Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fitness and Adventure in Hanoi, Vietnam: Sara Mendelsohn

Not many people go straight from Reno, Nevada to Hanoi without a few pitstops in between, but Sara Mendelsohn, all 26 years of her, packed up one day and left for Vietnam without looking back. Here's her story: 

Q: Have you always been so fit? 

A: No, I used to be insecure about my body. I was a runner, and one day my ex-boyfriend took me to the gym, and I realized I couldn't do any pull-ups. It was very frustrating, because I've always been super-competitive, even if it was just with myself. 

Then my ex-boyfriend went away on a business trip and suddenly I had a lot of "alone" time, so I did a lot of research on YouTube workout videos. By the time I went to visit my ex-boyfriend, he was amazed at my transformation. 

Q: Do you play any sports? 

A: No, but I compete in National Physique Committee competitions (NPC). My first competition was in Scottsdale Arizona, where I placed 5th out of 20 women. My second show was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I placed first in my class and first overall. 

Despite my success, six months after the Oklahoma competition, my ex-boyfriend and I broke up. It was a horrible breakup, and after we broke up, I started focusing on myself a lot more, and I started my Instagram and my blog.

Q: How did you go from winning American bodybuilding competitions to moving to Vietnam? 

A: I realized I can do so much more. I can teach English, I can be a personal trainer, and I can do some combination of different activities. Maybe I'd only make 500 USD a month, but in the end, I'd be in a position to make a difference, not in a small town like Reno but in a big city like Hanoi. 

Q: What was difficult about going from a smaller town like Reno to a large city like Hanoi? 

A: I've only been here about 6 days. I wouldn't say anything has been difficult. I don't like two things: people littering like it's nothing, and people smoking everywhere. At the same time, everyone's much more laid back, and there are fewer rules. People don't seem as entitled. 

Q: Vietnam has a one year visa for American citizens. Is that how you were able to re-locate here?

A: I'm currently here
 on a three month visa... but I bought a one way ticket. I'll figure out how to extend my time. 

Q: I notice you have a lot of interesting tattoos. 

A: Yes, I have one on my arm that's a devil in disguise. The man with the beard is related to 420, and I have several more, including on my back. I like hanging out with artistic crowds, and my tattoo artist is Tony Medellin. Tony is a Reno local, and he just got selected for the Ink Master show. 

Q: I want to return to something you said earlier. Why was your breakup so difficult? 

A: [laughs] He cheated on me and knocked her up. He married her five months after our breakup, and he and I were together for four years. 

Q: You look very young. How old are you? Tell me about your family. 

A: I'm 26 years old. My dad is a P.E. teacher, and my mom makes uniforms for public schools. I have three younger brothers. 

I've been very lucky. My dad has always been very supportive of me. For example, when I started running, my dad said, "Oh, I want to run with you," and he did. We did 5Ks [marathons] together. When I wanted to join a gym, he got both of us a membership at the same gym. 

Q: Where do you want to be 3 to 6 months from now? 

A: I'd like to have my own apartment in the Tay Ho [the Lake district], and I'd like to live by myself. I'd like to be teaching adults, but I'll probably teach kids, and that's okay. I'd like to be more active on my blog and IG and post at least two times a week. 

It might sound corny to say, but I feel like I can make a difference just by being me. Maybe I'm not making a ton of money, but I get to live the life I want to live. 

Q: What are you scared of?

A: I'm scared that something [unexpected] will happen, and I won't like it here, and I'll have to go back to Reno, and I'll be a disappointment. 


I really want to be here. I like the culture, and the people here want to learn English, and they're really nice. I picked Hanoi because of its culture. I researched a few blogs, and I knew I wanted to live in a place that wasn't touristy, which meant  Thailand was out. It was either Cambodia or here, and I chose Vietnam. 

Q: If you could go back and tell your insecure teenage self something, what would you say? 

A: I would say, "You are so beautiful in your own way." 

Today, I look at other women my age or younger, and they're so preoccupied with wanting to be someone else, they don't realize the very person they admire wants to be like them. 

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