Summer has passed and a new school term has begun in Hanoi for us foreign English teachers. I can’t quite believe how fast either. After teaching last term, I enjoyed a short holiday on the tranquil Phu Quoc Island and then returned to the UK to see the family and friends I’d missed so much!
Returning home was bittersweet for many reasons, but despite some lows, I really did have the most amazing summer. Coming home made me realise, nothing quite compares to the British countryside (when its hot) or the privilege of clean streets, being able to pet all the rabies free dogs and not having to worry about cockroaches and parasites. Yeah, the UK has it’s upsides, why am I here again?
My purpose for coming back to Hanoi so soon was because I felt it was an opportunity I’d regret not taking if I stayed. Growing up I always saw myself living abroad in a warmer climate, British winters and me haven’t agreed since I realised being cold and wet sucks no matter how much “hygge” you inject into your life. Also from a vein perspective, as soon as January hits, my skin decides to go into total Kamikaze meltdown. Humidity is strangely amazing for my skin. No matter what I tried eating or using to prevent the (at times) awful break outs the story never changed, but I’m writing this now with a very clear complexion despite having had an appalling diet of takeaways and eating out these past two weeks. Happy skin means happier me so go figure, I think it’s a sign.
Despite having the most amazing friend and family base in the UK, it was very clear to those who knew me that I seemed happier within myself out here too. The air in Hanoi may be more polluted but I agree the slower pace of life has given me space to breathe. It’s very cliché, but my friends out here will agree, making the leap to live abroad gives you a huge boost of confidence to see there really is no boundaries in where you go or what you can achieve. Your only obstacle in life is you. *mic drop, preach to that*
During the 5 months away teaching and the summer I spent at home, I received lots of interest into what it’s like teaching out here and questions about Vietnam itself. I addressed a lot of the questions such as; qualifications needed, financial preparation etc in my last blog post Xin chào! 3 months in my new home. , but now I’ve completed one term of teaching and returning with an upgraded contract, I feel I can be more informative on those bigger questions. I can only speak from my point of view, but I hope I can give more incite into life in Vietnam for a foreign English teacher and perhaps be helpful to anyone considering it.
Okay so first things first, lets not be coy, we all know what’s on your mind.
Most asked question to me…
Is the money really that good?
Yes and no, it’s up to you. To put things into perspective, in Vietnam, I work 16 hours a week for a full time wage at home working 39 hrs a week after tax. Not much of what we earn is 100% on the books either, private classes which most teachers will take on in the evenings and weekends is extra on top of our contracted wage. An average teacher in my position out here can make between £1,000 to £2,500 a month depending on how much extra work your willing to put in. Remember although this seems like a very average wage for the UK, rent is £200 max a month for a beautifully spacious place and living expenses are so low effectively you live your life as cheaply or lavish as you like. If saving is your goal, it’s very achievable to do whilst enjoying life in a wonderful country, teaching (mostly) wonderful children.
What’s the living conditions like?
The living conditions for an expat renting are very good. This year I’m sharing a house with 3 girl friends, in one of the typical expat areas called Ba Dinh. We all have spacious bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a large living room, kitchen and 2 roof terraces, one for social gatherings and the other for hanging laundry on. For £200 rent each, it’s very decent, but by all means not even in the grandest of options if you wanted to spend a little more. There are houses with pools, apartments with skyline and lake views, it’s very much a renter’s market.
My biggest fear is cockroaches and house pests but it’s just using common sense. Make sure you thoroughly check out places before you rent, look for the telltale signs, is it clean? There will be the odd problem in every house but as long as you keep your areas clean and block up holes, keep doors shut it will minimise risk of infestations. I’m currently dealing with an ant’s nest coming through my wall, I’ve blocked up everything I can but for now they’re sticking to a small area and are staying away from my bed so I’m happy with that. You need to make some allowances during hot weather.
Day to day life is where it can get a little messier, of course street food you have to take caution with if you have a sensitive stomach. I’m usually very okay with it but coming back this time, I’ve struggled to adjust again so I’m trying to avoid meat. As expected, much of South East Asia functions very differently from Western Europe, but it is something you adjust to after a few weeks and is really very minuscule when there are so many other advantages to living here.
How is the teaching?
When I first took up this opportunity last year, I couldn’t quite believe I’d actually gone this far out my comfort zone. Not only had I never taught children before, I had zero experience in even being around children. I get emotionally awkward and end up calling young family members in the same way I would call my pet cat. “come here, Ellie, come here, good girl”. However! I always loved training people at work, so had a hunch, teaching children wouldn’t be too difficult.
It’s good to try new things, you can only learn from it. For anyone, wondering if teaching English as a foreign language is the right choice, the only thing you can do is give it a go.
I teach around 16 hours a week on my contract, our days often start at 8 and finish at 5, however we do get an amazing 3-hour siesta break in between. I’ve been very lucky this year with my schools, as they are all in central areas with easy access to my favourite lunch places and districts. I’m trying to get into a good habit of using my breaks productively instead of napping by going to the gym or working on personal projects.
I also teach privately around 3 hours a week in the evenings. Our hours are low but days can seem long when you’ve done the same energetic lesson of shouting and dancing 8 times in a row, so it comes with its challenges. I wouldn’t say I’m quiet but I never thought singing and dancing in front of 60 children would be up my street. Turns out it is, and honestly it makes lessons for young children a whole lot easier when you can lose those inhibitions a bit. They can sense awkwardness.
Aren’t you just on holiday?
If you enjoy your job, isn’t every day a holiday? (Laughing as I write that). Lots of people at home will tell me to ‘shut up’ when I say this, but this really isn’t travelling. It’s just a job, that happens to be in a wonderful part of the world where you can afford to do most things without breaking the bank and at the same time soak up a completely different culture. If you can do it, why not?
What I’m trying to say without coming off ‘Gap year-ish’ is, working in a different country is much more valuable to me than just travelling it. My biggest fear, as the over worrying person that I am, was that I would miss out on graduate roles relating to my degree, therefore, by working I still feel I’m gaining new skills that can be utilised in future job roles. If managing over 1,400 kids a week doesn’t show some kind of good work ethic, I don’t know what does.
There is so much more I could add to this post and so many more aspects of life I cant wait to share, but I will save it all for the due course. One of my biggest updates and new obsessions to share next time is the story of our new adorable kitten called Django!
I hope the above has been of some help to anyone with any interest in coming to Vietnam to teach. Thank you for reading!