Russian-born Amy Nikolaus, 27, is a freelance model who has been living and working in Ho Chi Minh City for more than five years.
Amy began her life in the southern city in August 2011, when she made up her mind to start off anew in the Southeast Asian country after spending one of her vacations there.
Speaking in accented but fluent Vietnamese, Amy spoke of her initial difficulty in finding a job here, given her inability to speak the country’s language.
It was not until she had almost run out of money and was about to give up, that Amy decided to place learning Vietnamese at the top of her priorities.
“I started working as a salesperson at a fashion store in a local Russian market to provide for my expenses,” Amy recalled. “It was also a chance for me to accustom myself to the language.”
It was not until mid 2012 that Amy had her first shot at modeling though, after she was introduced by a friend to a wedding photographer, who used her as a dress model for VND1 million (US$45) per day.
Having since modeled for hundreds of events of different scale, Amy now has a Vietnamese husband and a three-year-old son of her own in Ho Chi Minh City, and they live together in a small rented house in District 7.
Life is not pretty in pink
Other foreigners who have come to Vietnam in search of the chance to step into the country’s modelling business have not always been as lucky as Amy, with many having fallen victim to scams that have stripped them off their money.
Ruvenla, a 22-year-old model from Poland, said her first job in Vietnam was as a freelance model for a company based in Vung Tau City, where she was cheated into working for free after the company’s manager ran off with her salary.
Out of money, Ruvenla had no choice but to take up other jobs such as wine marketing and dancing to survive and wait for another chance to work as a model.
According to Ruvenla, most amateur foreign models like herself can only afford to live in cramped rented rooms in District 2, District 7, or Thu Duc District.
Ruvenla’s roommate Lusica said she and her boyfriend have to work multiple jobs at a time, including teaching English to children, to have enough money spare to send home to their families in Russia.
Despite the hardship, some models like Anthony from Britain retain high hopes of developing a successful career in Vietnam.
Anthony said working in Vietnam offered him opportunities to model for high-class brands and famous magazines, a highly competitive field in fashion capitals such as Paris, Milan, or New York.
The British model said the time spent working in Vietnam would form a valuable part of his profile in order to enter other markets.