When I first moved to Europe nearly four years ago, I thought I would meet an exciting, vibrant and passionate community of expats. You know, those free-spirited kinda’ people who move away from home to follow their dreams and search for something greater than just the mundane. Well… I didn’t find that. Most of the other foreigners were just normal, average people, often a little bit lost or trying to delay adulthood. So, I happily threw myself into the Spanish local community and didn’t look back.
Fast forward to my current life in Da Nang, Vietnam. To my surprise, I’ve found that awe-inspiring community of expats that I gave up on back in Spain.
But what are expats? Why do they leave their countries? Are they people who didn’t have a career back home so they just said “well, hell, I’m gonna move abroad!” ? Are they a bunch of English teachers who just want to do something “easy”? Well sure, that exists. But most of the people I’ve met here in Da Nang are truly interesting, passionate and inspiring people here to live the life they’ve always dreamed of.
Some are English teachers from South Africa. Some are foodies from Spain. Some are entrepreneurs from the USA. But all of them had a dream to escape the mundane grind at home and a passion to pursue. I asked six inspiring Da Nang expats to share their story.
Here’s what they had to say.
Myriam, an English Teacher from Morocco
“I left home because as an emancipated, independent, strong, smart and free woman I was too much for the society to handle, not to mention that I’m an atheist and that can get you to jail in Morocco. I was in danger, very limited, frustrated and far from reaching my highest potential and I knew it was because of where I was and not because of who I am. It was either I play by the rules and pretend to be someone so different from who I was or leave. I obviously left.
So many reasons have brought me to Da Nang but the main one would be my visa situation. As a Moroccan citizen I can only access 56 countries without a visa or with a visa on arrival and Vietnam isn’t even one of them. After living in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a year, Australia for 3 months, being back in Morocco for 6 months and traveling Thailand for two months, my partner and I had to find a place where we could settle for a bit, start saving up some money again and wait for my visa to Australia to get approved so we can finally settle there. After our experience in Siem Reap, we knew what we wanted our next ‘home’ to be like and Da Nang ticked all the boxes and we knew we made the right choice from the first day we got here. This place is magic.
As a Non-Native speaker there are always obstacles to overcome, despite my Native/Bilingual level of proficiency, my extended experience in the field, my passion for teaching and my teaching certificate, getting a job as an English Teacher without being from the infamous English speaking countries has always been a big challenge for me. Let’s just say I always had to prove myself more, a lot more than the Native Speakers. It is what it is, it definitely stings to see people with 0 experience or qualifications getting the same salary as you without having to fight and go through what you’ve been through to get there, but this is just a pure and clear example of white privilege.”
“But if you really want something, you can make it happen, with or without money, with or without a plan, with or without a strong passport, with or without support from anyone. All you need is you.”
Follow Myriam’s adventure on her Instagram.
Lexie, an animal activist from the USA
“Living around the world in different cultures, languages, religions, and races, I’ve always felt continually drawn to dedicating my life to animals. During my 6-month backpacking trip around S.E Asia in 2012, I fell in love with the community, people, and beaches of Danang and left knowing I would return.
I was living in Danang for a few months when I found out that the local animal shelter was selling their rescued dogs and cats to the slaughterhouses at night, turning it into a money-making business. I was more motivated than ever to do something. With the help of another fellow animal lover Domenique who I’d recently met in Da Nang, we teamed up to rescue the remaining cats and dogs from this situation. We were then inspired to start our own non-profit. We saw a big need for animal education in the region, so PAWS was created to inform and educate individuals about animal cruelty. It has now just approaching 2 years full of lots of animal love and kisses!
The cultural difference of how we view pets is our biggest and on-going obstacle. I grew up with dogs and cats as family members so living in a dog eating country was offensive and appalling (at-first) and has since opened my eyes to the reality that eating any animals whether you consider it a companion animal or livestock is still a living thing that doesn’t want to be dinner. We are careful about coming across as judgemental foreigners and saying what is wrong and right because we don’t know what is either. We believe building awareness in the younger generation is the right direction, while cultivating the bond between animals and peoples will create a more compassionate community towards all living things.”
“Find what is most meaningful to you. What makes you the happiest and energizes you. If your work is something you love it will bring happiness to all aspects of your life. Often we exchange our own happiness by making sure we don’t disappoint those around us. Put your desires and needs first. Express how you feel! This is something I am always trying to remember.”
Follow Paws for Compassion on Facebook.
Pablo, a filmmaker from Chile
“I used to have a good life in Chile. Good home, good work, good bicycle and amazing friends. The problem was that there weren’t any problems. For me, if life is not challenging, it’s boring.
Initially, I came here because of an opportunity I had to film a documentary about Vietnamese painters. After working on that project for a few months, dealing with a director who was driving his own film into the ground and getting in a big motorbike accident, I quit and began looking for new work in my profession.
Filmmaking and photography have been part of my life since I was a little kid. Not just as a hobby but as a passion. For me, filmmaking and photography are extensions of my mind, my ideas, my perspectives. I came to Vietnam to film a movie which failed because of the director. I didn’t let that stop me from finding my path into the film industry here in Danang. Many people may say that the language barrier is a big problem. English isn’t my first language, and I don’t speak fluent Vietnamese, but for me it wasn’t about the language. It was about finding a professional working environment where I could develop my abilities, skills, and creativities.”
“Follow your dreams and fight for them every day, because no one is going to fight for you. Name, country, and passport are nothing and shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals. Success in a new culture really comes down to how you express your motives, how you interact with locals, and your openness to adapt to a new culture.”
Follow Pablo on Instagram.
Sharon and Jorge, Foodies from Italy and Spain
Jorge and Sharon are two travelers who found a home away from home in Da Nang. Jorge is Spanish and Sharon is Italian, so the universal language they speak is food.
“We were tired of Europe. We were tired of the crisis. We were tired of not being able to find proper jobs, and we were tired of the familiar,” Jorge said. So, they took a big leap of faith, quit their mundane jobs and let their hunger for travel take them on a trip through Asia, the only thing in tow their backpack and passion for cooking. Jorge explained, “we were tight on money, so in exchange for Couchsurfing hosts letting us stay with them for free, I would cook them a big Mediterranean meal. Just like mama would make.”
Once they hit Vietnam, they ended up falling captive to the kindness and openness of the fellow expats they met here, the laidback beach lifestyle and the food. Jorge remembers, “We fell in love with the vibe of the city, and after exploring other parts of the country, Da Nang was calling to us as our “casa.”
After spending some time here, they realized something was missing. There was nowhere to eat real homecooked Spanish or Italian food in Da Nang, and if you ask an Italian and a Spanish person, it’s not home until you have the food. So, they opened “My Casa” a Spanish – Italian fusion restaurant and homestay for expats, as a one-year experiment. Sharon the Italian was the pasta pro, and Jorge the Mediterranean master (who also makes a mean Spanish tortilla) took Da Nang’s food scene by surprise. That one year experiment quickly turned into four. “Never would we have guessed it, but here we are, still cooking our mom’s recipes for fellow travelers and locals alike, giving them a taste of our casa,” said Jorge.
Follow Sharon & Jorge at My Casa on Facebook.
Anh, a Vietnamese-American healing people with food
“I am a pharmacist who left my comfortable salary and career to build an online lifestyle business helping people heal themselves from chronic conditions using food as medicine.
I became a pharmacist because I thought I would give people medicine and they would get better. However, after a year of working as a pharmacist in the USA I realized this wasn’t the case. In fact, I would often see my patients come back month after month, sicker and sicker and with more and more medications being added to their regimen. I started thinking about how I could actually help them heal through healthy diets and lifestyle changes instead of giving them medication bandaids.
I first came to Da Nang as part of a trip with my Vietnamese family and although I was only there for one day, I fell in love with it. I then returned on a research trip in June 2017 to see if Da Nang really was for me. I was most concerned about having access to good quality organic food to support the kind of healthy lifestyle that I want to live and that I advocate for my clients. What I found was a passionate community of people, expats and locals alike, who also shared the same values as me. There were farmers in nearby Hoi An already growing organic food, an expat from Australia teaching people how to remediate the local soil and turn their farms organic, a plethora of yoga studios available, and pretty much any amenity that I could ever want. Living here has allowed me to come from a place of authenticity, to walk the talk, and be able to live the life that I advocate my clients to cultivate.”
“If you want to do the same, JUST DO IT! People are amazing, the world is amazing. It is not what the media generally portrays it to be. And you can live very well for so much less. Don’t be afraid to pursue what it is that makes your heart sing.”
Chiara, a photographer from South Africa
“Ever since I was a little girl, I have been in awe of the little things. Fallen leaves, raindrop covered fingers, a stranger’s wrinkled nose when they smile, or a plastic bag blowing in the wind. I saw beauty in the smallest of things. And when I picked up a camera, the world exploded into a kaleidoscope of colors. As soon as I finished school I knew I wanted to be a photographer, but society told me to get a ‘real job’. So I studied journalism hoping to become a photojournalist.
As I traveled around Asia and reflected on the thought of being a photojournalist, I realized that this was not who I was. Yes, I wanted to change the world. But not through immersing myself in the negativity. Instead, I wanted to change the world through positivity. Low and behold, MangoMoon Photography was born. I did a diploma in photography while living in South Korea, and started my business. I realized that taking portraits allowed me to capture the essences of beautiful people. And by beautiful people, I mean every single human.
After two years in South Korea, it was time to move on. I needed new challenges and Da Nang, Vietnam called my name. The colorful bustling alleyways intertwined with green growing through everything and surrounded by majestic mountains and calming oceans. It has been amazing working on my passion here. It was definitely a struggle at first, having to start from scratch and build up an entirely new community. But each time I have to start over, I get to learn so much more. Da Nang is a magical place for anyone pursuing their passion, filled with passionate people who inspire you every day.”
“We are ALL truly beautiful. Society doesn’t teach us how to love ourselves or to know how beautiful we are down to our core. I want to show people this beauty that’s been hiding within them all along. I want to empower people and slowly change the world one beautiful human at a time.”
You heard it here first! If you want to do something crazy, pick up, move to a foreign country and pursue your dream, these guys are living proof that you can. Maybe, just mayyybe, Da Nang is calling out to you and your passion too!