Dressed in Melbourne black, they sure look like Melbourne girls. And they are – but Sally Ross and Nicola Papaioannou are soaking up RMIT’s Vietnam campus and loving the experience.
The pair are among RMIT’s first group of New Colombo Plan Scholarship exchange students and have almost completed their semester in Ho Chi Minh City.
Overwhelmingly they have enjoyed the fast pace of life in the city, visiting HCMC’s famed coffee shops, savouring Vietnamese food, shopping at markets, socialising with friends and even stumbling across an unexpected street festival
“I don’t live in Melbourne’s CBD so it’s been fun going out, enjoying the food; you wouldn’t find a street festival happening in Ivanhoe where I live,” Ross, a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) student, said.
The two say that among fellow exchange students, going further afield than Asia is seen as desirable.
But for these young women, living in such a different culture, among Vietnamese people and French interns rather than fellow exchange students, has been an enlightening experience.
“I thought I’d have more down time so I brought three books which I haven’t read,” Ross said.
“I’ve been busy exploring the city, having fun – and I’ve still got a lot to do!”
As far as study goes, Ross has easily been able to slot into RMIT Vietnam’s marketing subjects.
Papaioannou, who is studying a Bachelor of Communication (Professional Communication), has chosen design electives to boost her creative skills.
“I was excited to do something different from my studies and my time in Vietnam has been a huge creative outlet,” she said.
“I’ve gathered art materials at art shops all over the city, started a travel blog and improved my photography.”
Both third year students, the pair see differences and similarities between studying in Melbourne and HCMC.
With two Australian tutors in Vietnam, Papaioannou has found student life not too different from home but Ross’ experiences are strikingly different.
“Vietnamese students study in groups a lot more. They work in groups in areas we’d not think of in Australia, maybe because English is not their first language and they need to understand what they’re doing through discussion,” she said.
“I also find classes very quiet; I’m the loudest person!”
Papaioannou, on the other hand, has found her classes very similar to those in Melbourne.
“As soon as one person speaks up others feel more comfortable to talk,” she said.
“I enjoy Vietnamese people’s sense of humour, it’s unexpected and hilarious.”
For the two young women there have been highs and lows; a negative encounter in Ben Thanh Market left Papaioannou pondering how best to relate to Vietnamese people – until a chance conversation about Vietnam’s history with an old man on a park bench left her revitalised.
Ross, who had been to Vietnam before, enjoyed the contrast of a visit to Dalat, Vietnam’s veggie garden of the central highlands: cooler and rural.
Overall the young women have found the Vietnam experience exciting and revitalising – and they’re ready to recommend it to others as a first choice study exchange.
They believe the second year of a university degree is the most suitable time to do an exchange and believe the choice should be promoted more to first year students.
“A friend who visited me here in HCMC was so impressed that she now wants this experience,” Papaioannou said.
Story: Sharon Webb