, above all, breathtaking landscapes and historical heritage. Saigon was my resident city but If you come to Vietnam, make sure you take time to visit the key cities. Ho Chi Minh aka Saigon, Hanoi, Danang, and Sapa have different vibes and so much to offer that you have to take the time to fully immerse yoursel in those cities. Also, it natural and easy to blend with internationals. But trust me, even though you may be there for only 1 or 2 weeks (and not a year like me), be in touch with local organizations and make sure to exchange with locals.

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Get lost & Find yourself again…

Travel is the best remedy to the Soul. This trip to Vietnam has made for the most impactful introspection I could have imagined. I have met people who changed my perspective about the world and also my relationships with my family and close friends. In an unknown environment, I needed to relearn how to communicate, behave, explore, share and embrace the new. Being out of my comfort zone was a scary thing but I gained new friends, a new home, confidence, sense of adventure in everything I do now, and became a better version of myself. And I refuse to feel comfortable anymore.

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Helene

Helene is an Eritrean-German loving life in London with her sights set on NYC.

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