‘Culture shocks’ jolt students returning to Vietnam

By Dat Nguyen   August 21, 2018 | 05:05 pm PT
Many Vietnamese students are finding that their foreign degrees do not give them an automatic head start back home.

After four years of studying marketing at a university in the U.K., Pham Thi Thanh Huyen was looking forward, eagerly, to getting a dream job. 

She’d worked hard to get an overseas degree and was ready to deploy her new knowledge and skills and reap its benefits. 

However, the dream job has remained just that – a dream.

It took a year after returning for Huyen to eventually find a job at a bank, which pays her around VND10 million ($430) a month, just enough to cover basic living costs in the busy city of Hanoi, making the same money as peers who studied in the country.

“I find it hard to enjoy work as I’m only making enough to survive,” the 24-year-old said.

Huyen’s plight, and that of many others returning with foreign degrees, does not end with lower than expected pay packages.

They find that they there are other factors to finding jobs that they’d not considered before. 

Many returnees find that the labor market in Vietnam doesn’t welcome them with special positions in companies. They come back to find that their foreign study has not added value to their resume. 

“Most Vietnamese businesses don’t particularly prioritize recruiting returnees,” said Ngo Thi Ngoc Lan, regional director of Navigos Search, a leading provider of executive search services in Vietnam.

Applicants are recruited based on how well they suited the company, and not their studies abroad, Lan told VnExpress International.

For middle level management jobs, employers care more about how an individual solves a practical problem in the business than an overseas university degree she or he possesses, she added.

At Navigos, although many employees have studied in Europe, the U.S. and other Asian countries, “there is no special case when an employee was paid higher just because he or she studied abroad,” Lan said.

One of the reasons returnees struggle to find a suitable job in their own country is because they see themselves at a higher place than their local peers, Lan said.

In fact, an overseas degree can even become a disadvantage.

Some Vietnamese businesses don’t regard returnees highly because they usually demand a higher salary than they are worth, Lan added.

An applicant with a hospitality degree from Switzerland expects a salary from $600-$1,000 a month in Vietnam, but local hotels only employ them as waiters with a paycheck of $200-$300, she added.

Echoing Lan, Phan Truong Son, deputy director of a local technical company, said that his employees are paid according to their performance, not degrees.

Son rejected an applicant who came back from the U.S. a few months ago, because he asked for $1,000 a month while his capability was “not worth that much.”

A student who’s just graduated needs to start small with basic skills like writing an email, but many returnees are looking to jump right into strategic positions in the company and do bigger things, Son said.

“Their expectations are just too high,” he added.

Most Vietnamese businesses dont particularly prioritize recruiting returnees, according to Ngo Thi Ngoc Lan, regional director of Navigos Search. Photo by Reuters

Most Vietnamese businesses don’t particularly prioritize recruiting returnees,” according to Ngo Thi Ngoc Lan, regional director of Navigos Search. Photo by Reuters

A development gap

Another difficulty that returnees face in finding a right job is the underdevelopment of some industries in Vietnam compared to other parts of the world.

Foreign degree holders might see that things are done differently in Vietnam from what they learned overseas, said Kew Pham, a project manager at BMI, a U.K.-based organizer of international student fairs.

As their colleagues might be out of date with the latest inventions and trends, it can be a challenging work environment for talented returnees, she added.

For instance, derivatives, an investment tool that goes beyond simple stocks and bonds, “is a particular financial area that not many Vietnamese companies have stepped into,” said Nguyen Tri Hieu, an economist with over 30 years of banking experience in the U.S. and Vietnam.

For this reason, students who have majored in this area in other countries might find it very difficult to find a suitable job upon returning to the country, Hieu said.

However, the number of Vietnamese students going abroad has been increasing every year. Over 22,000 Vietnamese students attended colleges and universities in the U.S. last year, an increase for the 16th year in a row, according to the U.S.-based Institute of International Education.

In Japan, Vietnam was ranked second in the number of foreign students, which was over 61,000 last year, over thirteen times higher than 2011, according to the Japan Student Services Organization.

Vietnam sent over 130,000 students abroad in 2016, according to the Ministry of Education and Training.

There’s hope, too

But not all returnees find coming back to Vietnam a disappointing experience, said La Linh Nga, director of the Psycho-Pedagogy Research and Application Center in Hanoi (PPRAC).

Those who have set clear targets when studying abroad can find the transitioning process easy and even rewarding, said Nga, who often counsels these returnees. 

Minh Giang, who returned to Vietnam from the U.K. two years ago, still finds the country “fun and exciting.” 

He plans to open his own business soon, which was the plan even before he went abroad to study. In fact, it was the reason he went abroad in the first place.

Giang has not applied for a conventional job to climb up the corporate ladder, as he knew the work environment would not meet his expectations. But he remained upbeat.

“There are still a lot of opportunities in Vietnam, and with a positive attitude, returnees can find them.”

go to top