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Charlotte Davis III. Expatriate Interview Date Completed: Sept.

5 2012

McNeills Mastery of the Moped and Other Staples of Vietnamese Life For this field experience I decided to interview McNeill Shiner, a 2009 Queens University of Charlotte graduate and Phi Mu Fraternity alumna who has been living in Vietnam for three years. McNeill and her husband, Joey, decided to move to Vietnam to teach English to young children. They live in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City. They chose Vietnam as the place they wanted to live because McNeill went there on her JBIP trip and loved the friendly people and unique culture. Since the time difference can be a little trying and calling Vietnam would cost an outrageous amount, we conducted our interview first through email and then used Facebook messaging for some follow up questions. When I asked McNeill what surprises she encountered her answer was, basically everything was a surprise. She gave one really good example that reminded me of our reading for class. McNeill explained that respect for elders is a huge deal in Vietnamese culture. There are certain titles that every person must be called by and that not only tell you a persons gender and family relationship, but their status in society and whether they are older or younger than you. There is no back talk from children in Vietnam because they would never think to disrespect anyone old enough to tell them what to do. Our text describes this phenomenon as part of a Long Power Distance culture under Hofstedes cultural dimensions. I was also reminded of the section of our text that describes language as culture and how pronouns can tell you a lot about the type of culture a group of people have and what values are espoused by those people (Samovar, et al., 2012).

She then went on to talk about how friendly the people in Vietnam are, which I had already experienced on my own JBIP to Vietnam. She did have one caveat to the friendliness of the Vietnamese though. McNeill explained that because she looks like a tourist, that even after 3 years of living there people in the markets still attempt to sell her things at double or even triple the typical price. She has had to learn how to really barter down items and go to the same shops over and over so that the owners know that she actually lives in Vietnam! When I asked what she enjoyed most about Vietnam she knew immediately: the food! She is convinced that Vietnam has some of the best food in the world. And it is not just Vietnamese or Asian food that is spectacular, its cuisine from all over the world. In her email she raved about the French food and delicious Italian gelato. She says that living in Saigon is great for any food lover because most of Vietnams international business is done in Saigon; so many different cultures have influenced the food options. When I asked what her least favorite part of living in Vietnam was she said the traffic is horrible there. In Vietnam the do not really have traffic laws except get where you need to go without killing anyone in the process. This means that people drive on either side of the road or the sidewalk if it is rush hour, and there are no stop signs or lights so intersections are terrifying to anyone who has lived their entire life in the relative calm and structure of the American traffic system. Almost everyone rides bikes or mopeds in Vietnam and McNeill said she was so scared when she finally bought her own moped and decided to brave the streets of Saigon. She says that now that she is used to the traffic it is slightly better, but even after 3 years she still gets scared when another moped is barreling towards her only to skim by her with about 3 inches to spare. When I asked her about adjusting to Vietnamese life she said that hanging out with other expatriates was imperative. The ones who have been in Vietnam for many years were able to

help her and Joey meet people and tell them where to go for groceries, who sells the cheapest gas for your moped and explained conundrums like why the banks have a 3 hour lunch break on most days. I really wanted to know more about the children that McNeill teaches and her experience with that, so I caught her on Facebook and asked if the children there are just like American children or are there major differences. She gave a two-part answer. First, she said they are just like American kids. They love to play and laugh and cant sit still and ask many questions. But then she said that there is one major difference and this is that Vietnamese kids are very intense about their education. Even from a young age they have a lot of pressure put on them to do well in school. Although they only go to school for half the day, they are very focused on learning while they are there. McNeill attributes this intense drive to learn to the fact that Vietnam is growing quickly and is becoming more and more globalized, which means they need people who can compete on a global level and are therefore very intent on promoting education. Finally, I asked McNeill how long she and Joey were planning to stay in Vietnam. She responded by saying that they had actually only planned to stay for one year, but that every time they consider leaving they end up staying another year. They have loved living in Vietnam and dont think they could ever recreate the experience they have had there, but do plan on coming back to the US at some point in the future. Getting to hear about living in Vietnam from McNeill was very interesting. It really was a different perspective in many ways then what I saw as a visitor for two weeks on my JBIP. I didnt really get a chance to spot the nuances of the long power distance culture while I was there, but as a teacher, McNeill sees it everyday and actually participates in it by being given a

unique pronoun from her students. I am honestly very impressed by how well she has adjusted to Vietnamese culture. It is a major depart from what we, as Americans, might consider normal.

Reference: Samovar, L., Porter, S., & McDaniel, E. (Ed.). (2012). Intercultural Communication: A Reader (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

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