How I landed a great job and built a life of adventure in Vietnam

I have always wanted to work abroad, specifically in Asia. Inspired by the tales of Orwell and Conrad traveling to Burma and Africa, I romanticized living in some strange, far away land. What could be more exciting than the idea that, outside of the strip malls and pretentious cafes of Portland, Oregon, there was still adventure to be had in the world?

And it was not just the adventure. I believed there to be a professional opportunity on the other side of the Pacific. I believed the skillset that I had, which in Portland would be valued at $32,000 a year and include living in a run-down home split between four roommates, would be worth more in Asia. Headed towards graduation from the University of Portland in 2014, I really believed that I could get a real job, a resume-building job, in Asia and live a good life beyond what I could at home.

By 2015, I had almost realized my dream. Every morning I woke to the bustling of motorbikes, the yelling of street hawkers, the government’s morning announcements playing over loudspeakers suspended from the power lines, and the thick dusty air of Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi. This world was, in every aspect, different from my world back home. It was the adventure I had dreamed of.

Except one thing: I hated my job.

“Hate” is a strong word, but I certainly didn’t like my job. I was working at what I had been told before taking the position was a “hospitality start up,” but was actually a failed business run by someone with enough money to keep it alive. I would find out after a few months the business was largely fraudulent, which explained why none of us working there had bank accounts and all my money was hidden in my closet.

But I digress. I needed out of that job, but I desperately wanted to stay in Vietnam. I hadn’t had my fill of adventure, and after eight months living in Hanoi, was finally settling into life there.

Searching for jobs frantically online, I applied to a Danish technology company with two offices in Vietnam. What did an Education major with almost no work experience have to offer an international technology company? I figured probably nothing, but I shot for the moon and applied anyway.

Upon applying to the position online, I was quickly turned down. Their Vietnamese Human Resource team informed me they weren’t looking for a Westerner for the position, but they would let me know if a position opened up in the future.

Emotionally, I refused to accept defeat. I did not want to go home. I didn’t want to go back to Portland. The normalcy of Portland, after a year in Asia, frightened me. If I went back now, I would be lost to suburban life just like millions of others. My adventure over, I would be suffocated by days of Prius’ and Fred Meyer and 5 Guys Burgers and Fries.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back. Not now.

I went back onto the company’s website who had turned me down and they had the CEO’s email posted. I immediately drafted a cover letter, explaining that I was living in Vietnam already and had been turned down by their Human Resource team, but was still very much interested in working for his company, and sent it off.

I received a response from the CEO a few hours later. Interested, I can only assume, by the fact that I was already living in Hanoi, Vietnam and had what he called “an interesting background,” he put me in touch their Operation Manager for Asia.

A month, and a few interviews later, I had my first day at Pixelz as a Project Coordinator.

That was a year ago now, though I can hardly believe it. I still work at Pixelz, and currently live in the coastal city of Da Nang. I have a two bedroom apartment, I live a five minute walk from one of the best beaches in Southeast Asia, and save more money every month than I ever could have back in Portland.

I am so grateful for having had not just the perseverance to send an email to the CEO and not take no for an answer, but also the creativity to work around the system, to find another way to showcase my value. And that is the lesson I hope people take from my story, either from this specific instance or my taking the alternative path of working internationally. In today’s job market, you have to get creative in how you sell your skills and find where you have the most value.

Personally, working internationally has taught me more than I can ever put into writing, and it has afforded me a life I could only dream of having back home. Right now, my professional path is seen as alternative, but as globalization takes hold, I believe more and more college graduates will look internationally for work, and the exploding start up cities around the world in places like India and Vietnam will welcome them with open arms.

My thesis continues to be that those who are willing to open themselves to the world and all of its possibilities will find opportunities beyond what they can expect back home, and I look forward to helping others do what I did and take advantage of all the opportunities the world has to offer.


By Aaron Horwath