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 two, studying marketing and professional communication degrees respectively, 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 Sally and Nicola have enjoyed the fast pace of life in the city, visiting HCMC’s famed coffee shops, savouring Vietnamese cuisine, 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,” Sally said.
The two say that among fellow exchangees, going further afield than Asia is seen as desirable. But these young women also agree 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,” Sally said.
“I’ve been busy exploring the city, having fun – and I’ve still got a lot to do!”
As far as study goes, Sally has easily been able to slot into RMIT Vietnam’s marketing subjects and Nicola has followed design electives to boost her creative skills.
“I was excited to do something different from my regular 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, Sally and Nicola see differences and similarities between studying in Melbourne and HCMC.
With two Australian tutors Nicola has found student life not too different from what she experienced in Australia.
Sally, on the other hand, says her educational experiences have been 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,” Sally said.
“I also find classes very quiet; I’m the loudest person!”
But Nicola says she’s found classes very similar to RMIT Melbourne’s.
“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 Nicola pondering how best to relate to Vietnamese people – until a long conversation about Vietnam’s history with an old man on a park bench left her revitalised.
Sally, who had been to Vietnam before, enjoyed the contrast of a visit to Dalat, Vietnam’s vegie garden of the central highlands: cooler and rural.
Overall the young women have found the Vietnam experience exciting – 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 RMIT should be promoting the choice to first year students.
“A friend who visited me here in HCMC was so impressed that she now wants this experience,” Nicola said.