An artwork of mental health challenges for expats in Vietnam

An artwork of mental health challenges for expats in Vietnam

Expat life in Vietnam offers a wide range of challenges concerning mental health. These challenges act as almost intricate brushstrokes that form a painting that encompasses the expat experience. Identifying which specific paint stroke contributes to this challenging experience can aid in bettering your expatriate life here in Vietnam. This article embarks on a creative journey through slowly building up this painting, and exploring the patterns of expat life, shedding light on multifaceted mental issues.

Before we start this painting, every artist needs some background music. Think of when you first stepped foot into Vietnam. Stepping foot onto a foreign land, where the rhythm of life beats to a different tune. Think about how you felt on that first step. Excitement? Nervous? Perhaps everything at once. It is common to feel this way, as that first step involves a symphony of unfamiliar customs, traditions and language. In order to fit into this, like a dance, one must learn to move with this new melody of culture. With this beautiful song, perhaps you hear some sharp notes that sound a bit off. Harsh notes of culture shock and the challenges of reinventing yourself appear alongside this harmony. 

For our beautiful painting we firstly need a canvas and a palette of paint. Vietnam has a vibrant palette, filled with colors of a unique culture and influences. With this wide array of colors, expats are able to paint their own portrait of identity as well as paint their pathway of success within this new country. However, if you want a detailed painting, nobody gets it perfect the first time, it will take some trial and error. Brushstrokes of cultural assimilation and self-discovery, often go hand in hand with strokes of uncertainty and the struggle of maintaining a sense of self. This canvas of identity will become an ever-changing masterpiece, where finding one’s place and embracing authenticity becomes a delicate act of self-preservation. 

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Now that we have established our base layer. We need to start building up the layers of paint on top of that. When mixing paints to get the perfect color, it can create such vibrant hues. Mixing the colors of friendly smiles of blue and warm hospitality of red, you can get a beautiful purple. However, when adding the color of isolation black, this dampens that vibrancy. The language barrier, cultural differences and a longing for connection can cast this shadow on that once vibrant purple. This feeling of isolation encompasses both physical and emotional distances, and this yearning for a brighter color, or a sense of belonging and meaningful connections grows stronger. Navigating through this darkness requires a strong sense of courage, vulnerability and a willingness to bridge cultural gaps. 

Let’s say perhaps this is your first endeavor with mixing paints or even your first ever painting. It can be quite confronting doing something out of your comfort zone. Stepping into a new culture can often come with a maze of expectations. Maybe you have seen beautiful artworks in museums and want to emulate that. Expats may face pressure to assimilate seamlessly, succeed in their professional endeavors or adhere to societal norms. These expectations that you have built up in your head of the outcome, both externally and self-imposed, can create feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and a fear of failure. Of course, when creating a painting you want it to look its best. Coping with these expectations requires self-compassion, setting realistic goals and embracing the beauty of your mistakes and personal growth by learning from the journey itself. 

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Once you have your beautiful artwork, you put it on the wall and admire it from afar. You reflect on the challenges you faced and resilience you gained from trying something new. You found strength in your ability to adapt, learn and grow. This painting represents the diverse coping strategies, support networks, and self-care practices that contribute to mental health well-being. By using mindfulness practices or seeking professional help while doing so, expats can paint a resilient foundation, through embracing their vulnerability and drawing a path towards holistic well-being and success in their expatriate adventures. Let us celebrate the resilience within, as we embark on this shared journey, embracing all the colors and patterns that make each expats experience in Vietnam truly extraordinary.

Caitlyn Ly Brownrigg

Have obtained my Bachelor of Science, majoring Mind and behaviour at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. And currently interning at Tranquil as a Psychology Trainee.

I am originally South African but have lived in Vietnam for 18 years of my life. This is why I am passionate about exploring the intricate intersections between culture, identity and psychology. This unique background had fueled my curiosity and deepened my appreciation for the complexities of human experience and I am excited to share my knowledge and discoveries with you.

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