Living in Vietnam.

7 crayons depicting cultural differences

Enjoying the Vietnamese Lifestyle.

What I want to write about today is a bit different from what I normally write about. But, it is one of the most important topics if you want to work or live in Vietnam for an extended period of time.

This article is not so much about what you can find in Vietnam or even what you should bring. But, it is about what you should leave at home.

Ethnocentrism and the Uneasy Traveller

According to the Oxford Dictionary “Ethnocentrism” is the ” evaluation of other cultures according to the preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of our own culture”

Before heading into the topic of a foreign teacher being fired (And what sparked this article) and the debate as to whether he should have been fired or not, I want to cover more on “moral codes” and what makes up “ethnocentricism”

Moral Codes and Cultural Differences.

Moral codes are a set of rules that show how a person should treat others and behave within society. They are learned through interactions with others in society by picking up behavioral standards within your cultural area.

Our moral codes are heavily dependent upon our culture. All these codes may cover aspects of our lives from how we act, how we dress, and how we treat others.

There are some moral codes that are regularly found throughout the world. These would be “though shall not kill” or “treat others as we would like to be treated”

However, each culture has its own idea as to what is right or wrong. These other aspects of moral codes are a direct reflection of the ethical thinking of that area.

Cultural Insensitivity in the Workplace.

I have been living and working in Vietnam for 16 years and I have seen a truckload of cultural insensitivity from both foreigners and Vietnamese. However, the thing to remember is that Vietnam is run by and for the Vietnamese and if we can understand that our life will be much easier.

I have often seen new foreign English teachers come to Vietnam with preconceived ideas telling the Vietnamese teachers how English should be taught. While some of the topics raised by the new teacher may be valid, they should take their time to find out how things are done. Losing “face” is still quite a big thing in Vietnam.

I remember talking to someone very high up in Sacom bank and we were discussing how banks (Being a capitalist entity) survived and thrived in Vietnam and how they dealt with the Government. The gentleman I was talking to gave me an example of how an idea that the bank has is introduced to the government.

First off the idea is planted within the government, at a lower “rank”, and allowed to percolate up to the top. Then a meeting between the bank and the government is organized during which the bank praises the government for its forward-thinking idea.

I’m not saying this is how teaching is, but it gives you some idea about the different approaches that need to be taken.

The Firing of a Foreign Teacher.

There was an incident very recently involving a foreign teacher, a security guard, students, and a Vietnamese teacher.

If it wasn’t so serious it would sound like the start of a bad joke. To start at the end, a foreign teacher was fired after a “scuffle” with a 65 year old security guard. The security guard was checking the names of students who were allowed to leave after the 4th lesson of the day.

At the school above, the 11th graders were allowed to leave as long as their names were on the guards’ list. The guard also checked the name tags of the students who were eligible to leave.

One of the 11th graders was wearing a jacket so the security guard could not see her name. When the security guard asked her to remove her jacket she refused and the guard started yelling at her. This is when the foreign teacher stepped in and pushed the guard over.

The “scuffle” then broke out after the guard was pushed over. Because of the violent acts carried out by both the teacher and guard the school board got together to discuss what should happen next.

The foreign teacher was allowed to continue teaching while the decision was being made about what was to be done with all parties. The head of the English department then asked the foreign teacher to refrain from posting anything on social media.

This seemingly didn’t go down well with the teacher who then started kicking the “teachers’ room” door and yelling at the head of the English Department. He was obviously fired at this stage. But to add one more piece of ludicrousness, the teacher then went onto social media and tried to get the students to defame the school. Trying to incite the students to rebellion.

Who does this guy think he is? he obviously has no regard for any other foreign teachers in Vietnam. Surprisingly there were some who supported this teacher. I did not see the whole story and did not get to talk to anyone firsthand about this, but I think just pushing the 65-year-old over would be grounds enough for dismissal alone. What do you think?

Final Thoughts.

If and when you come to Vietnam, please leave your preconceived ideas at home. We are guests in this lovely country and yes there are things that are different and they may not sit easily with us. However, if you can adapt to this culture (and there is not that much you need to adapt) you will have the time of your life.

Also, remember there are other foreigners and teachers who live here and we get “tarred by the same brush” if we do anything wrong. Vietnam is a very tolerant country, however, it doesn’t take much to influence the Vietnamese that we are insensitive to others feelings.

Thank you.

Stephen


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