Tuesday, June 14, 2005

the perfect shape, by Khanh Duy Nguyen Oehlke


the perfect shape,
i've come full circle.
far from home,
i've come so far.

we know the story far too well,
as we size, share, and compare the scars.

in quest of self,
we have found each other.in the company of strangers,
we have found a brother.

we know the story all too well.
we know the love of a child and mother.

blood has proven wider than oceans.
skin has proven only so deep.
ignorance once fueled a fire
self-awareness and understanding has laid to sleep.

i will return
to where i've never been.
again. and my friend,
i will see you there.

together, we will walk the shape that has brought us so far.
we will make the shape that has brought us home.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What's Meaningful

The following interviews are about Vietnamese adoptees from Australia, Europe and America who not only have come back to visit their heritage, but also to settle in Vietnam. Our perspective is unique as foreigners, as Viet-Kieu (Vietnamese Overseas), and as adoptees who, through various connections, know each other while now living in Saigon, Vietnam.

Everyone in the world searches for peace and meaning in their lives. As adoptees growing up we have searched for comfort in our identity, finding where we fit in. While not entirely accepted in our home countries nor here in Vietnam, we share the feeling of pride and excitement in humbly submerging ourselves into our roots and this gives us peace. Why it is so meaningful to us to come back to our motherland which we were afraid to confront before is almost impossible to put in words, but these interviews shed some light.

The interviews of Tuy Buckner, Brent Kurkoski, Khanh Oehlke, Zion Mitchell, Thao Pross, Kym Blackwell, Tiffany Goodson, Jen Noone, and myself share common sentiments about how much it means for us to live in Vietnam as a part of our daily lives and as a part of our journey in life. While we do not have family, nor relatives to come back to, we have a country, a culture and fortunately each other as we support each other in our quest for self. This gives us comfort in our drive towards peace and meaningfulness. For us living here is a personal fulfillment, a challenge, a learning experience, a struggle, a passion and a good life.

I thank all my friends for sharing their time and their personal feelings with me. While we are lucky to regularly catch up with each other, these interviews offer a better explanation to our friends, family and whoever you might be as to why we are here. These are our words.

-Kevin Minh (March, 2005)



Tuy Buckner



Hometown: Berkeley, CA. USA
Birth date and Birthplace: Aug 1970, November 18, 1971 (birth date/date of arrival at orphanage on certificate) Sa Dec, VN
Occupation: Jeweler, Investor
Duration of stay in VN to date: Been coming to Vietnam to visit and for work since August 1991

1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

I really like the activity of the city. You can really see how people live here since there is more street life. It’s very lively. Another great thing about living here is how people network. Friends will often introduce you to friends which is a great way of meeting people and learning the language. I’ve been here so long, but I’m still learning things culturally.

Another great thing about the street activity is seeing the pretty girls! In the States, people are more closed in whether they’re in their cars or the streets just aren’t as busy. In the States, you might have to go to a club to find the pretty girls, whereas they’re everywhere on the busy streets of Vietnam.


2). What do you miss most about your home country?

I miss the independence of mobility I have because I’m disabled (Tuy was born with polio and unable to walk) . There is a stigma that being disabled means being mentally incapacitated, less motivated.

I miss being able to express myself in the States, whereas it can get frustrating at times here trying to express yourself in a foreign language. However, learning Vietnamese has empowered me.

Finding things that are readily available in the States such as international food are not here.

I have in me a train of thought that the “American Way” is the right way versus the Vietnamese way. For example, I have an interest in bringing my Vietnamese family to the city for opportunity and become self-sufficient in educating themselves and by working. The Vietnamese don’t really foster independence as much as Americans and family members are very reliant on each other which is difficult to change in both practical and cultural sense.

3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

Humility! You quickly learn the placement in society you occupy. The culture dictates rank through language and age. Also, the directness of questions such as questions like about your age, how much money you earn and even asking for money can feel like an invasion of your privacy. You learn to respond to these questions over time to a point where they’re not personal and your responses become automatic.

Whether you’re working or not, you’re constantly learning. As a foreigner I feel you’re more responsible for your actions because you’re more noticeable.


4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

One thing I find comfortable about Vietnamese culture is the Male role versus how it is in the U.S. In Vietnam it is overemphasized that women take care of their men. One example is how at my Vietnamese family’s house in Sa Dec all men are served first when we eat. For me I don't see this as a means of inequality, but more like appreciation since I support my entire family, I'm the father-figure, and their way of reciprocating is making sure that i'm taken care of.

People don’t assume that I’m Vietnamese at first contact. I don’t have a typical Vietnamese look also because I’m half Filipino. Since I have been coming here since 1991, I’ve been somewhat of an icon, very recognizable and remembered by many even if I haven’t seen them for many years. I stand out with my appearance and like the recognition.

While I understand and accept the reasons at many levels, corruption is still strange to me. For example, you can be driving down the street, the police pull you over which you payoff and leave.

While Vietnam is improving in assisting the street peddlers, it still bothers me to be sitting at a restaurant or café and be attacked by flower, gum or lottery ticket sellers.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

I’ve come a long way! My level of mobility from taking cyclos back in the earlier times I came to Vietnam to taking taxis, having bought houses and have business assets in Vietnam to provide for my family here. I’ve tried to deal with family by going step by step, but unfortunately unable to prevent spoiling my family.

I’d like to bring more modern technology and awareness for the disabled people in Vietnam. A goal of mine is to open a wheelchair manufacture which uses modern material such as titanium and employs the disabled to let them be a part of the process including design and manufacturing. I want to stress the importance of using the mind of the disabled to lift the social mentality and accommodations such as access to restaurants, bathrooms, and other public places.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

Our network is strong. We have an underlying understanding where each of us is at different stages which helps the development of the group. We learn from each other in language and reacting to situations. I find that introducing others to our adoptee friends helps others better understand each individual. I feel I take as much as I give in our friendships.

I value my friendships with adoptees over new or other friendships. I’m sympathetic to those adoptees who made the voyage to Vietnam, embrace the Vietnamese culture and more importantly the heritage. I'm very passionate about about living in Vietnam and I see in my adoptee friends the improvement over time from living here. Vietnam will improve you and you won’t want to leave!

Stepping outside your comfort zone, you submerge yourself in the humility when facing your unknown culture and heritage. Coming to Vietnam and settling here is something I had to do for myself which my American family supports. I have to reassure my family that I’m okay and that I’ll always go home to see them. I can’t lose that part of me.


Brent Thien Kurkoski



Hometown: Stillwater, MN. USA
Birth date and Birthplace: May 6. 1973 Rach Gia, Vietnam
Occupation :English Teacher
Duration of stay in VN to date: Since January, 2001




1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

The best thing about living in Vietnam is the cost of living which allows me to be more flexible and adaptable to situations. For example, in case of a financial emergency I can afford to survive. When I lived in New York City, either without a place to live or work you’re up shits creek!

Here people will help you out because you’re Vietnamese, even Viet-Kieu (Vietnamese Overseas). I feel I unknowingly contributed to this bond back in the States when I worked in social work and helped out Vietnamese refugees learning daily tasks such as going to the store and buying things. Vietnamese keep their identity with each other by helping each other. It’s reciprocal. There’s an inherent acceptance of each other because of being Vietnamese which crosses international boarders.

I first felt this strong connection with Vietnamese with other adoptees Khanh Oehlke and Jen Noone in New York City. I’ll never forget how I had just met Khanh, he wrapped his arm around me and said, “we’re Vietnamese!” This was a strong bond not only because I identified with being Vietnamese, but also as a fellow adoptee.

2). What do you miss most about your home country?

Not much dude! I miss the cafes. I miss my parents more than I thought I would with them getting older time feels more limited. Having them visit me here made me realize the lapse of time between us. I want them to continue to experience my adoption through my 9 month old child here which is difficult. With my work, my wife and child I feel my feet are finally planted here. Before I thought I might have to leave back to the U.S. which was also comforting, but now I cannot nor do I want to.

I don’t miss the U.S. at all and part of that has to do with the U.S. involvement with war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration. I appreciate being a U.S. citizen and my college education, but I don’t miss the U.S.

3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

I always believed I was adaptable and being here has strengthened my belief. Learning the language, being able to speak Vietnamese, hold a conversation and understanding the body language in the cultural context is very important. Understanding the body language means understanding what it means to be loud or how people smile in different situations. Back in the U.S. yelling implies excitement or anger, but because of the tones in the Vietnamese language, people are more expressive and louder here. Smiles here seem to have dual meaning. People smile out of happiness and also to soften uncomfortable situations whereas people in the U.S. don’t smile if they’re not happy. If someone smiles at you here in Vietnam, it’s sincere, it’s often very bright and you can see it in their eyes. The Vietnamese also smile as a coping mechanism to deal with a bad situation in a respectable way. For example, I was living with a Vietnamese family and there was a dispute. I later looked at the father to see if things were okay and he smiled, but I could see in his eyes that things were not okay.

In intimate and personal relationships, I’ve learned to give, take space and understand how things resolve themselves. Here issues seem to need more airing out whereas walking away from issues back in the U.S. doesn’t resolve problems. From this I’ve learned there is more commitment to relationships here in Vietnam since people might walk away from personal issues, but don’t abandon the relationship.



4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

When I came to Vietnam and each time I come back, seeing Ton Son Nhat Airport makes my heart sputter. The first time I came to Vietnam I remember feeling like I’m coming home even though I hadn’t been here before. I guess I attribute that to being spiritual. I’ve always been spiritual and my spirituality came out here. I feel like I belong here, like I came full circle ..it sounds corny, but as if I came back here to die. Back in the States, I had a great family, great experiences, but I felt like I walked alone. Here I feel like I returned to the source, here I don’t feel alone because people are so open, insatiably curious which facilitates relationships and that’s how I am too. I’m always meeting people. I came here to learn, feel like a kid again, and wide-eyed. While I may have been innocent in this sense I’ve never felt in danger and always feel safe here.

Even though I understand, I don’t fully accept and still struggle with my wife’s family, understanding how family is integrated. For example, it’s been an issue having my grown up brother in law live with us, finding my purpose to him and to be aware of my role to support him. Bringing up this topic is very sensitive and has caused family tension.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

Oh way more than I thought! My initial goal coming here was to setup an NGO for adoptees, to sit back and see what the life is like. This idea originally came out of meeting other Vietnamese adoptees back in Chicago. Indigo Williams, who runs AVI, was a big factor in getting me over here and organizing a tour for about eight of us. This was like the study abroad experience I always wish I had back in college. The other adoptees and I wanted to setup an adoptee network and we thought what better place than in our home country. However, we were so much in awe of going out and seeing life so things didn’t get organized then. I also ended up going to see where I was born, Rach Gia, and met a crazy lady who thought she was my mother.

I love living in the big city! When I first came here I would take a map and get lost to find new places. It was a really cool experience! Now I’m settled here, found work, married, have a kid and am about to buy a house. I’ve proved I can survive abroad, learn about my native culture, whereas I was scared about this before. I’ve done this on my own and with the help of locals. Many times people told me they’d help me because I’m Vietnamese which is awesome!

I want to have continuity, completion building the bridge between my two worlds by bringing my son to visit my family in the U.S. I still feel a strong sense of individualism. I have that belief and trust which doesn’t minimize my relationship with family in the U.S. or here. Going forward I will look out for my son, yet I am still comfortable that I’m alone. In the spiritual sense I know will see my maker and everyone who has touched my life, it will overlap. This experience has confirmed in me that everything comes full circle and that the end is never the end.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

I hope everyone stays!!! I don’t see this sort of commitment until work or marriage plants you here.

There’s a respect and shared understanding we have for each other as to why we’re here. I know I want to help all the adoptees since I know what it’s like to start fresh here, I was like that before. For example, helping Khanh finding work, a place to live and now through the steps to his upcoming wedding. I share this sentiment with my wife to help as much as I can and she understands. I do this out of being here longer as Tuy has also helped me. The shared understanding and reason for being here is important.



Khanh Oehlke



Hometown: Rockford, IL. USA
Birth date and Birthplace: October 4, 1974 (Found near Saigon River and brought to New Haven Orphanage).
Occupation: English Teacher
Duration of stay in VN to date: 2 week visit in 2002. Since February 2, 2003

 




1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

The best thing about living in Vietnam is the community feel. People are always out on the street; having coffee, food, buying/selling hats, souvenirs, lottery tickets, or just smoking a cigarette watching the day pass. I like that people are very sociable. It's a common thing for strangers to strike up a conversation with one another while having coffee on the street. There is also the neighborhood community, where the kids are always playing, and neighbors regularly socialize. From my experience I find that people helping each other is reciprocal. Helping is not expected, but if someone asks for your help you'd help and what goes around comes around. I sense that generally if you can help, you do. From motorbike accidents to public arguments in the streets, by-standers always crowd around, and are always more than willing to offer their own account. Times I've forgotten money to pay for street coffee, food, or even photocopying, it's never a problem to pay next time.
I like the fact that I can be lazy if I want to and I also like enjoy working. My teaching schedule gives me time to do things I want to such as play music, Playstation 2 - Madden Football, study Vietnamese, play soccer and exercise.
Other things I like about living here are the food and the motorbikes. I'm getting used to the heat better than when I first got here. I've visited the countryside before and am excited about doing it again soon. I think being with Vietnamese out in the countryside is amazing because my western lifestyle compared to their rural lifestyle is so completely different. It's a different way of life. I remember seeing the house boats in Ha Long Bay back when I visited in 2001. That was fuck'n really cool!

2). What do you miss most about your home country?

I miss family, friends, music, and watching football (Packers!). I miss the change in seasons though the last winter when I visited this past Christmas was fuck’n freezing! I miss the ease of seeing my family if I wanted to and talking to them on the phone.

A lot of music here I can't really get into. I miss the variety of music back in the States. Most of the live music here is all pop cover songs, so you and I gotta get this band thing movin' dammit.

I miss watching football back home, watching the Packer games with my dad and brother. I miss the office pools and gambling that goes with it.


3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

I learned that I belong here. I have my family back in the States who I love to death, but I feel like I belong in Vietnam. Even before I came here I kinda knew this about myself. I had always dreamt of coming here, and now that I'm living here, it's difficult to imagine myself anywhere else.
I've also learned I haven't learned jackshit. I have learned a lot, but there's so much more ahead of me. I sometimes lack that extra motivation to study Vietnamese, to go to the gym. I know I need to take better care of my health, want to be more in touch with the Phu My Orphanage that I went to during my first visit to Vietnam, and not be so lazy with my daily plans. I know I still have so much to learn about living here.

4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

I feel comfortable here searching for my roots through getting to know people and their customs. For example I lived with a Vietnamese family for a year and I had thought my family of three in the U.S. was big, but living with my friend's family here which is more than twice the size of mine was a whole other experience, next I'˜ll have a family of my own and we'll see what that's like.
The traffic, especially the truck drivers annoy the shit out of me. I'm used to it, but it's kinda outta hand! The pushing and shoving in lines is also annoying. For example I went to the Hospital where people pushed their way in front of you to get to the window and there's just no sense of personal space.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

I think I've accomplished quite a bit just in getting here, to be honest. I feel I'm very fortunate to have been able to come back and stay here. But 30 years in the States is a lot of time to make up for. No matter how long I stay, I'll still be 30 years behind.
I have come closer to realizing my goal of makings some music. I've got a drum set again. Next step is to buy or send for my guitar and buy a computer.
I think most importantly I really need to improve my ability to communicate in Vietnamese.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

It's definitely supportive, it's automatic. We all connect on different levels yet we have a common bond that makes us know we're there for each other. We're similar in that we all have come from a western background, and have chosen to retain some of those ways. For example, we generally like to stay out later than most locals, and are okay with renting houses at the foreigner rate. Most Vietnamese haven't been abroad so it's hard for them to understand why we are willing to pay more to eat out at restaurants. At the same time, people are people. Back in 2000 I wrote a poem The Perfect Shape that speaks to this bond. I'm closer to some adoptees than others, but living here together, having moved to a strange place, having the language barrier, being the farthest from everything we've ever known including our families just increases our common experiences, and has made that fundamental bond even stronger. It's a crazy thing!
To me, the circle is a perfect shape for a lot of reasons. But I feel it's representative of all that has been, is, and will be. It's traced all of our journies, having left Vietname so long ago, and now coming back.



Zion Mitchell
















Hometown: Melbourne, AUS
Birth date and Birthplace: September 3, 19747 Vinh Long, VN
Occupation: English Teacher and Tennis Coach
Duration of stay in VN to date: April 2004 on 1 week tour. May 2004 - October 2011

1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

Being an adoptee, finding my missing half of my identity, my heritage, has helped me feel at peace with my environment and myself. Another great thing about living in Vietnam is the feeling of closenes to Vietnamese people because of sympathy or understanding which I feels stems from caring and showing that their happy that I came back.

I also really enjoy the energy of the city and being a part of it. For example, it’s great to be driving around on a motorbike, being a part of the predominantly young culture which is full of energy, continuous new investments, and social changes. The trends here are exciting!

Vietnam is also a very livable country and Saigon is an easy city to live in . Maybe ignorance is bliss so maybe I perceive life the way I want to see it, but in comparison to life in Australia, it’s very safe here which was not a notion I had before coming here.

The food is the most different, yet most important thing which I feel really agrees with me and it’s cheap.. Very affordable!


2). What do you miss most about your home country?

I miss my friends and family, but know they’re always there and I accept the reality that everyone has their own lives to live, but the far distance makes me miss them more. I also miss my independence and convenience in my daily life back in Australia. This has to do with my language barrier which makes doing things such as buying something on the street less convenient here plus things here seem to move at a slower pace.

3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

Having gone back to my orphanage and seeing the history of my records that confirm my existence before my adoption was extremely meaningful. Living in Vietnam also makes me feel much more appreciative of my friends and family back in Australia. With my friends and family’s support and encouragement makes me feel comfortable in Vietnam and want to appreciate Vietnam at a deeper level. I find they knew better and were more encouraging than how I felt about coming back to Vietnam. They helped me overcome my apprehension of the old rural image of Vietnam and that it’s dangerous to come here which was ingrained in my mind.

It felt like a phenomenon coming back here and something that I knew that I had to do. Vietnam is very spiritual which goes along with my recent openeness to spirituality and energies over the past few years. Vietnamese people are very spiritual here in the sense that they are very energetic which feels relatable. My acceptance of where I stand as a Vietnamese adoptee is very comfortable for me, something I’m very proud of. Also being surrounded by Vietnamese environement and being familiar with it is very comforting knowing I have the choice and can fit in here as well as in Australia.
4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

I used to hear the Vietnamese langauge as loud, abrupt and harsh. I then realized that’s the way I speak too, but just in another language! Also, riding a motorbike is something I love despite the innate knowledge that it’s dangerous.

Something I don’t like is the way people dress here. I find the mens’ way of dressing especially uptight, yet changing for the better.


5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

When I first arrived here, I had no expectations nor obligations. After deciding to settle things started to change as I transformed from the tourist to local mentality. Once I found work here I felt my identity shift since work is a major reason why anyone settles in a place.

I feel like I’ve achieved a lot emotionally and spiritually which has allowed me to be at peace. I feel very lucky! I’ve learned that luck comes to everyone and that you need to be aware and make decisions following your heart versus your head. I feel that this approach is more spiritual and the right way for me.

On a work level, teaching English full-time and coaching the number one tennis player in Vietnam feels very satisfying since it feels like I’m giving back to Vietnam.

Having found a soul mate, being engaged, is more valuable than all the assets I had back in Australia. With my friends and future wife I feel more at ease staying here. Staying her long term I feel that this support network has helped me learn the culture very fast.


6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

I feel very lucky to have found each other. More than just being adopted we’re connected on many levels. Adoptees are all very supportive, understanding, yet independent. We accept each other because we allow each other to find ourselves at each owns pace. I have a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood with each other.

Kym Le Blackwell



Hometown: Birmingham, England
Birth date and Birthplace: November 3, 1974 Saigon, Vietnam; September 6, 1974
Occupation: Entrepreneur/IT Manager
Duration of stay in VN to date: July, 20 2004 - October 2012; 3 months visiting prior

1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

It’s financially easy, cheap to live here. The lifestyle and pace of life is better, easier and less stressful here. For example, going to coffee in the UK you still feel stressed by other worries on your mind whereas here having coffee is so common, even a part of work meetings, and easy going.

I like dressing how I want to and not seeming pretentious whereas in England the society is more dictating about dress codes such as entering clubs or going to certain places which makes you someone you don’t want to be.

I like that I don’t have to pretend to be someone else to fit in, I automatically fit in. Fitting in has made things easier. Back in the UK I worry about my features from a white person’s eyes. I feel at ease here. This feeling was instant from the first time I visited and I felt that something ignited inside of me that I didn’t feel before.

Back in England the question “where are you from?” made me feel defensive since I knew it implied that people where inquiring about my origins while I had lived in England most of my life. My first reflex to this sensitive question was defensive.

2). What do you miss most about your home country?

I unfortunately didn’t get to formerly say goodbye, prepare myself as settling here just happened because of my relationship with Thao. I miss my close friends, but otherwise not a lot to be honest.

I miss the ease of use of certain services such as finding information or paying bills which can be limited to me by language barrier. I think expectations of what people can do for me are so different here such as being able to pick up a phone and getting answers. Here I have to frequently repeat myself.

I also miss sports that I did with friends back in England like football, mountain biking, jogging, badminton, and swimming.


3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

I’ve learned to be more patient, to be more self-critical and I’m also learning the Vietnamese language. I’ve learned the different levels of where I’m at in settling here compared to other adoptees who’ve been here for different amounts of time. This has helped me gained perspective about how to live here. In becoming more self-critical I find myself putting myself in other person’s shoes which has become an introspective learning process. I’m more conscious of how others perceive me and I don’t want to come across as arrogant. I found in England, people can be arrogant just to try to fit in whereas this is not important to me here. I feel more comfortable here.
4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

For the first time I can say I’m Vietnamese whereas before I was Vietnamese born living in England.

Understanding the Vietnamese culture such as the roles of the family, rank and how people accept you like family is comfortable. Living with Thao, we have no connection to Vietnamese family whereas some other adoptees have partner’s family to which they can relate to, but my prior experience living with a local friend’s family was great!

I feel like I’m still a novice so not sure what is strange since everything about the culture is still rather new so I’m still learning a lot.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

Just recently finally deciding to stay here was a big decision since this wasn’t something I had planned before coming here. I still have yet accomplish working here, yet to see how it’s culturally different work wise versus working in England.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

I feel at ease with each other having been in the same boat during our lives. Everyone makes it quite easy for the other person, giving opinions. The understanding amongst us is automatic which has helped me learn to express my feelings. It’s strange because I’ve never been open about my feelings and sharing experiences, but with other adoptees it’s easier.



Silke Thao Pross



Hometown: Munich, Germany
Birth date and Birthplace: September, 26, 1974
Occupation: Product Manager, Entrepreneur
Duration of stay in VN to date: Visited several times since 1998 (3 months). May, 2004-December, 2005


1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

Ca phe sua da! I’m addicted to Vietnamese ice coffee!

It’s amazing how people are genuinely welcoming, supportive and helpful.

Life is slower here and sometimes this sucks, but I like it, it’s more relaxed. Despite the busy city environment, it’s still more relaxed here. In the West there’s more pressure from others and yourself to have a busy schedule.

I like being the same as others as long as I don’t open my mouth, draw attention to myself by opening my mouth and speaking Vietnamese. Growing up in Germany, I was oversensitive about being noticed and stressed out about having a different appearance.


2). What do you miss most about your home country?

I miss my friends! I also miss German attitudes about structure and reliability. For example, I’d say there are no traffic rules here compared to driving in Germany. Working here is also different. Efficiency here is different where daily responsibility is more towards getting a task and doing it. There’s less flexibility and self-initiative in work ethic here.


3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

Being able to ride a motorbike is exciting!

When growing up in Germany I felt something was missing, belonging somewhere. Getting to know Vietnam has brought me a sense of peace my need of belonging has gone away. Being here I’ve become more appreciative of Germany. I now know I can belong in both worlds.

4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

I like the family ties, celebration, worship of festivals and holidays. I sometimes feel lost like when I go to a pagoda, but I really enjoy it! Germany is an evolved modern culture. Despite younger generations changing society, the Vietnamese cultures and traditions remain strong and original.

There’s a gender gap between women and men in Vietnam and this is difficult to accept. Here rolls seem very rigid where men and women are not equal in the workplace or out in public, there’s no overlapping. Vietnamese men are hardly gentlemen. Men here expect women to serve and take care of them, not the other way around. This inequality is the norm here whereas this is seen as negative, a social setback in western culture.


5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

I want to learn the language more so not to struggle and continue to motivate myself so I can be more comfortable.

I have several business projects that I want to get started including: Saigon Streetwear, Chili Kids, exporting Vespas and gift export. Things move slowly here and I want to find a middle ground for faster progress.


6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

This is something I didn’t have growing up so meeting adoptees was very nice and to now have these tight bonds is amazing. We have the same backgrounds, the desire to setup a life in a different environment and being able to talk about experiences with people who understand it is worth so much. To know each adoptee gives me strength. It would be totally different without each other, the bond we have is even difficult to describe. I also enjoy my friendships with locals, but what I miss most is a female counterpart with a similar western perspective.



Kevin Minh Gripenberg

Hometown: Larchmont, NY. USA
Birth date and Birthplace: February 14, 1973; Saigon, VN
Occupation: Daydreamer, IT Consultant
Duration of stay in VN to date: 1996-97 Hanoi, Since March 15, 2004 in Saigon & Hanoi

1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

I really enjoy the closeness and strong sense of community sharing of Vietnamese society which I find translates to the Vietnamese being very friendly people in general. Physically people are close in their daily lives sharing food at home, sharing tables at restaurants with strangers, riding on their motorbikes in mass, and living with family (usually extended family too). To foreigners this might seem crowded or like an invasion of personal space, however, one can really appreciate how people make the best of it and don't mind being close. As long as you know that a random push or shove is not meant as offensive. I find wester culture to cultivate too much alienation because of lack of sharing, lack of physical contact and overemphasis of independence.

Another thing I really love is how the Vietnamese language is very playful. People tend to joke more, speak directly and passionately even about the simplest things whether they talk about how good/bad a meal was, that they love a song or that it’s hot outside. They just come out and say it whether the statement seems obvious or redundant. This type of openness is refreshing whereas western culture feels more repressed in how one expresses one’s feelings seeming that expressing certain comments require appropriate timing or etiquette. For example, it’s fine for someone to tell me that I got a bad haircut or that I’ve gained some weight. In the U.S. this type of behavior would be considered rude or only expected with people I’m close with whereas Vietnamese find it okay to talk about with anyone.

2). What do you miss most about your home country?

I miss my family, especially being able to know my niece and nephews growing up. My parents, sisters and I have always been very independent so I feel comfortable doing my own thing here, but it’s hard to see them with me being so far away. I hope they come see my life here one day.

I also miss how technology has made things convenient such as using the internet at home for online shopping, paying bills online and just having reliable internet connection. I miss something as simple as being able to use my checking card for purchases everywhere instead of having to carry cash. While these things are becoming a part of life in Vietnam, they are still new and not widespread in Vietnam.

While I feel comfortable living in a metropolitan city such as Saigon, I do miss the larger diversity of cities like New York and San Francisco. Diversity in the population carries over to how people dress, eat a and of courses act. Saigon is becoming more diverse with other Asian influences as well as Western cultures, but still a very homogenous city compared to most cities in the U.S.

3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

Life in Vietnam is definitely a slower pace which either drives you crazy or you learn to adjust to it. Having lived in the NYC and San Francisco areas I am programmed in a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality meaning if you don’t do something right away someone else will beat you to it. The Vietnamese are more laid back about expectations of how things happen. The Vietnamese work hard and hustle too, but are much calmer yet assured things will get done. This laid back attitude has a soothing affect on everyone. People take more time catching up with friends, family and worry less about beating the person next to them.

4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

Just seeing a population that I look like is very comforting. I can finally find clothes and shoes that are mostly in my size. I really love how so many people wear slippers. They’re so comfortable!

Like many adoptees, I grew up in a predominantly white community where I was the token Asian kid which took on stereotypes such as being a nerd, knowing karate or speaking Chinese which weren’t true. It’s comforting to see such a diverse Vietnamese population and find aspects that I really relate to. I definitely relate to the way of eating 4-5 times a day which seems excessive, albeit the portions are smaller and healthier. Food here has so much taste and each dish has its own purpose in the meal.

While the language dictates certain formalities with rank in how you address someone, I feel very comfortable with how people tend to be very informal and familiar with each other even at first contact. There are no hang-ups about sharing food or dinks with strangers. People here act on an instinct of friendliness rather than fear and mistrust which is unfortunately prevalent in western cultures.

One thing I pinch myself when I experience it is how people make fun of you. As a foreigner this can be perceived as mean or rude, but Vietnamese are very affectionate about this. In Vietnamese culture it’s sometimes considered taboo to praise someone so instead they joke and say the exact opposite. Learning not only the language, but also the nuances and mannerisms is difficult to get used to because many expressions have double-meaning or the figurative context that has little to do with the actual words. For example, they’ll laugh at you and say you’re ugly while meaning that you’re beautiful so not to inflate your ego. You just have to understand this type of teasing is playful and not personal.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

Just being here as long as possible is a goal I feel I’m realizing. I don’t know that I’ll be fluent in Vietnamese any day soon, but I feel my Vietnamese is good and still improving. To be able to speak fluently is definitely a goal. It’s very empowering and comforting to not only get by, but to be able to participate in conversation freely to experience and understand everything.

I plan on staying in Vietnam long-term, have a business with friends (Kym & Thao), and eventually marry. My resolution to stay here comes from my many experiences of living in different cities, countries and finding that Vietnam is where I want to be. Personally it’s very meaningful and if I have to make a routine anywhere I’d most want to do it here.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

It’s definitely a unique and very special network of adoptees here. Individually, we’ve been here various lengths of time and find great moral support in our friendships which makes staying here easier. Without a doubt, we share similar perspectives of adjusting to the culture that can be understood without words. I feel an unconditional love towards the adoptees here as I would to my own family back in the states for the adoptees are my family in Vietnam. It’s really amazing to have this experience of actually “doing it” ..living in Vietnam and to be able to share it on a daily basis with other adoptees is inspiring! It feels like we adoptees are not only doing it for ourselves, our family’s & friend’s back home, but also for each other.


[Interview Added July, 2008]

Tiffany Chi Goodson












Hometown: Minneapolis, MN. USA
Birth date and Birthplace: December 19, 1974
Occupation: Teacher
Duration of stay in VN to date: July 29, 2007 - July 2008


1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

When I was little, I was caught up in the ‘what if’ ..what if I didn’t come to the US and now I get to live out that dream, experience what it’s like to live in Vietnam which is something I always dreamt about. I like all the aspects such as the food, people and climate. Before, the only thing I had to go on was movies. I like that garden terrace on the roof top over there and things like rot iron gates. They’re oriental and ornamental. Seeing familiar faces, characteristics, and blending in has its advantages. I feel fortunate to not have grown up in Vietnam, have the opportunities, life is a gift and I’ve been given an extra gift, I have 2 families.

2). What do you miss most about your home country?

Coin operated laundromats. You can throw in the coins, go get a coffee, come back and feel your soft laundry. In Hanoi, I brought my clothes to get them washed and became friends with the manager. In the beginning of my stay in Vietnam, I really missed my friends and family, but I’m used to living far away from everyone. It’s been a decade that everyone in my family hasn’t been in the same city.

I miss organic food because I began becoming concerned for my health when I left LA. I miss buying and preparing my own food. Organic is a choice against farm factories, a statement to help the environment. I see how animals are treated here (monkeys cooped in small cages, cats on small leashes) or hear about how vegetables are grown here. Animals being carried to the market in inhumane ways or one time I clearly remember a hill tribe boy torturing a small cat, beating it with a stick. I’m not an animal activist, but seeing how it doesn’t phase some people was shocking in the beginning, then I accept is a cultural difference. We’ve grown up in the US with the mantra to ‘treat people how you would want to be treated,’ but you see people here act more like they are focused on their ‘family unit’ as if that’s the only thing that matters. For example, if you see an accident you help, but here people don’t help. I heard this about a French woman who had a motorbike accident where the motorbike landed on her leg, the exhaust pipe was burning her leg. The doctor said had she waited any longer that he’d have to amputate her leg. Finally someone did help her. Another issue is domestic abuse; people don’t intervene because it’s just not their business. All my perceptions are viewed through a lens of westernized conditioning so it’s not my job to change peoples’ ways of thinking.

3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

That I have to look out for my own interests, it’s difficult to trust people. I had an experience with my job where they reneged on my contract. People won’t always tell you the truth, but what you want to hear. For instance I was supposed to have internet installed back in December and instead got it in May just hearing, “next week, next week…” Vietnam time is not western time. Things happen in their own sweet time. I learned to be patient, accept things beyond my control. I don’t have family here to give me advice like others, but I’ve always been independent. I do get lonely sometimes, though I do want my own space and time to myself which locals don’t necessarily understand.

I’ve learned to let go of the past. That’s a recent development. I’m pretty quick to give a disclaimer that I’m born here, I’m adopted, grew up with a white family. I’m the sum of my experiences. Now I don’t need to put it all out there. I used to feel like I had to prove myself not to be boring. I feel like I can walk away from that.

4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

The driving. It first appears as madness, but then you see the organization behind the chaos. It’s like walking through Grand Central Station and not walking into each other. The way people ‘jerry-rig’ things, how people make things work. I did that when my side view mirror ripped off so I duct taped it back and that worked. Utilizing what you have, not throwing away everything. I used to be such a pack rat.

The standard of cleanliness here is something I can’t accept back home, but I accept it. Back in the US we hide our junk under our beds or in closets, but here it’s an eyesore. They don’t repaint here so you see stains on walls. The indoor smoking bothers me. You leave smelling like an ashtray, your eyes are stinging, and you have a soar throat. People trying to charge you more for what something is worth. I realize that money means more to them than me. I’ll pay 20,000 VND for flowers even if it’s worth 5,000 VND. Anywhere you go you’ll have shit to bitch about, but I don’t want to hold onto negativity. I want to understand every case in its cultural context.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

Yes! In one year I feel like I’ve used my time very well. I do feel like I could have used my time better to study Vietnamese. I taught 500 students, taught yoga and did guest presentations at the American Center.

Honestly, I can’t wait to leave. I had considered to stay another year, though there are some things calling me home. I feel saturated with Vietnamese. No matter where I am I feel restless after one year. From the ages 8-13 I moved every year. From this I have what I’d call the travel bug. These experiences also allowed me to adapt quickly in new environments. It honed my powers of observation. I’d love to come back and come back to live here. There’s so much opportunity and experience here, but that’s enough for now. It’s an intrigue that will never die, a fascination that will always exist. There’s a lot more feeling, this is a romantic country, people feel close knit bond with others. I didn’t grow up with that, but I do have these emotions in my veins. Part of it stems from tragedy and everyone has their stories of woe. Though in the US, people seemingly have everything and they are depressed, whereas people here have less and seem happy, they have company.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

Yes! Every time I wanted to meet up they’ve come through. When I met Zion, there’s an automatic understanding. His story is my story. Overall, the adoptees here are more supportive. We have a common thread being torn away from our motherland and coming to grips with who we are. I always felt a sense of missing a link, and then coming here there’s a chapter I can close that’s been open all my life.

7). What about living in Vietnam as an American woman?

Definitely here we’re viewed as the weaker sex. Part of my contract review was to get a bicycle and my director was overprotective, acting as if I can’t take care of myself. It’s not a bad thing. I’m naturally an independent person, I don’t want someone telling me what to do, give someone the pleasure of helping me. I’m also friends with more guys which is probably interpreted differently when they came to visit me at my place. What annoyed me was that the only Vietnamese men that wanted to hang out with me were married men who thought it’s acceptable. No single guys here attempted, maybe they’re intimidated.


[Interview Added September, 2008]

Jen Nguyen Noone













Hometown: Garden City South, NY (USA)
Birth date and Birthplace: January 28, 1975. District 5 – Saigon.
Occupation: Social Worker
Duration of stay in VN to date: March 26, 2008 - February 2009, March 2013 - April 2015

1). What do you think is the best thing about living in Vietnam?

The richness of the culture. Absolutely! Coming from New York City everything is mixed, but there is no one defined culture, no answer to what culture is. The warmth and friendliness of the culture is another thing. I find in most developing countries that most people are welcoming and open. Vietnamese are happy to have visitors here. Aside from financial gain, they really want to get to know about foreigners, where we come from and they are curious to know what we think of Vietnam.

The beauty of the landscape is great, though to be honest Saigon isn’t as beautiful as some other places. The food is really good too! Being vegetarian I find that people are respectful whereas it’s not always the same in the US. People are also very patient with me about learning the language, help me and wait for me when I try to speak. At the same time it’s helpful that people here also speak English when I need to communicate. Lastly, the pace is relaxing. The fact that you can sit at a café or restaurant and not feel like you’re in a hurry. Maybe I say that because I’m from New York.

2). What do you miss most about your home country?

Family and friends. It’s a different time for me in my life. My family dynamics have changed since my brother now has kids and my mother is alone. I want to remain close with my family, but being here doesn’t help that. Coming to live in Vietnam is something that I wanted to do for myself and they are supportive.

As much as I love teaching English, I miss practicing social work. Social work has always been something I wanted to do and I knew I was going to miss it when I came here. I’ve done this before having temporarily left my job to live in Central America (Guatemala) but, I’m content and feel fortunate to be here and experience this. I see it as a privilege.

Another thing I miss is things being easier to get to, being able to go out the door, hop on the train, read a book and being there in 25 minutes..not worrying about getting into an accident. Lastly, I also miss jogging in Central Park.


3). What is the most important thing you’ve learned from living in Vietnam?

You need to be flexible, open-minded and stay positive. The importance of language is something I learned through this experience. If something happens that you didn’t expect you can get frustrated, or even better, try to understand the situation. The last thing I want to be is obnoxious foreigner who thinks her culture is better. You need to understand where people are coming from. In general I’m a positive person which is helpful, but I also need to be careful that I don’t just think the best of every situation and come off as clueless.

Language is so important to understand how it is reflective on the culture and that we have two different languages and cultures whether I’m speaking to a Vietnamese or even another foreigner.

When I speak Vietnamese I’m aware that I’m very limited which I feel I’m not presenting my full self, but stay positive and it’s fine. It’s hard to explain, but I learn something everyday whether it’s about how people behave or practical things…like cutting a pineapple.

One thing that strange is when I explain about being adopted. I know that people know about the war, but they don’t know about the thousands of adoptees who left Vietnam at that time.

4). What is one thing that feels strangely comfortable about Vietnamese culture even though you did not grow up with it? What is something about the Vietnamese culture you cannot get used to even though you might accept it?

How easily I fit in. Physically that is. I know you know what I mean. Honestly that’s the only thing. I feel most comfortable when I’m riding my motorbike and blending in, not talking to anyone. With the language I don’t know what’s going on. For example, I go to the gym, I hear people talking sometimes to me and I can only acknowledge them with a smile.

Another thing I’m very comfortable with is the warm weather. However, the driving drives me nuts!! I know people in Boston don’t drive well, but here people here pull out in front of you like there’s no liability. I can accept many things like having to go to the toilet on the dirt ground or being discriminated against, but not the impulsive driving.

I get angry when I see kids on the street corner of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai knowing there's a possibility that adults are allowing their kids to beg for money, sometimes completely naked , rolling on the ground covered in filth at 12 AM. I see it as a form of abuse. However, if they don’t have parents, then it’s easier for me to accept this situation.

5). Would you say that you’ve accomplished what you expected to experience while living in Vietnam? What are your future plans for living in Vietnam? Hopes and aspirations?

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve accomplished anything because it’s not concrete for me. I came here to learn Vietnamese and about the life here. When I leave after a year’s time it won’t be enough, but at least it’s something. I’m glad that I’m here and getting here is an accomplishment for me on a lot of different levels such as independence and maturity that I’ve reached.

My plans are short-term because of my family. Things are fine, but I want to be closer to them. When I leave here I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I definitely will whether to visit, to live or even to adopt a child as I have thought about that.

6). Do you find the network of adoptees here to be supportive and how do you see your friendships with adoptees versus other people you have met in Vietnam?

Oh yeah. Absolutely. There are a lot more adoptees here than I had thought. Sometimes I think about adoptees from other countries, if they go back to their homelands and have the same experience.

I feel fortunate to have adoptee friends here because otherwise I’d feel lonely. They are my main support. Adoptees here are supportive on different levels such as introducing the city and also introducing other adoptees to me. There is something extra with friends who are adoptees, that you understand that person. While being adopted is something in common, it doesn’t always mean you’ll be friends. Being adopted is just one point about a person and sometimes you have that in common, but nothing else.

7). What about living in Vietnam as an American woman?

I feel like I don’t truly ever fit in wherever I am. Sometimes I don’t even fit in America as a female being 33 and single because of being independent and doing what I want to do with my life.

I find it’s different here in Vietnam. The mindset is changing and becoming more Western. Even though they don’t always follow Western Culture, they understand it. Somehow I don’t feel as I’m disrespected as a female here or maybe I’m not in situations that I feel this way. For the short time I taught in schools here I felt discriminated against as a Viet-Kieu (Vietnamese overseas), but otherwise I’ve been well received in my other teaching jobs.

I also feel I benefit from being American. I work less, but am paid more than locals. I’m almost amazed how much more I can get paid. I totally see how other people who have money retire here!


[Interview Added April, 2014]

Mark Eggering





Birth date and birthplace: December 7, 1971 - Danang
Hometown: Lake St. Louis, MO
Arrival in Vietnam: December 2012
Previous occupation: Sports Marketing - Anaheim Ducks
Current employment: Teaching English and Corporate Training

In the early 90’s The word “Viet-Kieu” (Vietnamese overseas) was a label mainly associated with single Vietnamese males who returned  after decades overseas after the war.  Through many sacrifices they were sent with hopes of being the breadwinners of their families often sending whatever remittances they could save, yet when returning to Vietnam were often perceived by locals as arrogant sometimes flaunting their money and eager to impress women which many could not do overseas.  While the meaning of Viet-Kieu might still possess negative connotations, the label does not entirely define the Viet-Kieu Diaspora and as Christine Buckley points out that Modern Viet Kieu are a wide variety of Vietnamese who have come back to settle in Vietnam now also including many women, recent college graduates, and retirees.

When asked if Mark considers himself Viet-Kieu, “It’s hard to say ..I don’t know.  I’d say I’m Viet-Kieu hesitantly because others would say you're not, but in certain ways I wouldn’t want to be associated because of negative connotations”.  For adoptees this label is reluctantly used when identifying themselves and can be unfair with its negative stereotypes since we grew up overseas mostly in white families and do not fulfill the usual assumption of knowing the Vietnamese language and culture in our upbringing.  

Switching topics to working in Vietnam and asked if he feels under-compensated or discriminated against compared to other applicants in the job market, Mark vehemently replies shouting, “Yes!  Oh yeah! For example my first corporate training gig one client said my English wasn’t good enough.  My boss said they want someone who looks white.  That happened several times.  As if that wasn’t bad enough my boss then asked me to look for teachers to fill a place I know I could teach.”

While the younger generation is more open-minded and accepting of multi-national backgrounds that can teach English , the allure of having a white looking foreigner teacher still dominates the minds of many schools and is reflected in their marketing as if having such staff makes their school international and elite.  

The norms for hiring English teachers in Vietnam is slowly changing, yet still adheres to very superficial standards.  Vietnamese parents are quick to say that they prefer a white teacher usually unaware of nationality whereas schools show preference for teachers with British, North American and Australian  backgrounds.  This is followed by European, non-White foreigners, other Asians (i.e. Filipino) and Viet-Kieu at the bottom.  

When asked what he’s taken away from this experience Mark said that he can be passionate and mentioned, “At first  I was pissed off, but can see how I matured.  You realize that you move on and in a way it gives you satisfaction even though it seems unfair that you have to prove yourself, but that’s how life is.  At times I was angry with Vietnamese but after time I have met more people I can honestly say that this mentality is not the norm.”

Mark along with other Vietnamese overseas have faced many challenges culturally adapting and seeking employment, however this interview also sheds light on the experience not only as being Viet-Kieu, but also as a Vietnamese adoptee experiencing his home country with a positive attitude as well as finding connections with other adoptees.  Despite the disadvantages of being Viet-Kieu mentioned before, there are some advantages that what Mark says is almost like being in someone else's skin compared to having grown up in the West:

“I don’t get bothered by vendors meaning I’m not targeted because I blend in.  There’s also a bond with students who are interested in my personal story.  It helps soften the blow counterbalancing being discriminated against in the hiring aspect as students are genuinely curious about why I came back. I’ve had other foreigner teachers mention to me that students like to take me out whereas they might not feel as close to other foreign teachers.”

Stepping back and looking at his experience so far I asked Mark what is the most important thing he's gained from living in Vietnam to which he gave pause as if a ton of ideas suddenly flooded his mind and he didn't know where to begin, but then a burst...

“Oh my God!  Never question what you eat because if you do you might never have eaten it in the first place.  I've eaten dog and rat to name a couple of things.  

I came to Vietnam with an open mind, no expectations and like a blank canvas in a way like a baby to make an analogy experiencing things anew, certainly not disappointed, and a lot of ups and downs.  Living here has added more to my experiences of moving a lot with similar approaches which have been like preparation for this experience.  If you set expectations you’re more likely to be let down.  

The biggest difference is that I have experienced different stages of living here from being a newcomer all the way to getting married including the entire process and being settled in a matter of one year. It forces you to learn a lot quickly or wrongly.”

Lastly, asking if Mark felt like he’s accomplished what he had in mind and future plans.

“I’m proud of myself for living here.  I could never have imagined about the adoptee community here and that we’re good friends.  I’m fascinated by other adoptees’ stories and the different paths of how we got here.  It’s hard to explain how it’s a homier feeling with Vietnamese adoptees.  I’m appreciative of the help with other adoptees and see it like a pay it forward type of give and take.

My plans are to stay here for a while.”