Mobile phones are everywhere in Viet Nam and Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. Mobile phones will be required for all Peace Corps Volunteers as part of their emergency plan. Volunteers may choose to bring their own phone to use during service. They should make sure that these devices are “unlocked.”
Viet Nam ranks 16th in the world in terms of internet users. Affordable services have made it easier for users to access the internet. Wireless internet access is readily available in most places, although the connection speed and consistency may be of varying quality. Volunteers may wish to subscribe to a virtual private network prior to their arrival in Viet Nam. Regardless, Volunteers should not assume privacy in regards to their internet and social media usage while in Viet Nam.
Housing and Site Location
Viet Nam’s capital city, Ha Noi, is a large municipal area made up of urban and rural districts. The first group of Volunteers in Viet Nam will live and work in towns and smaller communities located throughout the Ha Noi municipality.
Volunteers in Viet Nam will live in training houses during pre-service training (PST) (the first three months in country) and in school residences for their two years of service (after swearing-in as Peace Corps Volunteers). During PST, Volunteers will live in clusters in training houses near the Peace Corps office where training will take place. During their two years of service each Volunteer will live in school residences inside or beside the school compound.
As with all sites selected for Volunteers, housing must meet Peace Corps’ safety and security requirements. School living accommodations will provide Volunteers with a safe, private room that includes basic furniture and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. Homes are likely to be at a standard similar to that of Vietnamese teaching colleagues. Although Volunteers should be ready to adapt to a wide range of living conditions, staff anticipate that electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing will be available.
Volunteers will have their own room at the school, but will have less privacy than they may be accustomed to in the U.S. Living with at a school is not the same as simply renting a room. During the school day you'll need to always dress appropriately and won't have much privacy. In the evenings you may be the only person at the school besides the school guard so you'll need to connect with teachers, school leaders and community members to organize community and integration activities. Schools and communities feel responsible for your well-being and safety and will want to know how you are doing, what you are doing and will go out of their way to ensure you are safe and healthy. They will be very interested in how you are spending time, what you enjoy eating, and your interests and hobbies.
Vietnamese families place a high value on education so parents encourage their children to study and excel in school. Parents believe that a good education is a great investment for family advancement and having a child entering university is a great point of pride. Many students are enrolled in extra hours of tutoring and private classes, when available and financially accessible, in order to improve exam results. Therefore, families and teachers may prioritize academic activities over extracurricular or recreational activities for their students and children. They may also ask that you spend time helping students learn and practice English outside of class hours. Volunteers are encouraged to seize such opportunities for developing relationships and cultural exchange with community members, while also pursuing opportunities to learn and practice Vietnamese.
All schools participate in an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purposes of Peace Corps service and how to ensure you stay safe and healthy. By welcoming a Volunteer into their community, school leaders play a key role in helping Volunteers develop language and cultural skills and become fully integrated members of the local community. Adjusting to a new way of living may initially be challenging for you; however, relationships with teachers, school leaders and community members are often a highlight of Volunteer service.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in Vietnamese Dong that is sufficient to cover basic expenses. The allowance includes funds for food, household supplies, clothing, transportation, modest recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses.
Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. ATM machines are available in cities and credit cards can be used at larger establishments. Check with your bank regarding service fees for international transactions.
Food and Diet
Vietnamese food is varied, flavorful, and delicious. Meat, particularly pork, and rice are eaten on a daily basis by many Vietnamese. Fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful. Food is cooked in a variety of ways: deep fried, stir fried, boiled, or steamed. A typical Vietnamese meal includes rice, a soup dish, a meat or fish dish, a vegetable dish, and fish sauce with garlic, chili, and lemon. Volunteers who prefer not to eat meat, fish, or animal products should know that these ingredients are often included to add flavor to any dish. Food is a sensitive cultural topic, because it is around food that families and friends often get together. Many Vietnamese show affection to others by sharing food, whether they can afford to or not. During social events and work visits, community members commonly offer a variety of foods to Volunteers. Rejecting or throwing away food is generally not well received in Viet Nam, and could be considered impolite.
Volunteers are likely to travel by foot, bicycle, and/or bus to get around or run errands at a local market. Viet Nam has an extensive bus network and we anticipate that Volunteers will be able to travel from their sites in the outlying districts of Ha Noi municipality to Ha Noi city by bus; taxis may also be available. For holiday travel within Viet Nam, Volunteers may choose to travel by bus, train, or plane. Note that the use of motorcycles/scooters by Volunteers (as drivers or passengers) in any area of the country will be prohibited, as will be the use of bicycles in the urban center of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Peace Corps Viet Nam is a new program so the staff is still learning about what kind of social activities may be common for Volunteers in their host communities. However, we do know that Vietnamese people are very hospitable and welcoming, so Volunteers can expect many invitations for sharing meals or having tea or coffee together. Sports and group exercise are also common ways to recreate.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
As teachers, Volunteers are expected to be role models and it will be important that they observe and follow the local standards of professional dress. This demonstrates respect for the community and country in which we are living and serving and it increases the Volunteer’s ability to be trusted, respected and their overall integration. Note that parents may express concern if a teacher’s appearance is unconventional by local standards, even when the teacher is not in school. This may result in difficulty in building trust, which will negatively impact the Volunteer’s integration and ability to be optimally successful in their service. In Viet Nam, the school and school district will have an established dress code and grooming standards. The Volunteer will be asked to adhere to these and to present attuned to cultural standards that may be considerably more conservative with regards to dress, hair, piercings and tattoos.
Dress expectations at Vietnamese schools may be more conservative than what you are familiar with in the U.S. This means Volunteers should wear clean, pressed and well-fitted long pants, skirts, and shirts. “Dress” pants (or skirts) and short- or long-sleeved collared shirts are appropriate for school. Dresses and skirts should fall below the knee. Clothing that is ripped, frayed, disheveled, tight, revealing is strongly discouraged, as is athletic wear, and caps.. Flip-flops or slipper-type shoes are not appropriate for teaching. Open-toed shoes for women are acceptable.
Male and female Volunteers should keep their hair clean and neat both in and out of school. Male Vietnamese teachers are typically clean-shaven. Volunteers will need to be willing to find ways to be as culturally appropriate as possible in regards to hairstyles, hair colors, facial hair, and other personal choices related professionalism, dress and behavior.
Visible body art such as tattoos and piercings do not fit professional standards for teachers. Tattoos should be kept covered during trainings and service, both in and out of school. Piercings should be limited to women’s ears and only one piercing per ear.