Cultural insights – Vietnam

Why do Vietnamese students choose to study in Canada?

We are seeing an increase in numbers of Vietnamese students thanks to the Canadian Study Direct Stream which facilitates visa applications for qualified students from Vietnam, India, Philippines and China.

For the most part, Vietnamese parents believe an education abroad with a degree from a foreign university will give their kids a brighter future. Eventually, even a possibility to emigrate outside of Vietnam.

During the course of Vietnam’s long history, there have been several conquests led by China, and as a result, China has played a significant role in shaping the composition of Vietnamese traditional culture. China has influenced cultural customs (holidays, celebration, family structures, etc) and ideologies (Confucianism, Buddhism, etc), and you will note many similarities between their cultures.

However, through a long history of national survival, the Vietnamese have developed a strong independent identity. Many people find a source of pride in the idea of nationalism. It is important to understand that regardless of similarity in the two cultures, the Vietnamese are very sensitive about the subject of national identity, and there is always an underlying tension regarding the Chinese due to the conflicts over the years.

Understanding Vietnamese names

The Vietnamese tended to take on the last name of whoever was in power at the time. You will see most Vietnamese students with the last name Nguyen. Nguyen was the last name of the first emperor( 1st century) and the last dynasty (1802-1945)

Consider the name “Ngoc Anh Thanh Nguyen”

Last name = Nguyen

First name = Thanh (the name before the last name).

Middle name = Ngoc Anh (everything else)

Social culture

Like most Asian countries, Vietnamese care deeply about their reputations and the concept of “face” is extremely important in their culture. “Face” can be explained as a quality representing a person’s reputation, prestige and dignity. In short, ”prevention of embarrassment at all costs”. This includes any kind of confrontation, like arguing with someone or ridiculing them. One can ”save face”, ”lose face”, “give face” and ”lose face for others”.

For example, a son would never disagree with his father in public (this will embarrass his father). A daughter who got in to a prestige school would give “face” to her family (parents can be proud in front of neighbors, friends and colleagues.

Tip: If you need to explain something to your student or need to express, be sure to tell them privately in a non-confrontational manner.

Ranked 3rd in biggest beer-consuming markets in Asia, there is no legal drinking/smoking or purchasing age in Vietnam. Vietnamese students are reminded about adhering to the drinking/smoking age in Canada in orientation and on a regular basis.

Food preferences

The flavors of Vietnamese food range from spicy and sour to sweet. Rice is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. If you are hosting a Vietnamese student, make sure to buy a rice cooker! It is quite easy to make rice, and the student can do it by themselves when they want. Plus they can have it with nearly everything! Having some fish sauce and soya sauce at home will also be important, and mint and basil are also popular flavors in Vietnamese food.

If your student says the food is too dry, what they probably mean is that they are missing a “veggie soup”, or phở a noodle soup originating in North Vietnam.  Phở is a noted Vietnamese dish and features rice noodles with beef or chicken soup and scallions or bean sprouts as accompaniments.

Tip:  Encourage the student to communicate their preferences, and invite them for grocery shopping and preparing food.  Invest in a rice cooker, fish sauce and soya sauce! 


According to Trading Economics, the average monthly wage in Vietnam as of January 2018 is $287 CAD. That is $3444 CAD annually.  In Vietnam, a student’s sole purpose is academic achievement so they can enter a top high-school and university. The job market in Vietnam is hyper-competitive, so young people have to be at the top of their classes if they want to have a chance at the best career paths. There are amazing opportunities in this booming economy, but only for those who put in the work. That means long days at school, with tutors and extra classes at night – especially English, which is now a requirement for many students graduating from higher education. A typical daily schedule for a school student begins at around 7:00am – 4:30pm and extra night classes from 6pm-9pm.  Most students feel enormous pressure from family and society.  

Family life

The family is revered above the individual, and you may find that your student’s natural parents are very involved with their child, despite being so far away.  This is normal, as they want the student to make a good impression and “give face” to the family.  However, the parents will need to adjust their expectations as their child integrates into the host family so don’t hesitate to contact your relationship manager if you feel your student needs help with this.

Tip:  Keep your student involved with your family life as the language and cultural barriers will make them feel more isolated.  Speak to your relationship manager if you find the natural parents are hindering the student’s integration into your home.

– Contributed by Danny Nguyen, RM in Toronto