Vietnamese in the Czech Republic ask "where's home?"

Photo: Juraj Gazovciak,

Around 40,000 Vietnamese currently live in the Czech Republic many of them having arrived during the Communist era, when Vietnam sought to bolster its skilled workforce by sending thousands of students and guest workers to the then Czechoslovakia for training and experience. When the Iron Curtain disappeared, a large number of them decided to stay rather than return to communist Vietnam. Now, never having lived in their parent's native country, many of their offspring today regard the Czech Republic as home.

One member of this new generation of Vietnamese is economics student Thu Ha Nguyen. She first came here at the age of ten with her mother and brother to join her father, who had been studying here in the 1980s. Although her mother now runs a shop, Thu Ha has no intention of following her behind the counter and instead wants to forge a career in the business world once she graduates from university.

Although she still feels very Vietnamese, Thu Ha has lived here so long, she admits to not being sure sometimes precisely which culture she belongs to:

"It's a combination of Vietnamese and Czech and it's very strange, because sometimes I want to do something, which would be frowned upon in Vietnamese culture. So sometimes I feel it's better to be Czech. But I always say that I am still a Vietnamese girl so have to behave like a Vietnamese. I look like an Asian girl, so I can't go around behaving like a European girl. That's why Vietnamese culture is still closer to me than Czech culture."

Nevertheless, there are some aspects of the Czech way of life which Thu Ha clearly appreciates:

"What I like most about being here in the Czech Republic is that we don't have to study all the time. In Vietnam, we have to study, study, study morning, noon and night. I also find that my parents and other Vietnamese parents are much stricter than Czechs because of their Asian mentality. They have raised us to respect teachers, old people and to behave politely in society."

In some ways, the upcoming generation of Vietnamese has integrated so successfully that there are fears in the community that their Vietnamese identity is gradually being eroded. With so many pupils of Vietnamese origin winning Czech-language competitions and assimilating smoothly into Czech society, it's little wonder that Vietnam is becoming an increasingly distant and even foreign country for some ethnic Vietnamese, particularly those who have been born here

It's a problem many older Vietnamese have acknowledged. As a result, a number of Vietnamese schools that teach the language and history of that country have opened up in the Czech Republic in the past few years.

Having lived in Vietnam until she was ten, Thu Ha still has a strong sense of her Vietnamese identity. Nevertheless, after growing up in the Czech Republic even she hesitates to call Vietnam home, and is not sure if she wants to go back there to live some day:

"I've been thinking about that a lot. I have Czech friends here and I have been here for a long time, so it would be difficult to be in a new environment. But I think I want to go to Vietnam for a year or two so that I can find out if I really want to stay there. Because it's now a new environment for me. It's been a long time since I was there. I think it will have changed a lot and the people and everything else has changed as well. So I have to go there and find out if it is 'my Vietnam' - the place I've always imagined it to be..."