Lasting friendships can begin in unexpected ways. For me and my fellow interns, one such unexpected encounter developed into one of our most meaningful relationships abroad. It was a few days into our internship, and we decided to head down to our local beach – beaches were after all the main draw of Nha Trang, a beautiful coastal city located in south central Vietnam. After soaking in the sights while enjoying a Saigon beer, I decided to head down for a little dip, only to return to my friends and one new addition. Xuan, our new friend, had presumably approached our group to try to practice a little English. We spoke for a while in fractured conversations until he ultimately showed us a restaurant where we could try some local food before heading off into the night. I presumed this would be the last we would see of Xuan. This presumption would however be incredibly wrong.

Nha Trang is by no means a small city, home to a population of about 600,000. Add in a wide range of tourists and expats and you certainly have yourself an interesting mix of people. After arriving in Nha Trang, we found ourselves constantly encountering new people, but how to decide whom to keep around as a friend? Making friends abroad is not an uncomplicated affair. Friendships can often be muddled with language barriers, cultural nuance, and the ever present sense of transience in your location. While at home, I find friendships rather straightforward, I spend time with those I enjoy spending time with. Abroad it feels like more of a process, where I am actively working towards a common goal of friendship – I’m not even really sure how to put it. There might be more obstacles along the way, but in some ways it ultimately feels more rewarding when you get to where you want to be.

Enjoying a rare craft beer with hostel friends in Ho Chi Minh City.

We continued to meet Xuan at our local beach and continued to build our friendship— a process that continues to this day. Four and a half months in I can say with confidence that his English is much improved (and maybe my Vietnamese is just a little bit better too). There is a lot we have to learn from one another, beyond just language. The language barrier surely slows down the learning process, but he is my go-to when it comes to learning the culture and traditions of the Viet people. Obviously, this curiosity goes both ways and I am always eager to field any questions about Canada.

It is evident that being raised in culturally distinct parts of the world leads to different values, priorities and worldviews. We cannot truly know what it was like to grow up and learn in a place that is so culturally different than our own. We can “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes” to try and conceptualize their point of view and maybe only get a glimpse of life through their eyes. Despite this, as humans our similarities can easily outweigh our differences, and we are still able to form meaningful relationships with those from different places and cultures. I guess at the end of the day we are all different, but more importantly the same in many ways.

All smiles after a celebratory dinner.

Earlier I mentioned the transience of friendships while abroad and that is something which always makes these types of relationships bittersweet. In a little over a month we will set out from Nha Trang and likely never see many of our friends again. Some friends, in fact, have already come and gone during our stay. There are some friendships, however, where you can tell that a true connection is made and that mutual efforts will be made to see one another again. Xuan is one of those cases and I’m sure we will see each other again whether it is in two years, five, or 10, it’s hard to say. I already look forward to returning to Nha Trang one day with a sense of nostalgia and seeing how much has changed. And based on observation these past five months, there will certainly be a lot of change (writing all this is all kind of strange because I haven’t even left yet).

Enjoying a dip with a view!

I feel very privileged to have had the chance to come to Vietnam for these last many months. Meeting all kinds of new people from different places, and sharing these times can be very formative to who we are as people. They give us new perspectives on life and provide us with a bigger picture than the one we would have had if we had just stayed home. That said, very much looking forward to seeing my friends after returning home. About one month left in the internship and looking to make the most of it! I encourage everyone to do the same!

Looking forward to seeing everyone in St. John’s,
Scott McIlveen