Being an intern at Ho Chi Minh City: why it was my best idea
“Even so, it still costs 1/13 dollar, but with love it does not matter!”- Robin Williams understood this well, life is easy in Saigon!
Being an intern at Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a whole story. A story marked by new experiences, with laughs and encounters. It is the experience of constant surprise, a novel of apprenticeship where we grow much professionally and personally. Qualifications? Curiosity and openness. Our Vietnamese roommate told us when we arrived: “If you are easy-going people, Ho Chi Minh City is going to be a truly positive experience for you”
So why such a claim? What is gained-on to do an internship in Vietnam, and how to organize the daily on-site?
A city at the center of the Southeast Asia
If you go to Ho Chi Minh City, it is first of all because of its climate. One of two things: either you cannot part with your cap and you go to live in Helsinki. Or you enjoy the wellness above 25 degrees, and then the Southeast Asia is made for you. It’s a fact: in Ho Chi Minh City, the weather is nice every day, whatever the season. Geographically, Ho Chi Minh City is in the center of the South-East Asia. The city doesn’t have the trading platform quality as in Singapore yet, but it is close to and cheaper than its neighbor. China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia are accessible in just a few hours and at really cheap price. Vietnam, meanwhile, has nothing to envy of its neighbors and is full of places to visit. Being on internship does not prevent from going sightseeing, and many students who come to work in Ho Chi Minh City took the opportunity to take some time off and explore the surrounding: one may see a lot in a weekend!
HCMC, economic heart of Vietnam
Yet make no mistake: Vietnam is not only a country of tourism with heavenly beaches. Ho Chi Minh City is the economic heart of the country and has a steady growth trend. The city today has nothing to do with Saigon 20 years ago, and the development objectives of the Vietnamese economy promise a prosperous future for businesses that choose to locate there, especially in IT services. Not bad for a CV! The proof of this development: the city was identified among the main centers of start-ups in the world (*) few months ago, and rightly so! No fear of failure in Saigon: everyone is an entrepreneur and starts his business, sometimes even more. One of our colleagues has 3 companies besides of his daily job, and it works pretty well for him! Ho Chi Minh City is thus gaining more and more reputation on the world stage.
The consequence of this start-up spirit? The cosmopolitanism and the wealth of services that can be found on site. The city offers a multitude of services, ranging from the most ingenious to the craziest – there’s something for everyone. An example: do you know where we tasted the best pizza in our lives? In a Japanese restaurant. We can’t assume anything! The cosmopolitanism of the city is expressed at all levels: food, shopping, services, so we can choose not to be too out of place in Vietnam or easily overcome the homesickness.
A culture against the trend
Ho Chi Minh City has its own soul, a spirit that is not necessarily found in other cities in Southeast Asia. It’s a constant source of wonder, where tradition and modernity mix in a sometimes disturbing, sometimes hilarious daily life. It is not unusual to see a motorcycle carrying four people in the street, a man with his dog, or even a refrigerator. The Vietnamese often do things we do not understand by cultural differences or lack of communication. However, we quickly realize that with a little openness and detachment, everything is still going very well.
Also we have to take advantage of this cultural difference. Coming to work in Vietnam is to discover a whole new way of thinking about labor relations and put into perspective our French habits. For example, unlike the French, Vietnamese avoid conflict at all costs and rarely criticize the work of their colleagues. It can be considered as an action of pulling the nose to a Vietnamese! In terms of culture management it is a real plus, and we are quickly able to adapt to the unknown.
And daily life?
A typical day of an intern starts with a cà phê sua da (coffee with condensed milk and ice), continues with a côm chien (fried rice) and ends with a drink with friends … for almost nothing! The cost of living is being quite low, life is easy in Ho Chi Minh City. It is possible to live well with a simple intern’s salary which is not enough to pay even a half of the rent in Paris … Who would believe it? Especially since Vietnam is full of cheaply accessible sites.
On the other hand, Vietnam is opening up more and more to the world and has captured interests from the Westerners with the policy of Doi Moi (Renovation). Vietnamese people are very friendly and sometimes welcoming … too! Of course, that cannot stop merchants from trying to rip us off, but after all, it’s a fair game.
A tip: having a high purchasing power is good, but try not to miss the local lifestyle that gives us insight into the daily life of Vietnamese people.
In fact, you’ll see that living in Saigon has a holiday atmosphere while acquiring the solid skills and proposing a convincing resume for future recruiters at the same time, especially if you are moving into IT area and entrepreneurship. Being an intern at Ho Chi Minh City, is learning to reconcile the opposites. It is working and taking a holiday; it’s discovering the Other, yet to learn more about yourself; it’s travelling around the world and at the same time not being homesick. We love it and we would stay here a little bit longer…
What about the budget?
We still remember being trembled seeking budget indications for interns in Vietnam … Over the Internet, we have all seen and never heard anything concrete on the average prices in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why we try to fix this by offering a small indicative price list that you pay every day, really.
Overall budget for a student: between 500 and 700 € per month (excluding travel outside Vietnam)
Accommodation: about 200€/month
Banh Mi (sandwich): 1€ (20 000vnd)
Vietnamese takeaway (com tam): 1,50€ (35 000 vnd)
Dish in a Vietnamese restaurant: 1,50€ to 4€ (between 40 000 and 100 000 vnd)
Dish in an European restaurant: 4€ to 8€ (between 100 000 and 200 000 vnd)
MacDonald’s: the menu BigMac at 3€ (85 000 vnd)
Bottle of water: 0,20€ (6 000 vnd)
Soda: 0,70€ (20 000 vnd)
Smoothie: 1,50€ (40 000 vnd)
Coffee: 0,40€ to 1€ (12 000 to 30 000 vnd)
Beer (33cl): 0,40€ to 2€ (12 000 to 60 000 vnd)
Cocktail: 3€ (about 90 000 vnd)
Moto (renting): 35€/month (1M vnd)
Gas: 3,50€/week (100 000 vnd)
Taxi: 0,60€/km (17 000 vnd)
Xe Om (moto-taxi): about 0,30€/km
Buying of an old Nokia: 15€
Prepaid card for a month: 3,50€
Extra 3G: 2,50€ (700 Mo of data)
Cigarettes (the pack of 20): 1€
Body: 6€ for 1h
Foot: 3,50€ for 1h
Weekend at the sea:
Round trip bus: 18€ (500 000)
Night at hotel (with basic comfort: hot shower, air conditioning): 5€
On average, between 50 and 80 € for a weekend around Saigon.