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How Foreign Parents Acclimate to Life in Hanoi

Uprooting one’s life and moving halfway around the world isn’t easy for anyone.

Families relocate to Hanoi for a variety of reasons, including new job opportunities. And while kids are adaptable and able to adjust to new surroundings with the help of schools, the transition can be more difficult and isolating for adults. There are organizations and efforts being made, however, to help those who have recently arrived in Hanoi and are looking for social groups and ways to give back to the community. 

Students at international schools “grow knowing the world is very big and different…the world is not just the place you were born, you are not a tree, you can move,” says Natalie Peraita, a Spanish woman who moved to Vietnam this past October. Indeed, living abroad allows people of all ages opportunities to explore and learn. But if not surrounded by classmates or in a working environment, it can be difficult to meet new people and make friends in a foreign country. This reality is one reason parents of all backgrounds have joined Friends of BIS. 

The group of parents of students at Hanoi’s British International School (BIS) meets every week to chat, eat, learn and share experiences while organizing ways to support the community. Saigoneer joined one of these meetings last month to learn more about the group and why it’s so valuable. 

“Friends of BIS gives all the newcomers an opportunity to get to know people from other cultures; new people and old people. For me it was nice because I came with my husband and two daughters and we didn’t know anybody,” explains Christina Pardina, a Spanish woman who moved to Vietnam last year after decades in Ireland. If it were not for the organization, their time in Hanoi might be much lonelier and difficult. Instead, they have a social network that meets for drinks, joins exercise classes at the school, gardens, and finds ways to contribute to the city.

Many parents are thrilled to have students at an international school because it allows them to engage with different cultures. Before their family moved to Hanoi last year, Kikkawa Tardin Katia Mayumi says all her daughter knew about was “Brazil and her own life,” but has now grown immensely by being exposed to new cultures, geographies, languages and histories. This applies to the parents in Friends of BIS as well. The diverse group has members hailing from all across Asia, Europe and the Americas, representing very different cultures and backgrounds that they are eager to share with one another. Lori Huang, for example, has invited the group to her home and prepared authentic dishes from her native Taiwan. Kawori Motooka explains that their gatherings allow her to develop her English skills in a more fun and natural way than any formal class setting.

The group also allows them to become better acquainted with their new home. BIS provides weekly Vietnamese lessons and invites them to events that introduce them to a variety of cultural moments. The events also allow parents to get to know their children’s teachers better. Such familiarity results in easier communication and a more proactive role in their children’s education. 

Members of Friends of BIS recognize the privileges many of them enjoy, and they look for ways to help those in need and make a positive impact in their new homes. This mindset has led to several initiatives, including an upcycling effort to repurpose old school uniforms. Instead of throwing them away, the parents transform them into items such as pillows, bags, and dolls that are sold with the proceeds benefiting charity. Similarly, Anne S., a French member of the group, explained that some parents made and sold Korean food at a BIS event with proceeds going to the purchase of a new computer for an underprivileged school in the community. 

BIS seeks to develop students into globally-minded citizens that consistently look for new things to learn and ways to interact with people from different cultures. This goal is greatly enhanced by having parents with the same outlook serving as role models at home. Through Friends of BIS and the many social and service opportunities it helps foster, parents not only better acclimate to Hanoi, but grow alongside their children.


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British International School, Vinhomes Riverside, Long Bien, Hanoi