Teaching in Vietnam: Expectation vs. Reality

Eddie's class

Before arriving in Vietnam, my idea of teaching in Asia was heavily flooded by the image of blue skies, warm days and white sand beaches. Mainly due to the way teaching in the continent is sold online. Whilst all of these things are a reality for some teachers in Vietnam (lucky buggers in Da Nang), they certainly aren’t for us.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our fair share of breathtaking sunsets, beers by the sea and naps in hammocks. However, they have been separated by long stretches of teaching and the grey polluted skies of Hanoi.

Over the last 10 months living and teaching in Vietnam’s capital city I have learned; a lot about myself, a lot about teaching and a lot about how many types of noodles there actually are.

304 days has seen us; riding over 6000kms on a motorbike, diving over coral in the Pacific Ocean, exploring 4 new countries, ‘teaching’ around 300 different kids and cleaning up bodily fluids (not our own).

Here are some expectations I had over teaching in Vietnam. And whether they were met, exceeded or spit roasted on the side of the dusty road.

Teaching in Vietnam: Our Experience

Kindergarten Class
Kindergarten Class

Teaching

Getting A Job

Before arriving in Vietnam, I had researched every possible avenue of employment. Due to this I arrived in Hanoi with some clear expectations and a good idea of what to expect. I thought finding employment in the specific area I wanted could prove to be a challenge. I was wrong.

Finding a job in Vietnam is certainly not difficult if you’re a native speaker. If you want to teach young kids, you can. If you want to teach older kids, you can. And if you want to teach for two hours a week, you absolutely can!

Don’t get me wrong, having an open mind and giving any age group a try will help in your search. However, if there is something you specifically want, you’ve just got to do more research.

Finding employment in Hanoi or HCMC is easier than finding it in a smaller town. Job listings are posted on different Facebook groups and on company websites.

The reality is if you’re a native English speaker with a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA and a Degree, you WILL find employment teaching in Vietnam.

If you want to read more about finding employment in Vietnam, read our 6 Steps to Employment post.

My kindergarten students
My kindergarten students
Legalising Your Qualifications/Set Up Costs

I must admit I wasn’t particularly happy when I found out how much money we had to spend legalising documents. It’s certainly not something I was expecting to have to do.

Sadly in Vietnam, if you’re hoping to stay for a long period and get a work permit, it’s something that has to be done.

There are various other costs, such as work permits, residency cards and health checks to consider that amount to around $400. This however shouldn’t be a worry to you. Most employers will help with this process and will offer financial support too!

And trust me, it’s worth the cost!

Your Students

Teaching the kids in Vietnam is nothing short of incredible. I expected to adore them and they have truly exceeded this. And at times they have been my saving grace.

As a new teacher, being left alone in a room full of 16 children with varying English skills is daunting. To be honest, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. However, 8 months on those children are now my kids and I’m so protective of them!

Even the ones who screamed “WHAT THE F**K?” at the top of their voices a hundred times have earned a special place in my heart. Mostly for that reason.

Over time their characters begin to reveal themselves and all of a sudden you find yourself attached and dreading the day you have to leave them. No matter what day you’ve had, walking in and seeing their cheeky mugs will have you grinning.

Eddie's kindergarten class
Eddie’s kindergarten class

Best of all is knowing how much you mean to them. Their sheer excitement when you walk into the classroom fills your heart with joy. It’s enough to brighten any dark day.

Leaving them behind is the harsh reality. However, their names have been heavily imprinted in my mind and I’ll forever be reminded of them when I’m having a tough day.

I mean how hard is it to forget names like Lion, Hunter, Luffy, Pony and my favorite of all, Kevin.

Life in Vietnam

The North

Ba Vi National Park
Ba Vi National Park
Weather

The bustling city of Hanoi has been our home for 8 months now. Our decision to live in Hanoi and not HCMC was based on its appealing 4 seasons. This was before we had accepted a 40-minute, 30km commute to the neighbouring city of Bac Ninh. Not so much fun on a motorbike when it’s raining and 10 degrees.

Winter in Hanoi can only be described as exactly that. Full blown cold and grey winter. In January the clouds rolled in and they didn’t leave until early March. I mean literally, no sun for months!

It was tough to say the least. I’m not sure what we expected, but we certainly didn’t expect that.

However, on the flipside, October-December and April-June are simply glorious in terms of weather conditions and well worth waiting out the winter for.

We were lucky enough to squeeze in some sunny trips to break up the winter too.

Ninh Binh North Vietnam
Ninh Binh, North Vietnam
Hanoi

Hanoi isn’t for everyone. Some days you love it, some days you hate it. Pollution here being some of the highest in the world means it can be really hard to love at times.

In short however, we love it.

Wonky streets, old French colonial buildings, buzzing motorbikes, tiny stools, bia everywhere on tap, street food galore, cafés on every corner, sprawling lakes and trees, trees, trees. What’s not to love?

Eating out will set you back $2. A local beer will set you back $0.40. Should I go on?

The western influence in the city also means you can grab a juicy burger and an actual pint when cravings set in. For a similar price to home however, but I guess it’s a small price to pay when you’ve not seen a western meal in months.

Hanoi has truly exceeded all expectations. It’s a city we’ve grown to call home and one I know we would happily come back to. Not in the winter though.

Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street
Riding a Motorbike

Riding a motorbike has been our bread and butter from day one in Vietnam. Every man and his dog (cat, goat, 40 ducks) use a motorbike. A skill we weren’t expecting to have gained before we came home.

Exploring the beautiful north by motorbike has been a highlight over the last 8 months. There really is no better way to see the country.

If you’re nervous, don’t be. Is it terrifying? Absolutely. But it will change your time teaching in Vietnam completely.

And once you’ve got it, you’ll never look back!

Our bike rental Rentabike offer lessons for those who need that little boost before they brave the hectic streets of Hanoi.

Motorbike Tour to Pu Luong
Motorbike Tour to Pu Luong
Friendships

During our time in Vietnam we’ve built relationships with people from every corner of the world and made friendships that’ll last a lifetime.

Who’d have thought a lass from Australia would introduce me to yoga and change my perspective of the world (hippy BS I know).  A gal from South Africa who actually found us funny. And how did it take moving to Vietnam to meet a lad from Nottingham who enjoys a beer more than us, I’ll never know.

The world is a small place and it becomes very evident as soon as you leave your home country. Something we didn’t expect.

The teaching community in Hanoi is also vast. There are events happening every night across the city giving individuals a chance to mingle and not feel alone

If the thought of being alone is holding you back, don’t let it. You’ll be welcomed into Vietnam with open arms by both expats and locals. Necking shots of rice wine in no time.

Cost of Living

Living costs are a fraction of what they are back home. It’s possible to live a very comfortable life and knock a third off your monthly spend in a city in the UK. Not to mention a capital city!

We expected to save something, if not at least break even. We certainly didn’t expect to be returning after having spent a 12 months away from home with more than we left with.

Over 12 months we will have spent 4 months travelling 5 different countries and 8 months teaching (30 hours a week). Not a bad ratio to say we’ve saved so much we’ve technically not spent a penny.

If you’re planning on teaching away in order to save, Vietnam is an excellent choice. Pay for English teachers is generous and living costs are low. If you’re sensible, it’s possible to save half of your salary!

Travelling
Philippines
Philippines

I spent my twenties thinking of the best ways to see as much of Asia as possible whilst not spending every penny I had. I’ve dreamt of standing on beaches and napping under palm trees ever since watching The Beach.

Consistently envious of those who had the balls to quit their jobs, spend their savings, uproot and travel. I didn’t find those balls for a long time.

It took eight years, but finally I found my solution! And a bloody good one to. Who’d have known that teaching in Vietnam would be the answer.

I have to admit, living in Hanoi hasn’t quite been the beach bum dream I wanted. We asked to be placed in Da Nang but sadly jobs there are hard to come by because every teacher in Vietnam wants to live there.

However, we’ve worked hard and spent every holiday seeking the island life. It’s safe to say we’ve had our fair share of ‘vitamin sea’ over the last 8 months. With plenty more to come to!

Eddie has even qualified as an advanced open water diver. That we certainly weren’t expecting.

TRAVEL IS TRULY THE BEST THING MONEY CAN BUY! And money can buy you a lot of it in Asia.

Taiwan
Taiwan
Health and Mental Health
Physical

Teaching kids in Vietnam means you’re constantly exposed to every possible germ going. This we expected.

Since arriving in Vietnam it’s safe to say we have spent a good 4 weeks each nursing some form of cold. Both struck down at one point for a solid two weeks with a heavy chest infection. All thanks to the kid’s snot.

Sadly there’s no way of avoiding this. The best thing to do is religiously take multivitamins and stuff your face with fruit. Even the strongest of immune systems will fall at the sight of a snotty child.

On the flip side, teaching in Vietnam has had such a positive effect on so many aspects of our life.

Both our physical and mental health has improved considerably. Our diet has changed drastically for one. Something I knew would happen, but something I didn’t expect to add such an improvement to our lifestyle.

Day to day carbs like bread and potatoes are basically non-existent. They’ve been replaced with heaps of veg and natural carbs like rice and rice noodles. The Vietnamese are also big fans of a vegan buffet. And my word do they do it well.

All you can eat veg for as little a $2? You can’t knock it.

Vegan by the lake
Vegan by the lake

Eddie, a typical male carnivore now classes a vegan buffet as his favourite meal. Not a chance I saw that one coming.

Mental

We’ve been blessed with a lot more extra time. Working hours down to 30 and mainly in the evenings has meant we have the full day to ourselves. As a result I’m now a full blown yoga hippy. We exercise for at least an hour most days with no pressure to rush. NAMASTE.

Best of all, my mental health improved considerably the second I stepped on that plane. Having battled with insomnia for as long as I can remember, I can safely say I’ve had my soundest nights sleeps in Asia.

Things I once considered to be an issue no longer cross my mind. The daily pressures of the ‘rat race’ have diminished and I’m grateful for all that we have. And I’m just happy I found those balls to make a change.

The Vietnamese have a laid back approach to life and it’s contagious. Their insane ability to sleep at any time and anywhere is something I am in awe of.

As a result of all this, we are lighter in every sense of the word.

Homesickness: The Biggest Surprise of All

Homesickness is a bitch. It comes in all shapes and forms. Catching you off guard when you least expect it.

Teaching in Vietnam has meant we have spent the longest amount of time away from our friends and family ever. Everyone says that the first time is the hardest.

It’s been extremely different for us both and has been a very unpleasant surprise on all occasions. The brutal winter months were the worst for Eddie. His birthday fell in November and nothing was enough to ease the bout of homesickness he faced after.

Constantly longing for a pint in our Leeds local with his pals. Instead having to drive 30km to and from work daily in icy rain. Enough to dampen anyone’s spirit.

Our pals celebrating Eddie's birthday
Our pals celebrating Eddie’s birthday without us

Mine hit me quite some time after, at about 7 months into our time in Vietnam. A picture of my dog after a trip to the vets triggered an unbelievable urge to be home and it lasted weeks. Home being my every second thought.

However, it does pass. And over time those urges lessen as you begin to build on your new life. Yes some things aren’t ever going to be the same, but at least you can still enjoy a beer in the local Bia Hoi.

Was It Everything We Had Hoped?

Teaching in Vietnam has come with all sorts of surprises. Many of them pleasant and many of them not so pleasant. All of them worth it.

With just a few months left on the clock, it’s safe to say this experience has been something we both desperately needed. As cliché as that may sound.

We’re bloody lucky buggers and I know it. I owe it all to this crazy gut instinct that drove me to this incredibly different and chilled existence. I’m irritating myself now, so I’ll shut up.

MOT, HAI, BA, YO!
MOT, HAI, BA, YO!

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