Stepping out of Asia for the first time

Before I moved to Santiago de Chile, I had never traveled outside of Asia. However, I never felt bothered because I love to travel, and I take the opportunity to travel whenever I can. Growing up in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, I knew that someday I would simply travel to other continents for leisure or work. For now, the constant challenge that I face is how to step out of my own comfort zone; and how to do something different from the norm to make me feel alive and active in my daily life. Sometimes, I struggle with that process, since we easily fall into daily routines without being aware of it. But for all of us there are defining moments, which are like silver lightning that enables us to feel brief flashes of enlightenment — along with an endorphin rush. Living in Santiago and participating in The S Factory is one of those moments in life for me.

One sunny afternoon in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), I joined my friend, Charles, from Coderschool to talk to some high school girls at Saigon International School (SIS) . There was a group of seniors (Year 12) who voluntarily spent an extra four hours after class every Monday to join an mobile application building competition exclusively for girls.

At the time, I was working at a 500 Startups-backed company and I was supposed to inspire the girls by sharing what startup life is like in Saigon. However, once I started speaking to these girls, the turnout was completely different: I was impressed by how dedicated they were to working on their app-building goals regardless of the fact that they had to learn everything from scratch. After a couple of weeks, they showed me their first prototypes, resulting from their initial ideas. It was then when I thought to myself that I should be more like them.

But after all, I guess you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Soon after being super impressed by the girls and realizing that I needed to step beyond my own comfort zone, I decided to apply for The S Factory. It would be a few months until I found out that I was accepted for 12-week pre-accelerator program here in Chile.

In my experience, the application process for S Factory was pretty simple, which you can check out here. (The next call for the new generation of this 100% female founders program will be opening in early July, but if you are interested then you can always check the information on the program website to get an idea of what to expect.) I was fortunate to learn about this program approximately two months before the application deadline so I had plenty of time to perfect my application.

So after lots of hustle and bustle, we are finally in Santiago! Of course it wasn’t easy (considering the competitive application pool, and the three visas I needed including my transits in Australia and New Zealand), but I learned from the new experiences. From visa applications, to accommodations search, as well as coping with jet lag, it’s been such a long trip to settle here in my home for the next three months. Yet, I’ve felt that the experience to get here has been totally worth it.

On the first Friday of the program, each team joining this batch had to prepare for a three-minute pitch as the first week’s assignment. As I met my fellow participants, I saw women of different ages from different countries and stages in their lives. Originally, I came to the program thinking that it would be more suited for 20-something year-old women. I thought that I would see only young singles, and I definitely didn’t expect that I would meet expectant mothers, married women, or even newly-weds. All of the women whom I met here are inspirational, strong, and independent because they reach out and raise their own voices to effectively communicate their own products or ideas, ranging from saving energy to building organic farming systems to creating new solutions for healthy nail polish. (Yes, even nail polish!) There seems to be nothing that can stop these women.

I invite you to follow my journey here in Santiago, so that future participants of the program can better understand what they are signing up for. I am excited to see more Vietnamese, as well more Asian representation here to balance with the rest of the global participants. And I am excited to see how people will use the opportunity of stepping out of their original routines. :)

10 things that I love about Santiago so far:

1. The valley city is beautiful with surprising number of green parks. Metropolitan Urban Park covers around 722 hectares, making it the largest urban park in Chile and one of the largest in the world.

2. The city is really dog-friendly. I think it would be heaven for my dog Chuon Chuon (Vietnamese name for Dragonfly ❤) at home.

3. It’s always nice to take a walk around the city. Every day I walk 30 minutes to get to my co-working space, and every now and then I get little surprises around the corners. There are so many hidden boutique stores, gourmet cafés, and cool street art in general.

4. The city is actually diverse, although with mostly other Latin Americans. People from Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, etc. come to Chile to start new lives. I guess I am the only Vietnamese (or maybe even Asian) in the neighborhood, but that’s okay.

5. CHI-CHI-CHI LE-LE-LE VIVA CHILE!!! Chile won the Copa America last night and Plaza Italia has never been crazier. The country is all about soccer and I feelt like I was at home. (Vietnam has many soccer fans too.) People always try to find a spot to sip craft beer and watch the game.

6. The restaurant down Paris Street refused to serve me wine if I don’t eat anything simply because wine here is generally inexpensive.

7. Ordering a pisco sour drink was among one of the first local things that I’ve done.

CH for Chilean style and PE for Peruvian style. I went for Chilean :)

8. Welcome to the Andes! Going hiking on Sunday morning with my peers from The S Factory will forever be my fond memory of Santiago. Taking a 30-min taxi to Pochoco Obeservatory and hiking the trail for a couple of hours was an absolutely worthwhile experience, especially when we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the valley city.

Here we are — three continents happily united at the top of Pochoco at 1800-meters high — before another three-hour trek down without knowing that the Pochoco trail is actually the most difficult route among the famous ones.

9. It’s the home of my favorite poet Pablo Neruda — I will take time to visit his home in the famous Bella Vista.

“Someday, somewhere — anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.”

10. (to be continued)…

Thank you for taking the time to read my inaugural weekly post. There will be more posts coming soon to discuss how we develop products here. Adios for now!

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