What is it like to commute 8,568 mi from Vietnam?
By Tran Nguyen
Coming from Vietnam, the idea of studying abroad is almost everyone’s dream. Fortunately, I was able to live in that dream for two years in the United States. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, everything turned upside down. From waking up at 10 AM to school, I wake up at 10 PM to go to school.
During the social-distancing time in the states, I was longing to come back home. While most of my friends could go back to their home countries, I couldn’t return home due to Vietnam’s strict travel restrictions. The travel restriction banned everyone from coming to Vietnam, including its citizens. The only way I could go back home was through the few rescue flights that the government organized. With 6,000 applicants for these flights, getting that golden ticket was not easy. Luckily, after nine months of waiting, I finally got the ticket to come back home.
However, the journey to come back home was not easy at all. Everyone needed to quarantine for two weeks after the arrival; thus, I was no exception. Even though most people quarantine in a hotel, the government assigns me to quarantine in a military camp. The sudden change of lifestyle during that two weeks was mentally challenging. I lived without a mattress, blanket, and internet connection for two weeks. Thus, the lack of the usual necessity was something that I had to overcome.
Tran Nguyen with her roommates in the quarantine camp
Tran got her temperature tested by a nurse in the quarantine camp
After finishing the quarantine, I faced another challenge – commuting between Vietnam and the United States with the 13 hours difference. As a high achiever, I perceive the challenge as a quest to overcome. Thus, I’ve been working as a college student with 18 credit hours and an internship in the states while living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Even though it was extremely difficult to adapt to this unique environment, I slowly built strategies and methods to conquer this quest.
Firstly, I took the initiative and contacted all of my professors and internship supervisor about my particular circumstance. By actively contacting first, I get to work and communicate with the professors and the supervisor for a suitable timetable and assignment deadline. After that, I create two kinds of timetables, a physical journal and an online schedule. I firmly believe that writing things down helps to memorize the materials and deadlines better. Thus, a physical journal perfectly serves this purpose. With the two time management systems, I rarely forget any assignment deadline.
Tran Nguyen in her Zoom class
Secondly, my sleeping schedule is one of the most challenging things to overcome. Since Vietnam and the United States have a 13 hours difference, I struggled to adapt to most of my synchronized classes in the states. Most of the days, I would stay awake all night to attend my class at 4:30 AM. However, after a couple of weeks of staying awake, I noticed a noticeable decrease in my productivity for the next day. Hence, I came to a new solution for this problem. I decided to sleep at 9:00 PM then wake up at 4:00 AM. With this new sleeping schedule, I became more productive both in-class and on my regular days. By having a proper sleeping schedule, I can feel the burst of energy every time I attend class and do my work.
There is no greater example between Chicago and Ho Chi Minh city, my hometown, when we talk about differences. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had stayed in Chicago for more than two years. Consequently, coming back home was quite an odd experience. Everything in Ho Chi Minh city is entirely different from Chicago. While Chicago is a city filled with snow and chilly winds, Ho Chi Minh is a city with only two seasons, the humid season and the more humid season. The temperature is ridiculously high for any normal human being to even walk in the park. However, it was not long before the city turned to my favorite season, Tet – the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Thus, after more than two years, the return to my hometown was both surprising and heartwarming.
A corner of Ho Chi Minh city
Tran Nguyen and her younger sister tried out Ao Dai, the traditional clothes in Vietnam
When I was far away from home, I still had Tet with my friends in our small apartment in Chicago. Nevertheless, nothing compares to having Tet with your dearest family. Tet is a memorable holiday that everyone would spend with their family after a busy year. Being back home on Tet is similar to seeing your family again on Thanksgiving. Hence, after two years of having Tet without my family, this year’s Tet was heartfelt and joyful. Everyone in my family was thrilled to see me again. Even though there was a COVID-19 outbreak in my city during Tet, we still had a delighted Tet at home. For Tet, we gave each other lucky money to wish other people health and luck. Moreover, this year I received a lot of lucky money due to the two years we spent without each other. Consequently, being at home after a long time helps me realize the importance of family.
Tran with her siblings on the first day of Tet
Eventually, this leads me to the decision of coming back home after graduating from university. From an early age, I had always perceived myself as an independent person. Thus, I was determined to work in the states after I graduated. However, seeing how lonely it is without family during the pandemic, I realized I should spend more time with my family before it would be too late. As a result, a shift in my career would be inevitable for me to stay close with my family. To some degree, even though the COVID-19 pandemic brings despair and struggles to everyone, the hardships help me appreciate the time I spend with my family and what I should prioritize in life.