Tim Scott Thompson, associate principal of the Ho Chi Minh City-based American International School (ΛIS), said pensively that he could have never come to Vietnam without a scholarship worth about $12,000 a decade and a half ago.
“I came from a very poor family in California. I have two sisters and two brothers and I’m the only one to go to university. I got a scholarship to study at university in America and got a scholarship to come to Vietnam as well,” the American man told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Thompson was granted a full scholarship to study anthropology and Asia at California State University in Monterey Bay. In order to be eligible to graduate, he was required to study one of three Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. He eventually chose Vietnamese after a Vietnamese classmate convinced him to enroll in the class she taught.
Thanks to his studying Vietnamese, Thompson won a six-month full fellowship to learn about sustainable economic development in Vietnam from the School for International Training, based in Vermont, in 1999.
When he first arrived in Vietnam, he taught English at Hoa Sen [Lotus] College, now Hoa Sen University, to cover his daily needs. He also took a second job as a lecturer in English translation and interpretation at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities from 2002 to 2005.
In 2005, he quit the teaching job at Hoa Sen to become a full-time primary teacher at the American International School in Ho Chi Minh City. In 2007, he went back to the U.S. to teach third graders at a primary school in California.
In 2010, he returned to the Southeast Asian country and continued working for ΛIS. Three years later, Thompson received a PhD in education management from Endicott University in Massachusetts and later got promoted to associate principal at the Nha Be Campus of ΛIS.
“The trip to Vietnam has changed my life. Vietnam is different from America but I fell in love with this country. If I did not love this country, I wouldn’t have stayed here for such a long time,” he said.
Impressed by Vietnamese family values
His fate with Vietnam seems to be strongly tied since he married a Vietnamese woman in 2002. They have a lovely son who is bilingual and studying at the school Thompson manages.
Being a groom of a Vietnamese family, the American has learned many interesting things. “There are about 100 people related to my wife in her hometown of Bao Loc in the Central Highlands. My grandmother-in-law has eight children and each of them has three or four children. So it is hard for me to remember all the names,” Thompson said.
He is also surprised at how dedicated his mother-in-law is. "When we were busy at work, I asked for my wife's mother from Bao Loc to come to our house in Ho Chi Minh City to take care of our child. She came in the day after and asked nothing in return," the American groom said.
Tim Scott Thompson and his half-Vietnamese son are seen in this photo he provided for Tuoi Tre.
Thompson is also impressed by the family reunion customs in the country, particularly at Tet, or the Lunar New Year holiday. His wife and him visit his parents-in-law in Bao Loc three to four times a year, while he rarely did this in the U.S. because of the cultural difference.
The man said he has adapted to Vietnamese culture very well, but there is one thing he still cannot understand after 10 years of marriage, that the “wife always controls money in the family.” “My wife and I have compromised that each of us has freedom to do anything financially,” Thompson said.
'Cannot relate to home'
After living in Vietnam for a long time, the American educator realized that the motorbike is the real Vietnamese culture. “When I stop at traffic signals, I can hear what people around me are saying and can see what they are doing. It’s interesting to see young girls hugging their boyfriends on motorbikes,” he said.
Thompson also gets along with Vietnamese friends and his wife’s relatives because he speaks Vietnamese fluently.
“I cannot relate to my home back in the U.S. anymore. I went home and told my parents stories about driving a motorbike around Ho Chi Minh City and things like that, but no one can relate to me. No one really understands what my life is here,” he said.
The American added that he does not plan to go anywhere else. If he misses American things like McDonald’s, Hollywood movies, or shopping malls, he can find them here in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Vietnam is where I like to live. After living here for a long time, my lifestyle has changed a lot so I cannot look like this at home anymore. To me, I don’t think I could be better in any place than here,” he said.