Returning to my Vietnamese roots

I was born and raised in Germany by Vietnamese parents, and I spent most of my life in Germany. I joined McKinsey there after graduating from university in 2017. I had visited Vietnam for the occasional family or holiday stay, but I didn’t fully immerse myself in the Vietnamese culture until I relocated here through the firm.

Working for McKinsey in both Germany and Vietnam and experiencing both cultures has been rewarding. It’s been exciting to experience the differences in the countries and learn how those cultural differences are reflected in the way we work with our clients.

Recalling my first client meeting in Vietnam

Returning to my Vietnamese roots
Returning to my Vietnamese roots

I remember my first Vietnamese engagement so vividly. I was nervous because I had never conducted a business meeting in Vietnamese before. In Germany, everyone speaks German or English, so I had never experienced this type of situation.

The firm booked an interpreter, and it was such a wonderful way to support me in my new country. I was able to have some small talk with the client in Vietnamese but conduct the meeting in English with the help of the interpreter. After a couple of weeks, my Vietnamese significantly improved so I relied less on English-Vietnamese translation, but that initial help dramatically boosted my confidence.

Adapting to a new culture

Vietnam and Germany couldn’t be more different in many aspects, but I have been impressed with how our foundational ways of working, communicating, and collaborating are consistent across offices.

One difference that really struck me is how age and seniority are respected in Vietnam, and how reluctant some junior colleagues were in speaking up to more senior colleagues. At McKinsey, we truly believe that dissent is an obligation, and we encourage people to disagree if someone is making wrong assumptions. I remind them of this value and encourage them to share more often. That ability to speak up and contribute, regardless of title or level, is what sets McKinsey apart from other organizations.

Additionally, I assumed my Vietnamese was bad because my parents joke with me for getting the sentence structure or vocabulary wrong. However, when I arrived here, I discovered that I get along very well in everyday life. I am not as fluent as native Vietnamese speakers, but most Vietnamese people I have spoken Vietnamese with are shocked to learn I spent my entire life outside of Vietnam.

Returning to my Vietnamese roots
Returning to my Vietnamese roots

Finding my new home

When people used to ask me which country I consider “home,” I struggled with the answer. It is quite an emotional question for me. I grew up in Germany, however, since coming to Vietnam, I have reconnected with my roots and family. I have grown on a personal level, discovering new strengths and interests. I have made friends within and outside the firm who inspire me and lift me up every day.

I feel fortunate to consider both Germany and Vietnam my homes.

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