HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Land of Opportunity

One of the sad ironies of today's America is that, while millions of foreigners from countries around the world still yearn to move to the U.S. for a chance to pursue their own version of the hallowed 'American Dream', it is far easier for people actually born in the States to get a good job overseas than in their homeland. To be fair, this is a pretty broad generalization, but for most people graduating with a non-technical or business-related degree the job market is extremely limited. With graduate school costing tens of thousands of dollars, it's no surprise that many choose to take their chances abroad. Native English speakers are in demand, and we offer skills that locals don't yet have.

I was one of these people. As I approached graduation from a respected university with strong grades in Political Science and History, I had zero job offers heading my way. The competition was brutal, and I did not want to settle for some dead-end job until the economy returned to normal. (Whenever that ends up happening.) So, during my second-to-last semester, I decided to look to the other side of the world for gainful employment.

I was in Vietnam within a month of graduating, and while I only taught ESL at first, I gradually realized that I wanted to do something else as well. I had no formal writing background, but I had written dozens of essays during college (and killed most of them), and I was gaining confidence in my ability thanks to this blog and the compliments of readers, so I decided to give the field a shot.

Tuoi Tre Newspaper, the country's largest daily in terms of circulation, runs an English-language website, and on that site there is a section called 'City Diary'. Anyone can submit a story to this page, usually about life in Saigon or Vietnam, and most are published online. I sent in a story about some street food near my house in May, which was posted, and ended up befriending the young woman who runs the page.

About a month after that first article I got a call from her asking if I would like to record audio versions of stories to be posted on the site, giving Vietnamese readers the chance to hear a native speaker read the texts. I said yes, of course, and I've been doing that a few days a week ever since. It's easy work, with the exception of some of the Vietnamese names, and I get to use a legitimate recording studio, all while making some extra money.

After recording for a while my friend started sending me a few articles that had been translated from Vietnamese to English to edit. I suggested that they hire me for a more regular job, but at the time they declined. Then, in November, I was asked if I would like to start working as an English Language News Editor every weekday morning from 9-12. I agreed immediately. Even though this meant I would be working every morning of every day, since teaching requires me to work on the weekend, by now my interest in starting an editing/writing career had fully bloomed, and I was not going to turn this down. Plus, it was another $600 a month.

While all of this was going on, I was also pursuing the opportunity to write for a magazine. There are two major English-language mags here, The Word HCMC, and AsiaLIFE HCMC. I came across the blog of a guy who used to write for AsiaLIFE, so I contacted him asking for advice on how to approach an editor about an internship. (It also turned out that he had lived in my house before I moved here. I had met him, but forgot that he was a writer.)

He responded with possibly the most helpful message I've ever received, telling me to come up with a couple story pitches and simply email the editor. I did this, and got a call a week later from the editor asking me to meet him for a drink. He said that, while both my story ideas had already been done, he could tell from my message that I had talent, so we agreed that I would start as an intern with a simple article. This was in July, and my first piece was published in the August issue. Since then I've branched out to restaurant reviews, interviews, and travel and lifestyle stories. Even though I wasn't getting paid, I was ecstatic to gain this experience, especially since I didn't even have to submit a CV or go through some formal interview process, as would have been necessary in the U.S. The magazine staff seemed to be happy with me, and I began to consider asking if there would be chance of me being put onto the tiny paid staff. I should've known, the opportunity would come before I even had to ask.

The same November day that Tuoi Tre asked me to become an editor, the AsiaLIFE editor tentatively asked me if I would like become the Contributing Editor (which just means a staff writer) in the near future. The Deputy Editor would be leaving in March, meaning the current CE would move into that spot, and I would potentially move into the the vacated position. (I'm not kidding when I say the staff is tiny. I was also the only intern.) He asked how much longer I was planning on being here, and I said at least another year, while trying to contain my excitement.

Two weeks ago I received confirmation that I would become the Contributing Editor as of March 1. Again, all of this happened thanks to a bit of dumb luck, some actual talent, good timing, and the opportunities that come fast and furious to many English speakers abroad. I have no idea what I would be doing if I had stayed in the U.S. after I graduated, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be an editor at two different publications before my 24th birthday. I still won't be making anywhere near a U.S.-level salary and will still have to teach a bit, but I don't care. If I can get a year or two of editing and writing experience on my resume, I like to think I'll have my choice of where to go next. I guess you could say I'm creating my own "Vietnamese Dream".

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