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.”
All Volunteers will receive a modest sum to either offset the cost of the phone they brought with them or to purchase a phone once in Viet Nam. Volunteers will also be provided a small communications allowance that will be enough for a basic phone plan for in-country emergency purposes. SIM cards can be purchased easily in Viet Nam and there are multiple service plans available to Volunteers who want to extend their plan coverage at their own expense. As in other countries, Volunteers who have internet access may prefer to use WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, or Facetime to reduce the cost of international calls.
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 with host families throughout pre-service training (PST) (the first three months in country) and for their two years of service (after swearing-in as Peace Corps Volunteers). During PST, Volunteers will likely live in homestays clustered in close proximity to one another, near training sites. During their two years of service each Volunteer will live in a homestay near their assigned school, and may live an hour or more from another Volunteer. Each Volunteer will be placed in a community where they will have access to local markets.
As with all sites selected for Volunteers, housing must meet Peace Corps’ safety and security requirements. Host family 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.
Multiple generations of families typically live in one household in Viet Nam. Elders are well-respected and ancestor worship is common: your host family may maintain a family altar within the home. The oldest male is seen as the head of the family and other traditional gender roles will likely be evident to Volunteers. Volunteers should also be aware that collectivist values are important to Vietnamese families, and society in general, as is the concept of saving or maintaining “face.” Thus, a Volunteer’s individual successes and challenges may well be felt by the family as a whole.
Volunteers will have their own room within the family home, but will have less privacy than they may be accustomed to in the U.S. Living with a host family is not the same as simply renting a room: you will participate in communal activities – such as cooking together, sharing meals and celebrating family events – and host families will likely feel responsible for your well-being and safety. They may 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, host families may prioritize academic activities over extracurricular or recreational activities for their children. They may also ask that you spend time helping family members learn and practice English. Volunteers are encouraged to seize such opportunities for developing relationships and cultural exchange with host families, while also pursuing opportunities to learn and practice Vietnamese with host families.
All host families participate in an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purposes of PST and the host family program. By welcoming a Volunteer into their home, host families 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 host families 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 an amount payable by the Volunteer to the host family, as well as funds for food, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, 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 families. 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 preparation is typically done by female members of the household and offers of help will likely be appreciated. Sharing of any food you make or buy would be a way to demonstrate your care for the family.
All dishes are enjoyed collectively and family members serve themselves throughout the meal. Alcohol is common in homes and is frequently served to guests; men in particular may feel pressure to drink.
Volunteers are likely to travel by foot, bicycle, and/or bus to get to school 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.