Young Vietnamese on the verge of becoming 'lost generation' amid pandemic

By Long Nguyen   February 26, 2021 | 10:53 am GMT+7
Hemingway once described "lost generation" as those coping with the aftermath of WW1, now young Vietnamese are on the brink of becoming a new version of the term.

Nguyen Thanh Tung, 22, graduated from university in June 2020, and was thrilled to enter a new stage in life.

But reality turned out to be harsher than he thought as he spent four months looking for a job in Hanoi and HCMC only to be repeatedly told "they will contact me when the Covid-19 pandemic is contained."

He then decided to apply for a graduate course in the U.S. and was admitted, but the university has canceled on-campus classes meaning Tung cannot leave.

"It is like someone has pressed the pause button on my life, and I do not know how to find my play button amid this pandemic."

Millions of other young people share his plight as colleges are closed, jobs are hard to find and mental and financial issues grow.

A man wears a protective mask as he drives past a banner promoting prevention against the Covid-19 pandemic in Hanoi, Vietnam July 31, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kham.

A man wears a protective mask as he drives past a banner promoting prevention against the Covid-19 pandemic in Hanoi, Vietnam July 31, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Kham.

Many students have been unable to cope with virtual classes and the hiatus in extracurricular activities.

"Sometimes I cannot keep track of the lessons, or just get bored of sitting in front of the computer for hours, and so feel like I have failed to prepare well enough for my final exams," Nguyen Ba Nghia, a sophomore at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, said.

Many young people have also been severely affected by the job market slump.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) said last year the youth unemployment rate in Vietnam was 10.8 percent, compared to 6.9 percent in 2019. It defined youths as workers aged 15 to 24.

In the third quarter the youth unemployment rate was 7.24 percent, 4.2 times the rate among people aged over 25.

On Facebook groups for headhunters and applicants, many people, mostly those embarking on a career, complain about how difficult it is to find a job.

"I spent five months looking for a job and got an internship, and then they told me they will not sign a contract because they want to cut their spending amid the pandemic," one said.

"It is not ideal to be a young adult at the moment," someone responded.

With the pandemic flattening dreams, plans and opportunities for young people, many face grave financial insecurity.

Some 52 percent of Vietnamese youths are worried about their financial situation, a survey by insurer Manulife found.

The travel restrictions since last year have forced many young people to put their plans on hold.

Le Thanh Trung, 23, has been waiting for months for his university in the U.S., the world’s biggest Covid-19 hotspot, to open so that he can start pursuing his graduate degree.

"I have deferred my enrollment from last fall to next summer, and so basically I have just held my breath for the last few months and waited; such a waste of time," the Hanoian said.

Others have seen their wedding and baby plans disrupted.

There have been a lot of separations among young lovers, and many have no idea when they will meet again.

In Saigon, Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang has been waiting for her British boyfriend to come to Vietnam for their wedding, which was originally scheduled for last summer.

"There was no wedding," Trang, 28, said. "The virus has delayed our wedding, and it will delay us having kids and other things."

Without being able to get jobs and with other plans being disrupted, many are beginning to have mental issues.

"There has been a surge in the number of people with depression," Dr Huynh Van Minh, head of the Vietnam Society of Hypertension, said.

The ILO has warned that high unemployment rates could lead to dangerous increases in depression and anxiety.

People wait to have unemployment benefits at the Hanoi Center for Employee Service in Cau Giay District, June 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

People wait to have unemployment benefits at the Hanoi Center for Employee Service in Cau Giay District, June 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Silver lining

Many young people have tried to look for positive things by making new plans or taking up new habits.

"I see the Covid-19 pandemic is a catalyst that forces me to rethink my spending habits," Nguyen Thu An, a white-collar worker in Hanoi who admitted to being a spendthrift before the pandemic, said.

Others found new hobbies during the social distancing campaign last year, such as cooking and gardening, or began to spend time with their family unlike earlier.

"I found out that I love growing plants, and my room is now full of greenery," Tung, the new graduate waiting to leave for the U.S., said.

He also learned some barista skills, and so "I do not have to go out for good coffee."

The pandemic has made some young people realize that they must be adaptable, sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh told VnExpress International.

Le Viet Chung, 29, of Da Lat Town said the pandemic taught him to adapt after his employer in Saigon laid him off.

"I was depressed and shocked, but then a friend suggested that I should try to embark on a new path." The Saigon salesperson thus became a manager of a hostel in Da Lat.

Sociologist Binh is optimistic, saying the pandemic is enabling young Vietnamese to improve by overcoming "challenges that life throws at them."

"Many of them could become part of a lost generation, but in the long run they will learn and grow."

 
 
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