“Coming here was a bit of a shock,” says Singaporean Sheereen Amran, 21. “You rarely get racism straight up in your face back home.”
The blatant prejudice Sheereen faced during her first two months in Hanoi as a budding ESL teacher was not something she had prepared for.
“No one wanted to look at my qualifications, just because I’m not white,” says Sheereen. “I tried sending out resumés to a lot of schools, but it always left me in tears.”
Instead of packing up and going back to Singapore, much to the inevitable delight of her mum, Sheereen made a new plan, and made a big change she hadn’t expected or intended.
Bake it ‘Til you Make it
Coming to Hanoi was a big step. Sheereen doesn’t deny that a chance to reunite with her boyfriend, Ian, after 21 months in a long-distance relationship, was a major factor.
“I couldn’t take it any more,” she says. “I just thought I’d come here and have fun; save some money, teach English.”
After coming to terms with the issues of getting into teaching ESL — parents who send their kids to language schools associate English teachers with people who are Caucasian — Sheereen’s boyfriend introduced her to the CEO of the KAfe Group.
“I used to sell cakes to my schoolmates, and they loved it,” says Sheereen. “By 16, I had a part-time job as a cake decorator.”
Before leaving Singapore, Sheereen was teaching others how to bake and decorate cakes in public schools and private cooking schools.
After baking a few demo cakes, Sheereen was hired. The disappointment of the ESL world had pushed her into the position of executive pastry chef at The KAfe, within two months of arriving in Hanoi.
Making this sudden change was easy for Sheereen. Growing up somewhere as conservative as Singapore always grated against her natural, rebellious side.
“I just thought… I want to experience life, and learn with my hands,” says Sheereen. “I never fitted in; years of school to end up in a nine-to-five job isn’t my idea of what life should be.”
Meeting Ian made her realise just how much more of the world there is than Singapore. The youthful instinct of having no commitments or responsibilities was all the catalyst she needed to change plans so easily.
“I’m now in charge of coming up with new menu items and improving current recipes at The KAfe,” says Sheereen.
Since coming to Hanoi and getting this job, she is much happier.
“Western society is so fast, and you’re always worried about where the money will come from,” she says. “Here I have a better life balance. I love my job, and I take pride in it.”
Now living with no regrets, even Sheereen’s mum has come to accept her choices.
“At first she didn’t understand, because she thinks Singapore is such a safe and perfect country,” says Sheereen. “But when I got my job here, mum was reassured; she’s changed her mind now.”
Sheereen does her job for the passion, not the pay cheque. Even on her days off, she wants to make the best of it.
“In Singapore, I was more petty about doing more than I had to; that’s changed now,” Sheereen says. “I put everything into what I create.”
She doesn’t expect her change to be permanent, however, and still harbours a desire to save up and go back to school, to pursue her goal of getting a pastry diploma.
“Maybe in Australia,” says Sheereen. “I believe qualifications are secondary to experience, but I do still want to learn; I like learning.”
Photos by Julie Vola
To read more stories about people who have made substantial personal change, click on the following links:
Todd Gilmore, The Triathlete
Sophie Pham, The Introvert
Ha Minh, The Woman
Laura Sheehan, The Mentor
Robin Babu, The Fitness Dude
Sheereen Amran, The Pastry Chef
Mitch Brookman, The Hairdresser
To read about some ideas for personal change, click on the following links:
Get Into Stand-Up Comedy
Take Art Classes
Get Professional Help
Nutrition and Vietnamese Food
The Power of Habit