A different way of life

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Marie Ponsot seems to know hidden corners in Hanoi that not many locals, let alone foreigners, know about.

She knows to go to Hang Duong Street to buy salted dry apricot like many local female high school students, or to head to Bat Dan Street to enjoy Hanoi's renowned pho bo.

This insider knowledge doesn't come as much as a surprise seeing as she has studied at an international school here for the past two years.

As daughter of a French diplomat, Ponsot, 15, is one of many expatriate children who have accompanied their parents to Vietnam. But how do the young cope with the massive changes that come with relocation to another country?

Cultural exchange

Ponsot has accompanied her father to many places, but she says Vietnam has been the best.

"In Vietnam, I have really good friends. They help me understand more about the country's culture and they teach me the language," she says with her smattering of Vietnamese.

Ponsot often spends her holidays or weekends strolling around the downtown area of the city with Vietnamese friends buying souvenirs or drinking fruit juice at a street-side café.

Ponsot says she has gained a real insight into the culture. Sometimes, she'll go to a Vietnamese friend's house.

"I have lunch with her family. Her mother teaches me how to make Vietnamese spring rolls and papaya salad," she says.

The challenges

Meanwhile, Gabriel Difourcq, 17, sometimes finds the differences between Vietnam and his native France difficult to understand.

"Vietnamese families are so big. They all live together with grandparents. In France, this doesn't happen," he says. "Vietnamese people are friendly but they don't express their emotions like Europeans. I never know whether they're happy or not!"

Difourcq came to Vietnam with his father, a doctor, from France. He has lived in England for one year, in Cambodia for four years, and Vietnam for five months. "I love traveling and the opportunity to learn about new cultures," he says.

One thing he doesn't like, though, is getting ripped off.

"Motorbike taxi drivers often think I'm a tourist and ask me for double the price to go home from school. In Vietnam you have to bargain."

Student Giovanni Bianco, 13, also loves learning about new cultures. At his international school, there is a great deal of cultural diversity. International students here have the opportunity to experience a different way of life and make friends from all over the world.

He introduces his friends to Italian pizza and pasta while they take him to places where they eat French baguettes, Japanese sushi, Thai curries or Vietnamese noodles.

Learning the language

Ponsot, Difourcq and Bianco all try to learn Vietnamese, not an easy task when you consider how different it is from European languages. Bianco finds it difficult. He studies at school and at home with a private tutor but still finds speaking a challenge.

The language barrier also prevents him from making friends. "I can only make friends with people that speak English. Sometimes, I get lonely." When this happens, he sits at a street-side café. "I love sitting with a coffee in hand and watching people go about their lives. It's too cold to sit outside in France!"

There's no denying that coming to live in a new country brings with it challenges. But, most people that come here relish these challenges and enjoy a completely different way of life that also yields new opportunities.

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