• Meghan Bartok

Life in Vietnam during COVID-19 - Spring 2020

Updated: Aug 3

Life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs when we think we have things all figured out. I had my South East Asia backpacking trip all planned out – or so I thought. Then Coronavirus hit...


It’s been very weird being in Vietnam during this whole crisis. It feels almost like a being in a bubble that’s very separate from life for everyone else. I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the news and situation at home through family and friends, but I also know that my experience during this time doesn’t even begin to compare with that of my friends in the US, UK, Spain, and everywhere else in the world.


That being said, it hasn’t been without its challenges – there have been many times when all I’ve wanted it to just give my mom a hug, or have struggled with how long I should wait it out in Vietnam before going home. BUT, I also did think it would be interesting to write down what my experience has been here in Vietnam in case people were curious what my life has been like on the other side of the world.


Carefree bike rides through Hoi An

My experience in Vietnam during Coronavirus

After spending a week relaxing and eating copious amounts of banh mi (easily my favorite Vietnamese food) in Hoi An, I caught a night train up to Hanoi on March 6th to start my teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) course. Up until this point, Vietnam had only had 16 cases of COVID-19, but on the night of the 6th, a woman who had been in Europe was diagnosed in Hanoi. Coincidentally, she happened to live in the neighborhood right next to where my school was.


The program let us move into our apartment building, but did warn us that they were playing it by ear as far as if the course was going to continue as planned. Unfortunately, we received an email in the evening before the class was meant to start that they’d had to cancel it. This lead to a crazy couple of days where everyone who was on the course with me trying to figure out what they were going to do – go home, or wait it out until the next course in April. Little did we know that things would only begin to escalate, both in Vietnam and around the world. 


Ultimately, I switched out of that course and ended up signing up for an online course that one of my friends’ moms had found for both of us to do. I can’t begin to thank Kim enough for adopting me into their family after only meeting me once, and figuring out a new course, somewhere for me to stay, and a private school to get my teaching hours in. I really couldn’t have asked for a better alternative to the course I was supposed to be doing (and it saved me a lot of money in the long run!)



Following a short but incredible motorbike trip through the Vietnamese mountains, I spent the next three weeks studying online in the mornings and teaching English to the cutest group of Vietnamese girls in the afternoons. In that time, I slowly watched from afar as the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, and countries around the world began to impose lockdown measures. In Vietnam, schools were closed, and face masks became mandatory, but other than that, life was proceeding as mostly normal. Vietnam became my little oasis within all the madness.


That feeling lasted for about the next two weeks. On March 26th, Vietnam announced that all non-essential businesses would be required to close. On April 1st, the country instated strict social distancing policies until April 16th, meaning that everything besides grocery stores and pharmacies had to close, and all public transport & ride-sharing services would be suspended. 



Life in social isolation

I’m not going to lie, the first week of April was probably my hardest week since I left the US back in February. I was in a new city, I had no means of transport, and was living alone. At this point, I had finished my teaching hours and chose to move to a new neighborhood in a house with a couple of housemates. We were still living life in social isolation, but it was definitely much more fun to have some isolation buddies! I spent a lot of time sitting up on my rooftop, especially on sunny days! I did a lot of reading, discovering new music, and letting myself catch up on some shows I’d been wanting to watch. I also lived off a steady diet of scrambled eggs and stirfry, which was delicious in the beginning, but got a bit boring after a while… On April 16th, they announced they were extending social distancing for another week. Definitely not what people were hoping for, but at that point, we had all gotten used to it, so it didn’t seem as bad as it did in the beginning.


Luckily, Vietnam has done a brilliant job in their coronavirus response through lots of testing and tracing. The country has only had 270 cases of the virus, and only 2 new cases in the past week (from Vietnamese nationals returning from Japan). On April 22nd, we were essentially out of lockdown – cafes and small restaurants were allowed to reopen, and public transportation was restarted on a reduced schedule. A lot of people are still practicing social distancing, but it has been so nice to be able to go for a real run or go out to get a coffee.

In summary...

If anything, please be encouraged that, even if it doesn’t seem like it, or it’s taking longer than we want or expected, social distancing does work. The first coffee (or tea or beer or whatever your drink of preference is!) you get after this will be the best one you’ve ever tasted. The first hug with all the friends you’ve missed will seem to last forever and make you feel like you could cry tears of happiness. If there’s just one good thing we can all take from this experience, it’s to appreciate the little things. They’re far more important than we probably would have thought or expected them to be. You never know when something you took for granted will suddenly not be there anymore. In the meantime, we can spend this time reading that book that we’ve always meant to read, but never had the time; checking in on old friends via messenger or video chat; and enjoying quality time with whomever we’re physically present with. 



Lots of love always,

Meghan

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