It all started with a postcard of an old yellow Portuguese tram

English 🇺🇸| Vietnamese 🇻🇳

I met Thuy at Hello! English Club. She was in the livestream for the meeting that day. After I learned more about her, I asked if she would like to write a guest post about studying abroad. Here’s what she wrote.

You can read more about studying abroad here.

Introduction and an inspirational story

Hi guys! My name’s Thuy. I’m 22 and I’m from Vinh, Vietnam. I’m currently working in Barcelona as an Operations Coordinator. I organize international internships and culture exchange programs in major European cities for college students. I want to share with you some of my thoughts, observed and learned, during my four years of studying in different countries in Europe (Spain, UK and France). Maybe you’ve been dreaming of studying abroad in Europe. Hopefully this will be useful information for you.

I want to tell you a story that inspired me to study abroad. I received a postcard as a present from my friend when I was 10. On the postcard was an old yellow tram from Lisbon, Portugal. Ever since I got that postcard, that image was engraved in my mind and became my first motivation to study in Europe. And being there, seeing that tram in real life in Lisbon has been one of the moments that I treasure the most. It’s like my childhood dream came true. Bear in mind, your motivations, whatever they are, have to be intrinsic. Meaning they should come from you. Not by the pressure or the influences of anyone else such as your parents, your friends or your teachers.

I thought sharing this short story will help you. If you need any support, feel free to reach me via Facebook or Gmail.

Color run in Barcelona

Identifying and determining your goals

Goals, I think, are the most important things. They lead the way, guide you through moments of difficulty, confusion and hesitancy and get you where you want to be. Setting a clear goal is the first step to your journey.

You don’t have to set up specific or long term goals. Sometimes it’s difficult to do so without the relevant experience. It could be as simple as “What do you want to do after university?”, “Where do you want to get to, in your studies, in your career or in your life?”. Write your goals and leave them in a place where you will see them often. Do not let them hang in your head.

Some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Which country/city do you want to go to?
  • Which university? Which major?
  • What are the requirements to study there?
  • What visa will you need? What documents do you need to prepare to apply for it?
  • What is the career you want to pursue?
  • What do you want to do in life?
  • What will make you happy?
  • What do you value the most?
  • What will the university do to prepare you for your first job?

And the most important one, “WHY are you doing this?”

Paris time with besties

Avoiding scams and how to find the right information

After identifying the “What” you will need to find the “How”. How are you going to achieve your goals?

Information is the key to find your “How”. I would recommend you do your research first before reaching out to anyone. Be responsible with your own decisions and your life first by investing time and effort researching. From a general level, you can start with a country overview, reading about your destination. A PESTEL analysis can help you. By completing this analysis, you will have researched your destination’s Political, Economic, Socio-culture, Technological, Ecological and Legal Environment. Go through universities’ website to read about your future school’s majors, courses and student life. For a more specific level, go to the Facebook group of Vietnamese students in that country. You can find a full list here.

These groups are helpful because the stories/posts there are real life experiences from students that are living in that particular country. You will have a better idea of how life really is over there, what issues you might be facing and how to solve them. It can lead you to an even higher level, you can make connections and you can build your network. Finding the right mentor is a big win in your information research journey. They are experienced and they were in your shoes so they know what advice to give you. Look hard for the right mentor and ask them a lot of questions. 😀

You should do your research carefully, as there’s hardly any control of the content on the Internet. Some of the information could be misleading or even be a scam. Make sure you find the right information from credible sources. Don’t be lazy with this! Don’t just stop at the first information/page that you find. Always try to dig deeper and analyze any possibilities. Also, don’t limit yourself to Vietnamese sources only. You are going global so you should familiarize yourself with information in English. A good source that I highly recommend for students who are looking for scholarships is the Scholarships for Vietnamese Students FB page by Hana Dinh.

Some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How are you going to fund your study?
  • How are you preparing yourself to study abroad?
  • How are you feeling about this?
  • How are you going to achieve your goals?

Once you’ve gathered and analyzed the information, it’s action time! It’s time to work for your dream. Study hard, work hard to get yourself prepared. Believe me, the harder you work at this stage, the smoother your transition will be.

Discovering Barcelona with my students

Kissing, beer and European culture

The Greeting Kisses

Growing up in Vietnam, I had no idea about kissing when greeting someone. When I saw people in Vietnam, the greeting would just be as simple as waving and saying “Hi”. In Europe, kissing when greeting was my first culture shock. I was invited to a house party. I arrived at my friend’s house and rang the bell. The door opened and there were a group of guys my age standing there. They started giving two kisses on the cheek, one by one. I was paralyzed. I must have looked so terrified. My friends started to ask if I was ok. I didn’t know what to say nor was I aware of what just happened. Just a few minutes later, I learned that it’s just the way people in Spain greet each other.

“Oy, wanna get some pints?”

When asking about the UK’s favorite drink, my first thought would be tea. The afternoon tea, a classic British image, right? But I was not even close. Not until I got to the UK did I realize that this is an “alcoholic” country. They drink hard and do not get drunk. Pubs are all over the place. There’s a pub every 10 steps in the city centers. Everyone enjoys drinking regardless of gender or age. A pint is a great conversation starter. It makes people closer to each other and away from phones. 😀Oh and another fun fact, 10 out of 10 of my British friends voted curry to be their national dish, not Fish and Chips.

“Merci, au revoir”

“Thank you, goodbye”. When would you normally say this phrase? In Toulouse, France, this is the first French phrase that I learned as everyone was saying it on the bus when they got off. This is a new concept for me because in Spain I learned to say “Hola, bon dia” (Hello, good morning) to the bus driver but I did not know that they say goodbye in France too. To make it even nicer, the bus drivers reply and sometimes short conversations were even started.

Watching the first and most authentic Flamenco show in Murcia

Friendly professors and studying in Europe

Attending universities outside of Vietnam went quite smoothly in the three countries even though there are differences in each one’s educational environment. My study schedule was very busy in Spain and France. I stayed at school for six hours every day. Each class lasted for three hours but in the UK, I went to school only three times a week. I had one or two classes and each lasted from 60 to 90 minutes only. However, the studying I did in Spain was more practical while in the UK it was more academically oriented. The campus activities and academics in the UK (I studied at the University of Leeds) was amazing while I had a small campus (one building) in Spain and France as my school was a private school.

One of the trickiest things when studying abroad is teamwork as your team is usually made up of students from many cultures and backgrounds. There are different ways of working together, perceiving problems and solving them. It’s always hard trying to collaborate but if the communication is well managed, the teamwork will go well. The first mistake that I made was to assume that everyone works or should work in the same way I do. I let myself get disappointed when that was not the case. Instead, I learned to be open minded and more comprehensive, as culture variety is not to be forced.

The professors are very friendly and always available for questions. If you find yourself struggling with anything or you can’t understand something, you can always ask for help. They will be happy to guide you. Questions during classes are highly encouraged too.

Christmas celebration at the elderly residence

Finding and working at a part-time job

Like many other Vietnamese students studying abroad, I tried to take on some part time jobs mainly to be financially independent. I tried working as a waitress, a kitchen assistant, at a front desk and as a student coordinator. Each job left me with priceless experiences and new life perceptions. There is work available for students in most cities I’ve been to but that does not mean that jobs just come to you. You will have to work to find a job.

Here are some ways to find a job:

  • Apply online through the job portal at universities
  • Job seeking websites (Indeed, Fastjob, Graduateland and others)
  • The company’s website or Facebook page
  • Networking with other students and at events
  • Social media

Word of mouth is a great way to find a job too. Try to ask around as much as you can. You can also go around the city with your CV to check if they are hiring. This mainly applies when you want to work for a restaurant or a cafe. You should ask if they are hiring when they aren’t busy. Don’t ask during a busy meal-time.

Celebrating Christmas with my company

I remember the first time I applied to be a waitress in a Spanish restaurant. Firstly, I was so anxious because I had never done anything like that (approach a restaurant manager to hand over my CV) and secondly, I didn’t speak Spanish that well. I still remember being so nervous and hesitant that I keep going toward the restaurant’s door and then turning around so many times before I actually dared to walk in and introduce myself. I still remember how shaky my voice was. The most exhilarating feeling was after leaving the restaurant, knowing that I finally did it. I stepped out of my comfort zone. After that first attempt, applying at other restaurants or later on at different companies seemed so easy. I just did it without being afraid or nervous. 

Having worked in Spain, France and the UK, working for Vietnamese and foreigners, I figured out that you just have to earn it by working honestly and working hard. There’s no special trick, no shortcut or easy way there. Put your heart in your work and it will surely pay off.

Team building in Paris

Traveling on a tight student budget in Europe

I always tried to travel as much as I could. It’s the best way to learn about other cultures and food (I’m a big foodie). To stay within a tight student budget, I would usually make travel plans ahead of time. If you buy them early, plane/train/bus tickets can be surprisingly cheap (I once got a 5 euro flight, both ways, from Krakow to Gdansk, Poland). If you travel alone, staying at hostels and homestays can be a good option.

Beach house in Aveiro, Portugal

The Couchsurfing website is an option too. On Couchsurfing, a local person will offer you a place to stay. It could be a room or just a sofa in their living room for you to stay the night. It’s free and you can make friends with locals too. However, you should be extra careful when choosing your host as some really take advantage of this to scam you. If you travel in a group, I would recommend AirBnB as you can reserve the whole place and share it with your friends only. Your host might give you some very good tips to discover the city.

Thuy Tran was born in Vinh, Vietnam. Her major at Phan Boi Chau High School was English. She has studied and traveled extensively in Europe. The universities she attended include UCAM in Murcia, Spain, Toulouse Business School in Barcelona, Spain, Leeds University in the UK and TBS in Toulouse, France where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Innovation Management. She finished her life as a student with internships in Barcelona and Singapore. She is currently working as an Operations Coordinator at Absolute Internship in Spain.