I fell in love with Asia when I went solo traveling for three weeks in 2018. Full of rich and diverse cultures, friendly faces, and divine food, I was eager to return.
In 2022, I was coming to the end of a four-month internship in Singapore and considering what to do next when I saw the Asia New Zealand Foundation internship at KPMG in Vietnam. I was loving my internship, so jumped at the opportunity to return to Asia. It almost seemed too good to be true!
Vietnam and Singapore are as different as Vietnam and New Zealand. I think a lot of us think of Asia as one cohesive place and often group the countries together. Different parts of Asia - even just a two-hour flight away - are vastly different.
Kiwis are renowned for being laid back and leading relaxed lifestyles. Singapore is fast-paced and competitive with meritocracy systems across most sectors. Vietnam varies from the north to south, but, from my experience, I'd say Vietnamese people are very social and value communal well being. These are generalisations, but they are observations I made through living and working in each country. Simply visiting these countries as a tourist offers a completely different experience.
Staff at KPMG quickly became friends and introduced Cassidy to the sights and sounds of vibrant Ho Chi Minh City
On arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, the first challenge was the language barrier. I had travelled to Vietnam before, but as a tourist visiting touristy areas, you usually encounter confident English speakers. Living like a local is a different experience. I quickly realised that learning basic Vietnamese would be essential. The first words I learnt were ‘Hello Aunty/Uncle’, ‘vegetarian’, ‘thank you’ and ‘how much?’.
At first, people I spoke to looked at me like I was speaking gibberish (I was), but after plenty of practice with my work colleagues, my pronunciation and use of tones improved, and I could order a meal from local vendors.
As a vegetarian, I was pleasantly surprised by how many vegetarian options were available in Vietnam. Although the country does not officially follow an organised religion, Buddhism is the most followed and some Buddhists choose not to eat meat, so most local dishes can be made with meat alternatives and tofu.
A few of my favourite dishes include: Bánh Khọt (mini savoury pancakes), Bột Chiên (fried rice cake), and Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese pancake). As basic as it sounds, my ultimate favourite is bánh mì trứng (literally “egg bread”) drenched in chili and coriander.
Vietnam is also a coffee-lover’s dream. I think I consumed more coffee in the first three weeks than I have in my entire life. Unlimited free traditional coffee at the office is a dangerous game.
On weekends, Cassidy explored Vietnam with colleagues and fellow intern Hariett Yeoman
My role at KPMG was in the corporate tax team. The first point of action was to learn Vietnam’s tax laws.
At first, I found this task very daunting. I had spent two years studying the New Zealand tax system and was expected to know Vietnam’s tax system within a week. However, I was relieved to learn that most tax principles are the same. The most important part is knowing how to interpret tax law, not the detail itself.
It was interesting to learn about the differences between New Zealand and Vietnam tax law. For example, Vietnam implements a two-tier value-added tax (VAT) system. Essential items such as medical supplies and learning aids are charged at five percent, while most other goods and services are charged at 10 percent. On the other hand, most goods and services in New Zealand are charged at 15 percent GST, with no exceptions for essential goods.
Our (mine and fellow intern Hariett Yeoman's) first weekend in Saigon was packed full of adventure. A co-worker invited us to a water-bus tour in Saigon. The water-bus took us to the other side of the river where we admired the view of the Vincom Landmark 81, the tallest building in Vietnam, and one of the tallest in the world. Afterwards we explored ‘flower street’, a spectacular alleyway filled with florists and flowers pouring onto the streets.
The following day another coworker invited us to her hometown Vũng Tàu. Just a two-hour drive from bustling Saigon, we found ourselves in a tranquil beach town.
Cassidy says she was amazed by the diverse landscapes she encountered in Vietnam
The first Christmas away from family can be hard. Whether you are religious or not.
Tết, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is the biggest celebration in Vietnam, while Christmas is not a big part of Vietnamese culture.
Hariet and I thought it would be nice to spend Christmas with other kiwis, so we decided to book flights to Bali for four days. Saigon’s central location makes it easy and affordable to explore other parts of Asia. I tried to make the most of every weekend by exploring as much as possible.
Vietnamese people are some of the kindest and loving people I have ever met. My coworkers welcomed me with open arms including the managers of the firm, who I would often get lunch or dinner with.
When I explored the streets or went to the shops, locals were always friendly and hospitable. The beautiful scenery, delicious food, and diverse culture are some of the reasons why everyone should visit Vietnam. But it is the people are what make Vietnam my favourite country in the world.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that this internship has given me and I look forward to many more adventures to come.
The Foundation's business programme supports New Zealand companies to better understand Asia so they can make the most of opportunities in the region. We are also focussed on growing the next generation of Asia-savvy business leaders.
The internship programme helps interns build a better understanding of the people, place and culture of their Asian host country, while developing industry-specific skills that will benefit them, and New Zealand, as they progress in their careers.