Personal opinion by PHM. If you are Vietnamese, we recommend you to read the Vietnamese version of this piece.
Recently there was a talk show happening at Manzi with the participation of Nguyen Qui Duc, Phan Y Ly, Anh-Minh Do and MC Dang Hoang Giang that attracted lots of attention from young Vietnamese people. The “hot” topic was: “The West is best. Or is it?”; both the host and the three guest speakers were “international Vietnamese” who returned to Vietnam after spending many years abroad. And with those four “returnees” we could already assume their answer to the topic without even having to attend the talk. No, it isn’t.
The Western dream
There has always been a reason why it is so difficult for people from poorer countries to acquire a visa into the richer part of the world. I remember it took me a month to get my Schengen visa in 2009 to go to Poland. But I was still very lucky compared with a friend of mine who got refused by the Spanish embassy or another by the German embassy. So why is it? Honestly, it’s because Vietnamese people often use the excuse of visiting or studying to later stay in the country. Living in the West has been the dream for so many generations of Vietnamese since the Doi Moi in 1986. People simply believe, sometimes naively, that moving to the West means good fortune and consider it a life changing opportunity, same reason why people from the countryside want to move to big cities, in my opinion.
The returnees’ point of view
However, together with the booming economy (for your information, Vietnam is only a third world country in terms of “Press Freedom”, which I’m not interested in commenting just yet) the people who once left Vietnam to find their opportunities elsewhere (also the ones who were forced to flee the country after the war) are now coming back, not all of them, but definitely a lot of them. I have talked or read about some to understand why. Minh, one of the speakers in that talk show, made it clear in his popular blog post that “Vietnamese Americans should come and live in Vietnam full time”. And if you are able to read Vietnamese, definitely check out an interview with Giang, the host of the talk, where he stated: “If you have lived in many different countries, you will find out that nowhere is perfect. Every society has its pros and cons, but certainly none of them is “paradise”. For example, in the West, as long as your payment can still automatically process, no one will care if you’re dead or alive”. I also had another interesting conversation with a 9-year UK resident who is now running a few startups back in Hanoi. His reasons were straight forward, many of those were similar to what Giang and Minh pointed out. The strongest point he made was that: if you want to succeed, it is easier here in Vietnam than in the UK (translation: wanna be rich quicker? Return to your developing economy!) His original plan when parting for “the West” was to leave Vietnam forever, but after 1 year in the US and 9 years in the UK, here he is in Hanoi trying to fight the reverse culture shock, leaving behind all the comfort of the developed society to start venturing in his future. So what does that tell you young people?
My personal take
Just like many other Vietnamese, I used to dream of settling down in “the West”. At college my answer to AIESEC (the biggest students’ organization worldwide) about why I wanted to participate in their international internship program was to find a chance to later reside in the hosting country, preferably in Singapore, UK, Germany or Hong Kong”. But I ended up going to Poland and India. I didn’t stay there for a long time, only 3 months each but those short times totally broke my “prejudice”. Poland taught me to love the less-developed societies while India completely changed my view of life. I was lucky enough to meet many inspiring people, one of them was a life coach from Romania, a world traveler whose foremost desire is to contribute to the development of his own country. He did make me think a lot about whether the youth should work on improving their “poor” nations or just run away for their own sake. As for myself, just the thought of that question was already a life-changing moment.
Talking about “world travelers“, I happen to know many of them. Surprisingly, world travelers nowadays come from both rich and poorer countries. And my personal conclusion from interacting with them is that somehow the travelers from first-world countries ignore their own culture more than us, the third-world residents. I have met some travelers from Australia and the US who said “I never want to come back there” while none of those from India, China, the Philippines or Uganda have made such statement. Apart from the travelers’ reaction, we also see a wave of “expats” moving from their comfort zone to Asia, and then refuse to come back to their countries of origin. They become teachers, consultants, business owners, creative practitioners; they see the potentials of a developing economy where they can make easy money or apply the creative ideas that they cannot do in the West. The question is why don’t we, the locals, realize that by ourselves?
It seems like the promised land nowadays is shifting from “the West” to “the East”. Certainly we can’t say the living conditions or the people’s behavior and prejudice are pleasant to live with, but once you can look beyond that discomfort you will finally find your chance here; either a chance to become rich quickly, or an opportunity to do great things for the society. And dear fellow third-world residents, if you still dream of the West and want to fly away, you have all my encouragement! Just fly away, go, travel, live abroad! And after that, please come back to me and answer the question by yourself: “The West is best. Or is it?”
Original post on Mien’s blog: “THE WEST IS BEST. OR IS IT?”