TEFL teaching in Vietnam: Aoife’s Experience
1. Tell us more about yourself? What’s your background?
I’m from Clondalkin in Dublin and graduated with a degree in Analytical Science from DCU in 2018. After my final exams, I went on a six week trip around South East Asia and had an absolute blast! There was no question that I’d be going back before long. When I got home, I started a job in a big pharmaceutical company, which I really enjoyed, but my mind was only on travelling, so I decided to leave the job after a year and a half and go back to Asia, teaching English in Vietnam. Best decision I’ve ever made!
2. You’re currently teaching abroad. Awesome! Tell us about your unique journey to working abroad as a teacher—including your TEFL course experience.
Teaching was always on my mind as a career option and I had been considering doing a master’s to teach secondary school science but I had no teaching experience whatsoever. When I found the internship programme it just seemed ideal for me, I could get some teaching experience while also getting to live abroad and experience a totally new culture. The TEFL itself went pretty smoothly. Because it was online I could just do it at my own pace and do it on my days off from work.
When I first came over to Vietnam, the internship placed me in a language centre in Hanoi. I lived right next to it with two other girls from the internship and we all ended up staying at that job after the internship had ended. Last September I was offered a job teaching Science through English in a secondary school in Vietnam to prepare the students for their iGCSE which my TEFL certificate along with my degree qualified me for. I’m really enjoying that although I do sometimes miss teaching the kindergarten levels their ABCs in the language centre!
3. Would you recommend learning a small bit of Vietnamese before the big move?
I think if you’re planning on learning Vietnamese it’s better to wait until you get here. I tried to learn a few phrases and stuff but the tones and pronunciation were so difficult, that I don’t think anyone could actually understand me! It’s much better to have a native speaker teaching you face to face. I got a lot of very blank looks and also a few laughs, to begin with, but the Vietnamese people do really love the effort. It’s such a novelty for them to hear a Western person speaking their language. My students think it’s the funniest thing ever when I come out with a new phrase.
4 .What was it like living in Vietnam during the pandemic and how did it affect your teaching?
I came in January 2020 so literally weeks before the pandemic hit. Vietnam closed its borders really quickly and we just did a 3-week lockdown in April. Apart from that, 2020 in Vietnam was pretty normal. Because the borders were closed we ended up seeing so much of Vietnam that year that we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Most of my friends had been intending to leave after the internship and either go home or travel but because things were so good here and home was in lockdown we all ended up staying on and we grew so close in that time. 2021 brought a few challenges when the Delta variant hit and we had to teach online and isolate. Online teaching really wasn’t my favourite thing, especially with the older kids who just turned their cameras and mics off. The only positive was that I didn’t have to battle with the Hanoi traffic every day.
5. What surprised you the most about teaching in Vietnam? Was there anything you found particularly challenging or easier than you expected? Are costs of living expensive?
The students here are given a lot more freedom in school, they have way fewer rules than I did but are also pretty well behaved on the whole. Education is taken very seriously here. The school system goes from primary, then to secondary and then to high school for the last 3 years. My grade 9 kids are only 14/15 but they’re under a huge amount of pressure to get into top high schools so they can go to a good University.
I try to be understanding of that because they’ll often come in exhausted after staying up until 2 am studying. The costs of living are ridiculously cheap. I rent a serviced apartment with my friend in the main ex-pat area with 2x ensuite bedrooms and we pay $250 a month each. I really like the local food and a bowl of Pho or a Banh Mi usually costs like $1-2. It’s a great place to come if you need to build up some savings before moving on to somewhere more expensive.
6. What’s one thing you’d say you’ve learnt about yourself while teaching abroad?
I’ve learnt that I can drive a motorbike! This was a huge fear of mine when I first came and it took me a week before I’d even get on the back of someone else’s. Now I’ve got my own bike and I truly believe that it’s the best way to get around the city.
7. What advice do you have for someone considering teaching in Vietnam?
Don’t worry about coming alone, even if you’re not doing the internship there are just so many other people here in the same boat. Everyone is away from their family and friends so naturally, they’re a lot more open to meeting new people and it really is like a little community. Definitely get to know the ex-pat areas and join some Facebook groups to see different events and stuff.
Also, be prepared for cultural differences in the workplace. They tend to be a lot more disorganised about things and communication is definitely not their strong point (language barrier aside). A lot of people think it’s just their school but after talking to a lot of other teachers, it just seems to be the case everywhere. As frustrating as it can be, it’s just their way of doing things and part of the experience!
8. How did you find the internship experience? Would you recommend this internship to others?
The internship was great for me, I definitely recommend it! It really helped to have that support, especially in the first few weeks. I felt a lot less nervous about coming over knowing that I had a job and accommodation sorted. The visa and work permit process seemed impossible to navigate but thankfully because I was on the internship I got a lot of help with all of that. The first week was so fun. The 120 teachers on the internship all stayed in a big hotel together before moving into our accommodation. That’s where I met all of the people that I’m still friends with today!
9. Will you stay longer in Vietnam or are you planning to travel elsewhere and relocate?
Now that the borders are finally open I’m planning on visiting a few new countries this summer. I’m going home to Ireland after that to see my family and friends again after two and a half years. I’m not planning on staying home for too long though as I really enjoyed living abroad so I’d like to move away again soon and maybe try a new continent!