Intern finds his feet in Vietnam after shaky start

Having spent time in Thailand the previous year, Ethan Laby arrived in Vietnam confident he knew what to expect. However, he was barely out of the airport before he realised Vietnam was a whole new kettle of fish. Ethan interned at KPMG in Ho Chi Minh City, returning to New Zealand prior to the coronavirus lockdown.
Ethan sitting in a tuk tuk with three other interns

Ethan spent his weekends trying to see as much of Vietnam as he could with new friends he made there

“Vietnam, it has to be similar to Thailand, right?” or so I thought.

This time two years ago, I was working at the Foundation for Children orphanage in Thailand through the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia. Now you could call me naïve, but I thought that my six weeks in Thailand had me well equipped for Vietnam. This was not the case.

Upon landing, I was overwhelmed by the masses of people who pushed and shoved their way through queues for immigration and security screening and I was scammed from both the mobile network provider and the taxi service in less than 30 minutes of arriving; boy was I off to a great start!

Looking back on it, the experience I gained through my arrival at Ho Chi Minh City airport was well worth the money I was scammed out of as it taught me to be more wary and to question things when something doesn’t feel right.

On a more positive note, I actually thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vietnam. I have seen and done things that I never imagined I would.

My internship was in Ho Chi Minh City at KPMG's Transfer Pricing team. Having studied transfer pricing extensively at university, this was a great match for me.

On my first day of work, I was lucky to meet Warrick Cleine, the CEO of KPMG Vietnam and Cambodia, who is also from New Zealand; his Kiwi accent was a pleasant surprise.

He gave us some insights into Vietnam, such as how fast the economy is growing (with GDP growth at 7 percent) and how quickly things in Ho Chi Minh City have changed.

I can see how similar New Zealand and Vietnam are in the field of transfer pricing, both following the OECD’s guidelines on transfer pricing, which I found interesting given that Vietnam is not a member of the OECD.  It is great to see countries outside of the OECD adopting these rules as a globally united front to tackle corruption and tax avoidance, particularly with large multinationals.

I found everyone at work to be incredibly welcoming to both myself and Keeley (my fellow intern).

We were regularly asked out to coffee or lunches by colleagues who wanted to learn more about New Zealand and practice their English. We also met people from across the globe from a range of different backgrounds, which was great for networking.

I was invited to speak to students from RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of technology) and UTS (University of Technology Sydney) during their visits to KPMG. This provided me with a great opportunity to develop my public speaking skills by talking to a group of similarly aged students with similar interests and career aspirations.

Left to right - Warrick Cleine, the CEO of KPMG Vietnam and Cambodia, Keeley and Ethan

CEO of KPMG Vietnam and Cambodia Warrick Cleine met Ethan and fellow intern Keeley Farrell on their first day to chat about Vietnam and what to expect

I tried to fill in as many weekends as I could exploring the diverse cities in Vietnam, including: the beach town of Vung Tau with my friend Tim (a previous KPMG intern), the beach town of Phan Rang with my work colleague and friend, Nini; Can Tho on the Meekong Delta with another work colleague and friend, Mary; as well as visitng Singapore and Malaysia with Keeley  (the other KPMG intern) over Tet (Lunar New Year).

One of my first weekends away was with Keeley to Hoi An with her friends, which was a wonderful experience. The town is quirky, beautiful and peaceful, particularly at night when the colours of the lanterns shine bright and candles float along the calm river.

Being a keen foodie and baker, I had a lot of enjoyment and excitement out of finding great places to go for lunches and dinners and finding some of the nicest pastries I have had. Who would have guessed that Vietnam would be the place that I satisfy all my sweet-tooth baking cravings?!

Alongside this, I developed a strange new passion for supermarkets and found exploring every aisle fascinating and fun as it gave me great insight into the types of foods and flavours that Vietnamese locals enjoy.

Ethan (centre) with fellow interns Keeley Farrell and Parneet Kohli eating dinner at a nightmarket

Ethan (centre) with interns Keeley Farrell and Parneet Kohli

 Spending time in Vietnam provided me with perspectives on the country I could only have got through living there. I learnt about the differences between the people from the North and the South, the food and the culture, heritage and religious aspects, behavioural and personality traits, and so much more.

I now have so many experiences and memories I will treasure forever.

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