I remember first stepping foot into my host company’s home office. I was overcome with all these emotions, excitement, nervousness, and fear of what was to come. However, my host company did everything to make me feel welcome and comfortable. As an emerging start-up company, I got close with all my co-workers. Even though there was a language barrier, thanks to Google Translate, we could still have light-hearted conversations. I worked from 8 am to 6 pm, with a 1-hour lunch break, which was common in Vietnam; however, the workload was manageable, and I was learning so much. I was so grateful to have gotten such a fantastic host company; I felt like I had gotten my dream internship. However, sometimes things don’t work out, and that’s fine, too.
On the surface level, everything was going well. I was an intern in one of Vietnam’s fastest-developing start-ups. My host company was not just making me work for them, but they were providing me with master classes and resource material so that I could be better equipped to execute the work while developing my knowledge. So what was the matter? Why did I have to leave such an amazing internship?
It was the most difficult choice; I know some people would love to be where I am today in terms of this internship. It is such a privilege. When I first got the job, it was said that my host company was 45 minutes away, which I was okay with. However, with traffic, it was a one-and-a-half-hour drive. I didn’t want to complain; after all, I was in Vietnam. And I was so grateful for this opportunity. However, a few weeks in, it had taken a toll on my mental and physical health. I had burnt myself out, and having to wake up at 5 to make sure I was out the door before 6:30 to be able to make it to work by eight was challenging; however, I was so determined to stick it out.
I worked hard despite my minimal sleep, as I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. In some instances, I would not be able to get a car to drop me home due to the distance. No driver wants to travel one and a half hours and back; you can imagine the stress one would be in when you are in a different country so far away from everyone else, dealing with the uncertainty of getting home. I would get home around 7:30 pm to 8 pm. When I came home, the other interns had a chance to relax, shower and get ready to go out for dinner, as most were home by 5:30 pm – 6 pm. I was so exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to buy groceries. I would force myself to go out at night with everyone because we have such limited time in Vietnam, and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.
On top of three hours of commute daily, I was spending 50 NZD for my daily travels, which included a road toll I had to pay because my work was in District 9 while we lived in District 3. So over two months, I would have spent roughly 2,000 NZD on travel alone. And as a full-time university student, I did not have sufficient funds to continue with that.
I felt I had no right to complain; I had gotten such a great opportunity. There are people out there who would love to be where I am and to have my problems over theirs. And trust me, I went through every possible option; I communicated it with my host company and program coordinators. I was willing to take the local bus or train with my minimal Vietnamese and with the high chance of getting pickpocketed, but that meant I would have to wake up at 4 to make it to my two and half hour commute to work. I was willing to scooter, but the roads I travel to work are unsafe; my program coordinators highly recommended not choosing that option. And I couldn’t live closer to my host company as the government and our university already provided us with accommodation. And living with New Zealanders was like a home away from home. While living in a foreign country, the support system we interns provided each other was so important.
I vividly remember my breaking point; I got into the car to go back home from work. Many thoughts flooded my brain, unsure of what steps to take next; I started sobbing in the back of the car for a whole hour. It felt like there was no other option, and there was no way out of this problem other than leaving the company. It was no one’s fault in this situation. Sometimes these things don’t go as planned, and for the longest time, I blamed myself; however, when I took a step back and reflected on my experience, I realised that I would not want anyone else to have gone through that. Therefore, the action I took was the one I would recommend anyone else to take if they were in my position. But why did I feel guilty? Of course, I would have loved it to work out, but it couldn’t. Life is not fair sometimes, but it depends on how you deal with the situation. It was a difficult choice because I factored in all possible alternatives, yet they were not practical. It took a while to come to terms with my decision, but I knew it was the right one.
I don’t know if my experiences will help anyone, but I wanted to be honest. Sometimes life isn’t perfect; you will have to go through so many hurdles; I was so prepared for the culture shock, the different work environment, and the language barrier, but no one would have known to have prepared for this. For the longest time, I suffered in silence, not wanting to sound ungrateful, and yes, maybe your problems might not be as big as the others around you, but it doesn’t mean they’re not valid.
Reaching out for help and finally accepting that I could not continue working at my host company was the first step in understanding my limitations and growing as an individual. I couldn’t do everything, and that’s okay; we are human. Therefore, by accepting and voicing my troubles, I got another internship offer at a new up-and-coming start-up company that welcomed and accepted me. Now I am working with another University of Auckland intern. The work is intense, I am not going to lie, but because I have that extra support from my fellow intern, whom I can bounce ideas off of and who understands my struggles, work has been manageable.
I could have written about only the good aspects of my internship, but I want my blog to help future Prime Minister’s Scholars. And to let them know you will face challenges during your internship. Some you might prepare for, others you might not, and some will be easier than others. You might not think at the time that there is a way out, but trust me; things will work out. Yes, we are privileged to have gotten a scholarship to intern in another country, and we have worked extremely hard to get here. But at the end of the day, we are human; sometimes, we can’t do it all, so seeking help or knowing your limits does not make you any less worthy. And acknowledging that it is a very powerful thing.