Xin chào! 3 months in my new home.

Train street, Old Quarter

It seems every time I write a new blog post I start it off with “It’s been a while…” or similar words to that effect, which justifies my laziness. So HUGE catchup to anyone still following my little High on Chic creation from way back. I’m currently living in Hanoi, Vietnam, working as an English teacher. A slight temporary diversion from my fashion degree.

After graduating University, coming out here was an off road turn. I’d gone through my whole education knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and to postpone those opportunities seemed scary but the fear of regret seemed petrifying. I could go in much deeper but for now lets just call it your typical ‘millennial quarter life crisis’. An anarchic response to student loans, rent prices and UK weather. Keep your Brexit, I’m checking out with my own kind of Nexit! Nicole…exit…Never mind.

So far I’ve been living and teaching in Hanoi for 3 Months through a company that sets up teaching internships. I could of come out and tried to find work solo, as many do, but I preferred the security a legitimate company offered in terms of being able to meet more people and receive pre- organised accommodation and transport to schools.

Since being here the list of breathtaking highs is long, every day is different and I’ve met so many wonderful people! Of course, there are still some low days and adjustments to get through. I miss people back home, kids aren’t always cute and anyone that knows me, knows I’m very particular about certain things i.e there’s that one super weird thing I have about food packaging and I’m literally obsessed with the quality of bathrooms but, hey, if we were all normal, we’d be boring right? Despite all these small things, I have no regrets so far. It feels like I’ve been out here for 6 months already and overall, I’m having the best time!

I wanted to start sharing my experience to shed light on what it’s like to move from the comforts of the Western World to the very different comforts of the East. To try and give a true reflection of life in Hanoi and spread the word on some great food and shopping experiences.
As it’s virtually impossible to cram everything I’ve done into one post, I’m going to start by reporting on what I feel could be helpful to hear if you’ve ever thought about visiting or teaching in Vietnam.
View from Trill roof top bar Ha Noi, Cau Giay.

First things first, the exiting costs. 

When I decided last March to make this happen, I naively thought it would just be a case of getting my Tefl, getting on a plane and leaving the country. Oh, how wrong I was. As I’m still discovering with my student finance and HM revenue, every life decision comes with a lot of admin work. Completely takes the spontaneity out of everything if you ask me. Below I have outlined the costs I had, although they will differ person to person. Apologies if the £ to $ flips confuse you, once I got to Vietnam I started paying in USD $. Alongside the Tefl certificate you must obtain to teach out here, there are a few other costs not many people will think about when teaching in Vietnam.

In particular the legalisation of all my documents (police check, BA Hons degree, Tefl) was a last minute knock to my savings plan at £400. You can get it done a bit cheaper by getting each stage of legalisation done with different solicitors, but as I was pushed for time I opted for a company called Hague Apostle that took the hassle out and processed all the stages for me. Another cost that’s pretty obvious but can be initially forgotten, jabs. I got Typhoid, Hep B and Hep A for free on NHS but had to pay for Rabies which worked out to be £150 at my local GP (I asked for this as a birthday present). If I decide to stay longer than 6 months, I’ll need to head to a Vietnamese Hospital to get my Hep A/ B topped up as currently the UK is experiencing a shortage so I only got 2 doses of Hep A before coming.

Speaking of hospitals, a lot of language companies will ask for an up to date medical check done in Vietnam. This is very thorough; X-ray, Ultra-scan, physical, blood and urine sample as well as dentistry and opticians. On this particular occasion it wasn’t the most private experience, imagine being lined up on a bench with 6 other people getting blood taken in front of you and consultation doors being left wide open. I’ve had two experiences at Vietnamese hospitals and this first one was rather chaotic as there were so many of us, they lost my urine sample to give you some idea of my day. The second experience, however, I went independently and it was much smoother, I dare say more straight forward than hospitals in the UK. A translator is provided to foreigners, who then takes you everywhere you need to be and puts your mind at ease. Costs will vary, but I had to pay my language company $75 on arrival for my medical check. The second check independently, cost me around $60.

Following the theme of safety, insurance was another cost I didn’t really consider. I’m a terrible holiday maker, I never buy holiday insurance. This however, was a trip I didn’t want to take the risk on. My long term travel insurance cost me £150 and I made sure it covered me for being a passenger on a bike, as well as novel things such as my Laptop and personal belongings.

Probably the most important, Visa and work permit costs. This is where it gets a little dicey for me as some teacher friends got their visa at Hanoi airport for £30, whereas I had to travel to the Vietnamese embassy to get mine for £100. Either way, once you get your letter of invitation from the language company or school, you need a Visa. Next comes the work permit, which I paid my language company $250 dollars on arrival. It’s a bit of a mystery exactly as to where this money went, so it may be less expensive done independently. Apparently you can get away with just working on a tourist visa, but 3 language company’s I’ve spoken to have said a work permits needed, it’s worth checking.

Finally once you’ve paid for flights (cost me £500 with Emirates 3 months in advance) and all the above, it’s recommended for the first 5 weeks to have between £200-£400 to live on. Speaking only for myself as a frivolous person at times, the excitement of being somewhere new takes over and of course I wanted to go away as much as possible, explore the nightlife and shopping areas. It’s best to have money spare, rather than not have enough until the first payday.

Although Vietnam is very low cost once on arrival, as you can see from above it’s not quite as low cost as you think for preparation, but definitely worth it! Also, I had 8 months to prepare and the money I received for my Birthday and Christmas really helped out.


Culture shock? Same same, but different. 

If you are considering moving to Hanoi or Vietnam, I want to put your mind at ease. No matter where you live or work in the world, there will always be an element of wanting to resist immediate change and no matter how long you stay here, there will always be a day or two where you just miss the comforts of home.

I remember my first night in Hanoi, feeling a million miles away from home and contemplating whether I’d just made a huge mistake in coming. The weather was grey and smoggy. Broken live electrical wires hung everywhere on the streets. It did not look like my Pinterest board of cute coffee shops and colourful buildings…yet. Which leads me on to say, I knew my initial impression would only be temporary. It was just so exciting to be in a new part of the world, I like new challenges and getting out of my comfort zone. The eagerness to explore outweighed any doubts. I’ve learnt from living in 3 busy UK cities that you can’t judge a city by its cover, the most beautiful things will either be sought out or stumbled upon.

In terms of food, I haven’t been so bad. My diet back in the UK was mainly noodle and rice dishes and I like to think I’m quite adventurous with food as long as it’s clean, so it was pretty easy to adjust and go the whole first month before caving into western food. Bun Cha is my favourite Vietnamese dish! I love street food during the week but as Hanoi has so many choices, I like to change it up on weekends and go a bit bigger…well if you call spending less than £10 on an amazing 2 course meal and a glass of wine going ‘bigger’. Hanoi also has a wonderful array of eclectic coffee shops serving all kinds of Vietnamese coffee drinks from Cà phê trứng (Egg coffee), Cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk) to Bac Xiu (coconut coffee), as well as the more European friendly , French drip. My point is, don’t be too worried about food. There’s something for everyone here.

After living here a short while, you learn to accept that things are done differently whether it be customer service, living standards or the way employers treat you. The language barrier will always present difficulties in getting a point across, it can be frustrating at times but the Vietnamese people in my experience are so friendly and usually very happy to help. Likewise it helps to at least try and meet half way by learning some of the language (I’m trying!). You will probably/ definitely get laughed at but it’s appreciated and bodes well for bartering prices down at the fantastic night markets.

Note Cafe, Hoan Kiem (Old quarter)

 

Cà phê trứng (Egg coffee), Cafe Giang, Old quarter.


Moving onto the traffic situation

At first the immensity of traffic can seem daunting. Nothing stops, even at rush hour bikes will opt for the pedestrian pavement instead to get around. It took me a few days to get used to willingly stepping in front of cars and bikes, hoping they’d go around me. The trick is to walk slowly at a steady pace, I also try to avoid cars, just because if it came down to it, I’d rather be hit by a bike (which I already have) than a car, less damage. Seems a bit messed up but there’s method in the madness. The roads are always super busy, so traffic moves slower than in Britain, after a while it becomes second nature, when I eventually return to the UK it’s going to be a real shock getting used to the rules of the road again.

This one time in Nam, I rode a bike…

For a girl with no driving license, I’m definitely not the best person to advise. What can I say? I’ve done it, I like it, I’ll do it again, but it’s really an individual decision. If you’re staying here long term, then it’s the fastest way to get around but I personally won’t be driving in central Hanoi for insurance reasons. I’m much more comfortable riding about in the Vietnamese country side. In Hanoi, I opt for Grab bikes and Uber bikes whenever I can to get around instead. NEVER hail down taxi bikes or even taxi’s alone, you can’t be certain of how legit they are in terms of insurance and they charge more. I had a very sketchy experience with one on a night out where the driver locked the doors until I paid him 5 times the amount it should of been. Lesson learnt, in a world of Taxi Apps, why take the risk?

First day riding a moped in Ninh Binh

Playing it safe

Following on from that point, despite that silly taxi experience, in general I feel very safe in Hanoi. I live in Cau Giay district away from the backpacker areas so theft hasn’t really been a problem that me or friends have seen. Pick pocketing, however, is naturally rife in tourist hot spots like Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem), especially at the night markets. As in any city, it’s down to practising good common sense.

Expat life

The low living costs create the perfect environment for having an Insta worthy highlight real of what life can be like as a foreign English teacher in Hanoi. My life here is drastically different from life in the UK in terms of the amount of travelling and sightseeing I can easily do. There’s so much to explore so its pretty non-stop, and in such a great place why would you want it to be calm? It’s also so cheap to go away for the weekend to explore the rest the North has to offer, such as paying a visit to beautiful Sa Pa, Ninh Binh or Bat Trang. I highly recommend sleeper buses on a Friday night to save time, very comfortable unless you’re over 6 ft in which case, hope you enjoy sleeping in the foetus position?…

Winter trip to Sa Pa finding hidden rivers
Lying Dragon Mountain, Ninh Binh.

While working as an English teacher, there are also national holidays that work in our favour for getting further afield travelling done. We recently had Tet New Year holiday, a 10 day break, in which a whole bunch of us travelled down to Da Nang to soak up the hot beach weather, with a short trip to Hoi An for New year celebrations. The next longer break will be May day, I’ve planned a long weekend to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) with a stop at the Mui Ne sand dunes. (Watch this space for that blog post)

I just liked the shade of pink. Da Nang, Tet holiday.
Beach in Hue, first day of Tet holiday.

In terms of the teaching job I work around 20 hours a week, Monday to Friday mostly 8am-11am, long siesta then back to work from 2pm-5pm. I work in 4 schools with 3 mornings off, although I am obligated to work cover periods at other schools to make up the 20 hours, so this usually means working across 6 schools. Lesson’s can be draining though, a lot of energy is needed and teaching 40 to 60 kids a class means your voice gets a daily work out. It’s very common to teach extra classes on the side also, so I help my TA one evening a week for a bit of extra money teaching two smaller private classes. Of course, as with any job, there are ups and downs but I feel very lucky to be able to do this. Every time I get a ‘down’ thought about a lesson that didn’t go well or I start missing home, there’s always a friend close by to hang out with or a student will pay you a compliment to boost your day. Either way, I always remember what an amazing country I’m in and how I wouldn’t of been able do half the things I’ve done so far without living here.

I promise my future posts won’t be as long as this, but I hope this glimpse of my experience so far above has been informative and perhaps gives a little nudge to anyone considering coming to Vietnam to teach or even just for a holiday.

International women’s day, flowers from my classes.
Thank you for stopping by! x

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