About the authorLeX Tan Yih Liang
Tell us a bit about yourself. How would your friends or family describe you?
Hello, my name is Nga (pronounce Nah), I’m finishing my master at Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France. This is my 10th year living abroad, which means more than one third of my life. And while I have many things to share over that long period, I think the only take away message from this is “know how to enjoy the ride but also know where it is leading to”.
A few narcissistic words about myself, unedited from friends whom I met a month ago: friendly, approachable, understanding, passionate/determined, caring, brisk, intelligent, risk-taker, persistent, dependable, adventurous, honest, open minded, independent, self-confident; but the same friends also described me as indecisive, procrastinator, and easily distracted.
Of all of these traits, I think that being open-minded, sociable yet independent are the most useful characters for a life abroad. While I can not and I do not anticipate all that life has to throw at me, I try to find the pros and cons in everything I do and enjoy it instead.
Where do you live? Where are you from? Where else have you lived? Can you tell us a little about why you leave?
I started my first journey when I was 6 year old, on a train from north to south Vietnam and back on a plane. What I remembered most was the changing scenes outside of the window, the altering dialects, the different traditions along the 1000 km trip, yet all of this symphonic experience was expressed by the same people. This trip along with many uncountable trips after that sent me around the world shaped the way I view things and hone my passion for traveling.
However, like all economics principles, we are trying to satisfy our bottomless wants with limited resources, where I want to explore more of that wonderful life outside of my comfort zone, I don’t have infinite time or money and I am bounded by the guilt of carbon emission along with my travel. So in compensation for this world quest with open goals, i try my best not to travel for personal reason but for educational or professional purposes. The ostensible reason allows me to both reduce the cost and opening up my options to destinations that I would not have imagined otherwise.
If you would describe yourself as multi-cultural, tell us a bit about what culture you most identify with and why, what culture do you most associate with?
Having followed the same principle for 9 years, I’ve lived in Asia, Australia, North America, Europe and visited Africa, and the Middle East. Each destination left a mark in my personality and subsequently changed the preceding journeys. Thus, I do not generally associate myself with one particular culture and try to stray from stereotyping and I find it difficult to call myself world-citizen due to my linguistic limitation. However, considering I spent a majority of time in the US and the country has a long tradition in exporting its values over different pop-media, my friends pointed out that I do carry traits that are found in a typical North American (casual, and direct/frank). I am generally adaptable and feel at east in most social situation. I also find it easiest to make friends with locals.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
I don’t have a set schedule, my daily planning depend largely on my primary activities (research or classes). Currently I am doing a taught master in economics at a grand ecole so the majority of time is spent on classes, sports (karate, swimming) and arts. While I try to maintain the same set of actions everyday (revolving around the main meals), I think it is best to left it to circumstances to dictate the course; should chances for a new experience arise, I will change my plan accordingly.
How do you learn those local cultures in those countries?
For learning about a new culture and country, it is best to first learn a few essential phrases of the place and then buy a ticket to that destination; no film or book is good enough of a replacement (admittedly I decided to go to France after watching “Midnight in Paris”).
The first few vernacular can get you a long way: I survived sufficiently in Tanzania for weeks knowing how to say “labda kesho” (maybe tomorrow) and “kidogo” (just a little bit), for Hungary, I am quite proficient in declaring my love to mushroom “sezeretem a gomba”. I am making headway in French “ce n’est pas mon truc” in distancing myself from any foreseeable trouble.
What is the best part of living in those countries? The worst?
The best part is also the worst part living in these countries: bureaucracies, this is equally bad at home I would imagine. I have dealt with lawyers, city councils, polices and law enforcement in many countries and while each of these stories are to be laughed at the time of retelling, they were matter of blood and sweat when it happened. Nevertheless, it is part of the culture that needed to be experienced.