Every month on WOMENCANFLY.CO’s blog series, The Way, we introduce inspirational women who live around the world.
In this article, we meet Thao who is originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and has studied in Chittagong, Bangladesh and Sydney, Australia. She currently works as a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) at a Contract Research Organisation (CRO) in Melbourne after living in Sydney for nearly five years. Thao has always had the travel bug and has known she wanted to live abroad from a young age.
Thao moved to Bangladesh and Australia by chance with the support of her family and has a goal of travelling to 40 countries before she turns 40.
Where it all started
Thao started learning English at around age five and since then, there have always been two worlds co-existing in her mind – Vietnamese society and a fantasy-like, English-speaking world with Hollywood, MTV and Disney. Her aunt was generous enough to send her to an English tutoring class where she was able to study with foreigners and have immersive English learning experiences. She was hooked on American culture and the entertainment industry through the lens of cable TV. Her dad also listened to American bands and European bands who sang in English like the Backstreet Boys and ABBA which extended her love for pop culture in the English-speaking world from a young age.
The internet came to Vietnam later on and prior to that, she didn’t have a lot of information so America was her preferred choice when moving abroad but she didn’t get into a school in the States. Thao also tried to get scholarships in Singapore but wasn’t successful. Her dad saw an ad in a newspaper for Asian Women’s University in Bangladesh and told her to just apply and she ended up getting a full scholarship to go there. For Thao, purely going to another country was her goal and she didn’t care where that would be. She would have been equally as excited had she gone to America or anywhere else in the world and doesn’t regret anything.
The second move abroad
Thao never planned on moving to Australia. After she graduated in Bangladesh, she went back to Vietnam and worked for two years.
“Age 18 to 22 is the time you go out into the world and are shaped into an adult. It’s a crucial time and during those four years that I was living away from home, I was used to a life of doing what I wanted. My university was pretty accommodating, it was like a tiny society inside a very conservative country where women could be whatever they wanted to be. We did everything we could think of. We organised all sorts of clubs and there were no divisions in terms of where people were from. That environment made me rebellious and when I came back to Vietnam at 22, I had to follow rules and was expected to behave in certain ways that I wasn’t trained to do.”
After working in business development for two years in Vietnam, Thao began thinking about living abroad again and starting her life in another country. Her family asked her if she wanted to go to Australia by chance and she applied to study for a Master of Applied Linguistics & TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Now, she’s been in Australia for just over five years.
What to prepare when moving abroad
When Thao went to Bangladesh she didn’t prepare much because at age 18, she didn’t know much about the world.
“The first time was the hardest because I didn’t know what to expect but the second time moving abroad, when I came to Australia, I think the most important thing that I was prepared for was to be alone. I wasn’t shocked about it. Homesickness wasn’t a thing anymore. As I had already lived abroad for four years, I had this mentality that whatever happens, I’m going to be able to make it, I’m going to be able to solve it by myself.”
Preparing in terms of material items depends on the place you’re going to. People told Thao before coming to Australia, to just bring money because everything is available there and that came to be true.
“You need to have faith that whatever happens you can figure it out. You’ll always make mistakes. You can plan as much as you can but there’s always things that will happen and you will have to work them out. You will never be 100% ready. I know it’s cliché but if you really want to go, just go.”
The challenges that come with living abroad
Speaking from her own experience, Thao can eat everything and so food has never been an issue for her but for other people, it might be something to be aware of. There was a girl she knew who came to Bangladesh and after her first month, she had to go to the hospital because she couldn’t eat the food at all. It can be hard to eat food from another country if you are too used to a certain taste.
Thao feels lucky in the sense that she can eat anything and doesn’t mind the most basic of living conditions because depending on your financial situation, when you move abroad you might not have the same level of living standards as what you’ve been used to at home. Those are the two factors that Thao thinks allows her to be comfortable when she moves abroad.
In Bangladesh, it was the first time that Thao had ever encountered different cultures and religions as well as their histories of conflict. For example, Pakistan and Bangladesh have a sour history and Hindu and Islam in certain places also have tensions with each other. Learning and becoming aware of the social rules was the most challenging for her. It took Thao a while to accept certain religions including Christianity, Islam or Hindu because she had never encountered them in Vietnam. It was hard when she first came to Bangladesh but overtime, she learned to accept people and their differences.
In Australia, it’s even harder because it’s a multicultural country and you can meet anyone and talk to a person who looks a certain way but they identify with a completely different set of beliefs. Learning to be as mindful as possible while also learning to communicate in a tactful way that makes people comfortable is important.
Putting herself out there to find a job
Thao feels she was lucky she started off with a decent level of English which allowed her to get more stable jobs. When she came to Australia, the first job she applied for was as a Medical Receptionist and eventually, she got promoted to become Practice Manager. However, she saw other international students starting as all-rounder waitresses or waiters. She went to her university’s career hub and applied for a few jobs. Thao got one call and was working at the same place for five years before moving to Melbourne recently.
There are so many opportunities in Australia and the hardest thing is to get the first job because everything the human resources (HR) people rely on is your CV and references so getting the first job regardless of what it is, is difficult. Usually people get introduced to connections through networking which is really important. Again, Thao feels she is lucky and knows it may be different for others because she’s seen her friends struggle.
Coming to Australia vs. Staying in Australia
Thao came to Australia on a two-year student visa. She did a coursework degree so her work hours back then were limited to 40 hours per fortnight. If you do a Masters in coursework then there is a limit in the hours but if you do a Masters in research then you have unlimited work hours and if you have a spouse coming with you then the spouse can work unlimited hours. If you do a PhD there are unlimited hours and you also get paid as a PhD. If you are coming to just study English at a college, your work hours are also capped at 40 hours per fortnight. After graduating, Thao applied for a postgraduate visa that allowed her to stay for an additional two years.
If you just want to come and have an experience for a year or two, it’s pretty easy. You can study anything or if your country allows for a working visa then you can come to Australia for a year or two purely just for work.
Staying in the long-term is another story. This is where it can become sour. If you want to stay then it’s highly recommended to plan everything from the beginning because it’s harder to get permanent residence (PR) now in Australia compared to other countries like Canada so it’s an investment.
Thao knows people who have been in Australia for 10 years and they don’t have PR and what they do is continuously study which costs money. There are some who work so they’ve established a life in Australia already but they don’t have PR. If you want to stay, it’s better to consult a lot of people before making the decision.
Advice to her younger-self
To be more honest with herself.
“I would have told my younger self to be really honest to myself in everything. In who I actually am, what I really want to do and to think very hard about myself and my life. I’ve been saying this for some years now and I still haven’t been able to achieve or unlock that level. If I’m not honest with myself then whatever I do is more like an impulse rather than a meaningful choice.”
Living with wanderlust
In the future, Thao would also like to backpack around the world for a year. Thanks to her company’s flexibility, she can work from anywhere in the world.
“I’m still at that stage of not wanting to settle down. I was talking to my partner’s family recently and I told them that my company allows for flexible working which means I can do my job from literally anywhere because I essentially deal with people online so I can work from anywhere in the world. I want to be a backpacker for a year.”
We can't wait to see how she lives the way of her life in the future!
Thank you for reading and we are always here for you!
Women can fly.
Much love, xxx
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