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Getting away from it all: my paid sabbatical to Vietnam

Ivana Markovic
February 07 ∙ 6 min read
Getting away from it all: my paid sabbatical to Vietnam

At Osedea, we always say to potential candidates that we’re on a journey of supporting our team members in becoming self-actualized versions of themselves — both at work, and in their personal lives. That’s why we’ve built a combo of powerful, flexible, and rare benefits for our team to take advantage of.

One of the oldest benefits we have had is our Dreams Come True initiative. A while back, I wrote a blog post about it, which you can read here. In essence, we offer our team an extended paid leave, and give them $5,000 that they can use. During their time away, they are free to pursue a passion, learn something new, explore an exciting location, or complete a personal project. Multiple studies and articles on the paid sabbatical topic justify the business rationale behind these initiatives. Across the board, the end results are happier employees who are more engaged at work, improved productivity levels, a boost in creativity, and higher employee retention rates.

We launched this program three years ago, and this past December, after seeing quite a few of my colleagues go on their own sabbatical, it was finally my chance to give it a try. The long-term benefits for me are yet to be revealed, but today, when I reflect on my experience, it’s already clear what a positive impact it’s had on me and my contributions to my team.

Side note: A quick summary of my project

One of my passions in life is travelling. It energizes me to learn about a different culture, explore unfamiliar places, and meet new people. Travel allows me to live new experiences that are a departure from my usual everyday routine, and that challenge me on many levels. Thanks to our Dreams Come True initiative, I had the opportunity to take an extended leave, I decided that it was the perfect moment to leave Montréal and land on the opposite side of the planet: Vietnam. I spent the bulk of my sabbatical there, exploring.

Getting away from it all: my paid sabbatical to Vietnam
Getting away from it all: my paid sabbatical to Vietnam

Not a restful vacation (in a traditional sense)

People who knew that I’d gone away on vacation probably envisioned that I was going to need a serious dose of relaxation — but I had something else in mind. For me, “recharging” doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping in, or laying on a beach sipping coffee in the sun. Don’t get me wrong — those things are nice and all, but for me personally, I recharge by exploring new places. It’s not what most people would call a relaxing vacation, but it works for me. When I told my parents everything I did during my time in Vietnam, they got tired just listening to me. And I don’t blame them! My plans are often dizzying.

My travel routine involved waking up around 6 AM, nine times out of ten, and spending about 5 hours a day travelling from place to place to explore hidden gems, or just to get to the next stage of my trip. So basically, I replaced the busy setting of work with another busy schedule. But even though my body wasn’t fully on a break, parts of my mind were. And with the time off from tending to emails and day-to-day issues, the main benefits were that I started to soak up the magic of my surroundings, learn about different life perspectives, reflect on things I could do better to bring value to the business and my colleagues, and boost my happiness with exciting activities.

Rest is not an option. Always on the move.
Rest is not an option. Always on the move.

Was it worth it?

Even though I had a spectacular trip and definitely had a bit of Vietnam withdrawal, when my sabbatical ended, I was extremely glad to be back at work. I remember I was all smiles on my first day back in the office. I missed Osedea and my colleagues, and I was ready to dive into new challenges. That’s a completely different attitude from the post-vacation blues we tend to hear about from people in the workplace.

My type of sabbatical might not be ideal for everyone, but the idea of taking some time off to explore a personal passion has universal appeal. If we didn’t have the sabbatical benefit on offer, my visit to Vietnam would probably have been shorter — or delayed until ten years from now. A trip in a different context certainly wouldn’t have let me absorb everything that I did during my sabbatical.

That’s why after promoting the paid sabbatical for years, and ultimately experiencing it firsthand myself, I’m a firm believer that your organization and team members will benefit from it on many levels, and in many different ways. And while I don’t have the exact metrics, I can speak from what I experience and feel: the excitement about coming to work every day, the will to solve challenges that present themselves, the more positive outlook I have on the future, and the desire to power through my deliverables to the best of my abilities. And above all, the interactions I have with my colleagues are now inspired by the idea of sharing my experiences and learning, motivating them to take advantage of this benefit in the future, so that we can collectively benefit.

Bonus: 4 Things I learned in Vietnam about life (and work)

On my second day back from Vietnam, I had already prepared a Lunch & Learn presentation through one of our Diversity & Inclusion initiatives to share my top takeaways from my sabbatical with my team (the fact that I could prepare this training within just 48 hours of being back from my trip is an awesome testament to how my sabbatical boosted my productivity).

I’ve condensed this training here, as a bonus to thank you for reading this post in its entirety. Consider it a little something extra to make you reflect further as you start dreaming about your next big adventure.

  1. Learn to just go ahead, even if the circumstances aren’t perfect. In Vietnam, 80% of the population has a motorcycle. This means that in big cities, there are a ton of vehicles. When exploring these cities, you’ll have to cross the street constantly, but if you expect the traffic lights to help you, think again. Motorcycles keep going at yellow and red lights, even when the pedestrian lights are on. In other words, if you wait for the perfect circumstances to cross the street, you’ll wait forever. This made me think about how in business, we have to create the opportunities and just move forward, because if you insist on waiting for conditions to be “just so”, you’ll just miss your opportunity.
  2. Show that you care for others. Everywhere we went in Vietnam, we had the best customer service. I sensed that people there truly care about the experience their customers have, and noticed that they do whatever they can to provide every visitor with the best their country has to offer. Showing that you care for your clients, in small and big ways, can really make the difference. At Osedea, we pride ourselves on the partnerships we build with our clients, and strive to make their experience stellar.
  3. Has a salesperson walked with you for 10 kilometres for free, hoping that at the end of the journey, you might make a purchase? This is what the Red Dzao women, a local tribe in northern Vietnam, do on a daily basis to make ends meet. I was really amazed by their dedication to their end goal.
  4. Even serious, hard-working settings (like work!) can become more productive with some fun. This lesson was inspired by Vietnam’s school system. Their children spend a lot of time in school learning, but they start each morning with music and dancing, energizing them so that they can tackle the long day ahead. I try to apply this lesson by starting MY day with something I love — reading. Even if I have a difficult day ahead of me, or if I end up having a bad day, that moment of fun in the morning makes it easier to deal with.

In closing, I think it’s fair to say that my paid sabbatical in Vietnam was the most transformative trip I’ve ever taken. I travel to different countries frequently, but nothing has ever compared to the experience of having such a long period of time to explore and recharge in my own way, on my own terms.

Before my sabbatical, I was already profoundly grateful to Osedea for the many positive experiences that I’ve had during my 5 years working there. Now, I’m even more enamoured with the company and everything our team stands for, which creates a feeling of fulfillment around my career that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

The Red Dzao women
The Red Dzao women