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Monday, 2 April 2018

Xin chào! 3 months in my new home.

Train street, Old Quarter

It seems every time I write a new blog post I start it off with "It's been a while..." or similar words to that effect, which justifies my laziness. So HUGE catchup to anyone still following my little High on Chic creation from way back. I'm currently living in Hanoi, Vietnam, working as an English teacher. A slight temporary diversion from my fashion degree.

After graduating University, coming out here was an off road turn. I'd gone through my whole education knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and to postpone those opportunities seemed scary but the fear of regret seemed petrifying. I could go in much deeper but for now lets just call it your typical 'millennial quarter life crisis'. An anarchic response to student loans, rent prices and UK weather. Keep your Brexit, I'm checking out with my own kind of Nexit! Nicole...exit...Never mind.

So far I've been living and teaching in Hanoi for 3 Months through a company that sets up teaching internships. I could of come out and tried to find work solo, as many do, but I preferred the security a legitimate company offered in terms of being able to meet more people and receive pre- organised accommodation and transport to schools.

Since being here the list of breathtaking highs is long, every day is different and I've met so many wonderful people! Of course, there are still some low days and adjustments to get through. I miss people back home, kids aren't always cute and anyone that knows me, knows I'm very particular about certain things i.e there's that one super weird thing I have about food packaging and I'm literally obsessed with the quality of bathrooms but, hey, if we were all normal, we'd be boring right? Despite all these small things, I have no regrets so far. It feels like I've been out here for 6 months already and overall, I'm having the best time! 

I wanted to start sharing my experience to shed light on what it's like to move from the comforts of the Western World to the very different comforts of the East. To try and give a true reflection of life in Hanoi and spread the word on some great food and shopping experiences.
 As it's virtually impossible to cram everything I've done into one post, I'm going to start by reporting on what I feel could be helpful to hear if you've ever thought about visiting or teaching in Vietnam. 

View from Trill roof top bar Ha Noi, Cau Giay.
First things first, the exiting costs. 

When I decided last March to make this happen, I naively thought it would just be a case of getting my Tefl, getting on a plane and leaving the country. Oh, how wrong I was. As I'm still discovering with my student finance and HM revenue, every life decision comes with a lot of admin work. Completely takes the spontaneity out of everything if you ask me. Below I have outlined the costs I had, although they will differ person to person. Apologies if the £ to $ flips confuse you, once I got to Vietnam I started paying in USD $. Alongside the Tefl certificate you must obtain to teach out here, there are a few other costs not many people will think about when teaching in Vietnam.

In particular the legalisation of all my documents (police check, BA Hons degree, Tefl) was a last minute knock to my savings plan at £400. You can get it done a bit cheaper by getting each stage of legalisation done with different solicitors, but as I was pushed for time I opted for a company called Hague Apostle that took the hassle out and processed all the stages for me. Another cost that's pretty obvious but can be initially forgotten, jabs. I got Typhoid, Hep B and Hep A for free on NHS but had to pay for Rabies which worked out to be £150 at my local GP (I asked for this as a birthday present). If I decide to stay longer than 6 months, I'll need to head to a Vietnamese Hospital to get my Hep A/ B topped up as currently the UK is experiencing a shortage so I only got 2 doses of Hep A before coming.

Speaking of hospitals, a lot of language companies will ask for an up to date medical check done in Vietnam. This is very thorough; X-ray, Ultra-scan, physical, blood and urine sample as well as dentistry and opticians. On this particular occasion it wasn't the most private experience, imagine being lined up on a bench with 6 other people getting blood taken in front of you and consultation doors being left wide open. I've had two experiences at Vietnamese hospitals and this first one was rather chaotic as there were so many of us, they lost my urine sample to give you some idea of my day. The second experience, however, I went independently and it was much smoother, I dare say more straight forward than hospitals in the UK. A translator is provided to foreigners, who then takes you everywhere you need to be and puts your mind at ease. Costs will vary, but I had to pay my language company $75 on arrival for my medical check. The second check independently, cost me around $60.

Following the theme of safety, insurance was another cost I didn't really consider. I'm a terrible holiday maker, I never buy holiday insurance. This however, was a trip I didn't want to take the risk on. My long term travel insurance cost me £150 and I made sure it covered me for being a passenger on a bike, as well as novel things such as my Laptop and personal belongings.

Probably the most important, Visa and work permit costs. This is where it gets a little dicey for me as some teacher friends got their visa at Hanoi airport for £30, whereas I had to travel to the Vietnamese embassy to get mine for £100. Either way, once you get your letter of invitation from the language company or school, you need a Visa. Next comes the work permit, which I paid my language company $250 dollars on arrival. It's a bit of a mystery exactly as to where this money went, so it may be less expensive done independently. Apparently you can get away with just working on a tourist visa, but 3 language company's I've spoken to have said a work permits needed, it's worth checking.

Finally once you've paid for flights (cost me £500 with Emirates 3 months in advance) and all the above, it's recommended for the first 5 weeks to have between £200-£400 to live on. Speaking only for myself as a frivolous person at times, the excitement of being somewhere new takes over and of course I wanted to go away as much as possible, explore the nightlife and shopping areas. It's best to have money spare, rather than not have enough until the first payday.

Although Vietnam is very low cost once on arrival, as you can see from above it's not quite as low cost as you think for preparation, but definitely worth it! Also, I had 8 months to prepare and the money I received for my Birthday and Christmas really helped out.


Culture shock? Same same, but different. 

If you are considering moving to Hanoi or Vietnam, I want to put your mind at ease. No matter where you live or work in the world, there will always be an element of wanting to resist immediate change and no matter how long you stay here, there will always be a day or two where you just miss the comforts of home.

I remember my first night in Hanoi, feeling a million miles away from home and contemplating whether I'd just made a huge mistake in coming. The weather was grey and smoggy. Broken live electrical wires hung everywhere on the streets. It did not look like my Pinterest board of cute coffee shops and colourful buildings...yet. Which leads me on to say, I knew my initial impression would only be temporary. It was just so exciting to be in a new part of the world, I like new challenges and getting out of my comfort zone. The eagerness to explore outweighed any doubts. I've learnt from living in 3 busy UK cities that you can't judge a city by its cover, the most beautiful things will either be sought out or stumbled upon.

In terms of food, I haven't been so bad. My diet back in the UK was mainly noodle and rice dishes and I like to think I'm quite adventurous with food as long as it's clean, so it was pretty easy to adjust and go the whole first month before caving into western food. Bun Cha is my favourite Vietnamese dish! I love street food during the week but as Hanoi has so many choices, I like to change it up on weekends and go a bit bigger...well if you call spending less than £10 on an amazing 2 course meal and a glass of wine going 'bigger'. Hanoi also has a wonderful array of eclectic coffee shops serving all kinds of Vietnamese coffee drinks from Cà phê trứng (Egg coffee), Cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk) to Bac Xiu (coconut coffee), as well as the more European friendly , French drip. My point is, don't be too worried about food. There's something for everyone here.

After living here a short while, you learn to accept that things are done differently whether it be customer service, living standards or the way employers treat you. The language barrier will always present difficulties in getting a point across, it can be frustrating at times but the Vietnamese people in my experience are so friendly and usually very happy to help. Likewise it helps to at least try and meet half way by learning some of the language (I'm trying!). You will probably/ definitely get laughed at but it's appreciated and bodes well for bartering prices down at the fantastic night markets.

Note Cafe, Hoan Kiem (Old quarter)

Cà phê trứng (Egg coffee), Cafe Giang, Old quarter.

Moving onto the traffic situation


At first the immensity of traffic can seem daunting. Nothing stops, even at rush hour bikes will opt for the pedestrian pavement instead to get around. It took me a few days to get used to willingly stepping in front of cars and bikes, hoping they'd go around me. The trick is to walk slowly at a steady pace, I also try to avoid cars, just because if it came down to it, I'd rather be hit by a bike (which I already have) than a car, less damage. Seems a bit messed up but there's method in the madness. The roads are always super busy, so traffic moves slower than in Britain, after a while it becomes second nature, when I eventually return to the UK it's going to be a real shock getting used to the rules of the road again.

This one time in Nam, I rode a bike...

For a girl with no driving license, I'm definitely not the best person to advise. What can I say? I've done it, I like it, I'll do it again, but it's really an individual decision. If you're staying here long term, then it's the fastest way to get around but I personally won't be driving in central Hanoi for insurance reasons. I'm much more comfortable riding about in the Vietnamese country side. In Hanoi, I opt for Grab bikes and Uber bikes whenever I can to get around instead. NEVER hail down taxi bikes or even taxi's alone, you can't be certain of how legit they are in terms of insurance and they charge more. I had a very sketchy experience with one on a night out where the driver locked the doors until I paid him 5 times the amount it should of been. Lesson learnt, in a world of Taxi Apps, why take the risk?

First day riding a moped in Ninh Binh

Playing it safe

Following on from that point, despite that silly taxi experience, in general I feel very safe in Hanoi. I live in Cau Giay district away from the backpacker areas so theft hasn't really been a problem that me or friends have seen. Pick pocketing, however, is naturally rife in tourist hot spots like Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem), especially at the night markets. As in any city, it's down to practising good common sense.

Expat life

The low living costs create the perfect environment for having an Insta worthy highlight real of what life can be like as a foreign English teacher in Hanoi. My life here is drastically different from life in the UK in terms of the amount of travelling and sightseeing I can easily do. There's so much to explore so its pretty non-stop, and in such a great place why would you want it to be calm? It's also so cheap to go away for the weekend to explore the rest the North has to offer, such as paying a visit to beautiful Sa Pa, Ninh Binh or Bat Trang. I highly recommend sleeper buses on a Friday night to save time, very comfortable unless you're over 6 ft in which case, hope you enjoy sleeping in the foetus position?...

Winter trip to Sa Pa finding hidden rivers

 
Lying Dragon Mountain, Ninh Binh.

While working as an English teacher, there are also national holidays that work in our favour for getting further afield travelling done. We recently had Tet New Year holiday, a 10 day break, in which a whole bunch of us travelled down to Da Nang to soak up the hot beach weather, with a short trip to Hoi An for New year celebrations. The next longer break will be May day, I've planned a long weekend to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) with a stop at the Mui Ne sand dunes. (Watch this space for that blog post)

I just liked the shade of pink. Da Nang, Tet holiday. 

Beach in Hue, first day of Tet holiday.

In terms of the teaching job I work around 20 hours a week, Monday to Friday mostly 8am-11am, long siesta then back to work from 2pm-5pm. I work in 4 schools with 3 mornings off, although I am obligated to work cover periods at other schools to make up the 20 hours, so this usually means working across 6 schools. Lesson's can be draining though, a lot of energy is needed and teaching 40 to 60 kids a class means your voice gets a daily work out. It's very common to teach extra classes on the side also, so I help my TA one evening a week for a bit of extra money teaching two smaller private classes. Of course, as with any job, there are ups and downs but I feel very lucky to be able to do this. Every time I get a 'down' thought about a lesson that didn't go well or I start missing home, there's always a friend close by to hang out with or a student will pay you a compliment to boost your day. Either way, I always remember what an amazing country I'm in and how I wouldn't of been able do half the things I've done so far without living here.

I promise my future posts won't be as long as this, but I hope this glimpse of my experience so far above has been informative and perhaps gives a little nudge to anyone considering coming to Vietnam to teach or even just for a holiday.

International women's day, flowers from my classes. 

Thank you for stopping by! x





Monday, 1 May 2017

Weekend in Valencia




I’ve been meaning to write a post about my short but eventful trip to Valencia for quite a while now, deadlines, work and other priorities just kept getting in the way but as I’m currently on a train I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally document my trip.

Myself and a friend visited the lovely Spanish city that is Valencia in late February. If you follow me on Instagram, then you will have already seen many of the photos I took whilst away, I can’t help but keep posting them now and again…yeah, sorry I’m that ’throwback post’ person.

With Valencia being less than a 2-hour cheap flight away and the slightly warmer temperature we couldn’t resist but book a short trip to get over the post-Christmas blues. I’ve just accepted now that January to March is the worst time of the year in the UK, I like to think of myself as a tropical plant that needs sun and water then dies in winter.

We chose Valencia mainly because it’s been dubbed the art capital of Spain, so we knew even if it rained there would still be lots of activities to do over the weekend! The first part of the trip is a bit of a sleepless blur. We intended to go for one overly priced cocktail in Manchester’s Spinningfield’s but accidentally ended up staying out till 3am. Our flight was at 7am, you get the picture. 


Finally arriving in Valencia just in time for brunch, the first thing we notice immediately is the beautiful terracotta and apricot colours that adorned the streets. Rustic and full of character. Our Airbnb is lovely and situated right in the centre, there seems to be a monologue written in Latin on one of the living room walls. We will never know what it means but we like to think it’s something inspiring at least.


By this time, we only had a few hours of golden hour light left so took to the streets to explore what Valencia had to offer. It is the most photogenic European city I have been to, everywhere you look there’s a new shot to capture. Orange and lemon trees line the streets and it has me thinking, why can’t we have apple trees lining the streets of Manchester? A dumb question in hind sight, but got to love an idealist. 


I've started taking a film camera out with me instead of digital sometimes, it's a bit risky (especially if you buy expired cheap film like I do) but I love how unpredictable the finished result is and it's less editing time, the grainy effects of film just speak for itself.


On the second day we headed to the IVAM (Institut Valencià d’Art Modern). Myself and Emily both love art but when it comes down to it, I let her decide on the best art galleries to visit. The IVAM did not disappoint, in fact it was the best art gallery for modern art I’d been to in a while, not just for its emotive exhibitions that all seemed to link in some way and were easy to understand and connect with but also for the size of the gallery. I know from the confused looks on family members faces when I show them artists work, modern art is typically one of those things that you either love or hate, either way I would highly recommend a trip to go there! 


As you walk around Valencia it's immediately clear that this is a city that prides itself on its street art as well as it's galleries. I took so many photos of the various murals, too many to put in this post but definitely check out my Instagram if you fancied seeing more. I particularly liked this Horse and snails found on Carrer de Saint Dionis.


Another striking wall was this one below, created by covering the wall with a wire mesh grid, and cross stitching the roses on top. 


Valencia is beautiful but isn't by any means pristine, as you can see in the photo's much of it features cracking walls and word graffiti, but I love it, it just adds character and I personally find perfect a little boring to photograph sometimes. Overall it was a wonderful weekend filled with plenty of culture and Sangria!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Reflecting on my Placement year



I can’t believe it’s already been a year on placement in London and soon I will be heading back to university for my final year! – Scary.

I thought by doing this post it would be a good time to reflect on my time at Ralph Lauren and any tips I can offer to other students interested in doing a long-term internship or placement as part of their University degree.

Firstly I’d like to start off by saying a work placement is an amazing opportunity that shouldn’t be dismissed without serious thought. Experience these days counts for a lot in the work place so it’s good to make yourself stand out more to future employers and also get to grips with the realities of the industry you hope to work in. My own experience taught me more about what it is I actually want to do with my life more than university ever did, because there are only so much PowerPoint presentations and essays can teach you about the the world out there.

Moving onto my own placement experience, most people will say (especially in London) its ups and downs and I have to agree with this. Placement types will vary, however, mine was full time and paid to do the exact same job as a permanent employee. My job role was Buyers Admin assistant and I supported the buying team on womenswear for 8 months and menswear for 4 months. At Ralph Lauren it was mainly an admin and sample management role and presenting to directors during meetings was expected and done almost weekly. A lot of responsibility is put on your shoulders at Ralph Lauren; you are treated like a permanent employee, which is a positive thing.

Below are my 4 tips to anyone considering a placement or internship in any job role.

Treat everyone, as you would like to be treated

Fortunately for me, Ralph Lauren was a very friendly place to work throughout. It was also a stressful environment at certain times of the season, which can bring out the snappy side in people. No matter how frustrated you get at a situation/someone and vice versa its important to stay calm, keep smiling and not take it personally. That person who just rudely snapped at you from another team and you retaliated could be the head of your department next month who will remember you as ‘that rude student placement’. – I can thankfully say this never happened to me!

Be Professional

In uber corporate environments such as Ralph Lauren, it goes without saying. Professionalism at all times! You will gain a lot more respect from co workers and senior figures and be taken more seriously. I wouldn't consider myself 'corporate' at all, far from it, but professional I am.

Embrace criticism


I’m terrible at taking criticism. It’s hard when you try your best to then be told it wasn’t good enough. I take it personally and its something I’m working on. When receiving constructive criticism, instead of becoming overly defensive and getting upset try asking your manager ‘what exactly can I do next time to improve?’. Be specific. If you feel you’ve brought everything you can to the table under the circumstances, don’t be afraid to say so but also to ask for support.

Remember you are there to LEARN!

My final point is for you to remember that you are there to learn, so embrace the experience. Ask questions; learn all you can not only about your own department but also about other departments. In some placements such as mine it can be easy, when you have such a high workload to forget you are a student and end up getting caught in the ‘rat race’ doing the same thing every day. My biggest regret about my placement is that I have always been intrigued by Visual merchandising (even more so now) and I never pushed to shadow the Creative team. I doubt this would have been allowed, but I will never know because I didn’t push for it. 

Reflecting...

Looking back on my experience with Ralph Lauren, I cannot describe how lucky I feel to have worked for such an iconic brand. I realised towards the end of my placement, however, that for the future I need to be doing a job role that is more creative and I dare say it more inspiring. I love product, I love talking about product, I love learning about product and getting everyone else loving it too. If I were to continue with the type of role I had at Ralph Lauren I don’t believe it would fulfil the creative side of me.

All this goes back to my original point about learning more about what you want to do after doing placement. Yes, I may have come out of my placement wanting to do something very different to when I started, but that in it self is amazing! I’ve discovered what I really want to do before I’m tied to anything; I know the direction I need to go down now. 

I hope this has helped or assured a few of you! J



Sunday, 22 November 2015

Parker girl

It's been a while since I last posted so I guess a lot of catching up is needed. I, quite abruptly stopped writing a year ago during my second year of uni in Manchester. As much as I love writing and missed the blogging community, I was just juggling too much to really focus on the quality of my content which is really important to me. Hell, I was juggling too much to really focus on anything back then! 

Safe to say, life has settled now and a lot of exciting changes has happened in the past year. I'm currently (finally!) on the placement year of my course working at Ralph Lauren as a Buyers Admin assistant. I live in Greater London with my housemate and good friend but commute regularly back to Bristol on the weekends. Oh, I also turned 22 , 22 days ago.

On that birthday note I wanted to show a glimpse today my lovely gift of the Portere Parker from All Saints, I cant stop wearing it. If theres a style of coat that encompasses my own personal style, this is the one!



The Portere Parker is one of All Saints classic style coats, they do it all year round and for who knows how many years? Having worked there myself I'd never paid much attention to it, it was always undone and hidden away in the continuity section. I wasn't ever a big fan of parker coats, I felt they were too casual for me, it wasn't until I saw it on that I fell in love with it's draping features. 

It's completely effortless, contemporary with a very practical feel. I just don't recommend wearing it in the rain, yes it has a marvelous hood, but waterproof it is not.
It is however, great for throwing over any outfit for any occasion. You could wear bed clothes underneath and essentially as long as the parker was done up look pretty chic. It's also great for rolling up in a ball and shoving it in your bag on nights out, which my nan will tell me off for doing.  

Downside is that it is pretty expensive at £258, but it was a present and la boyfriend gets 50% off.


I think any long coat looks great with bare legs, and a dress. I've paired mine with my Kooples leopard print/ black shift dress (bought on sale back in summer) and Russell & Bromley Runway boots, also a birthday gift. I take great caution when buying clothes and accessories, scouring websites to find a cheaper dupe of what I want but with these 3 items I just couldn't find a better alternative. The boots are beyond the comfiest I've tried on, the upper fabric of the dress has a soft to touch brushed silk feel that I haven't seen since the old school All Saints days and the coat is just gorgeously draped in soft cotton and has what can only be described as a star wars-esque hood. 

These are my investment pieces and probably my favourite items in my wardrobe. I don't think they fit into any particular trend at the moment but they are true to my personal style, and something I would wear for years. :) 

Thank you for reading!