Telling people that I live and work in Vietnam is surprisingly harder than I thought it would be. First I get the blank stare and then the inevitable, “But why?!” If you’ve grown up in the western world, you’ve had media images of the war-stricken nation of the 60’s and 70’s shoved down your throat with such force that it’s hard to believe that Vietnam is now a rapidly developing nation with an ever-expanding middle class and abundant business opportunities. The economy opened up in the ’90s and currently there are jobs aplenty (good ones!) for expats up for grabs. Whether you already teaching and are just planning your next destination, or you’re sitting at your hated desk pondering how to become an English teacher and leave your current 9-5 behind, let me tell you why teaching in Vietnam is a great option.
You can say goodbye to the winter blues
Cold weather got you down? Come to Vietnam! One of the ways I stay sane abroad is by reveling in the fact that while my friends are shivering on the way to their parked cars, I’m whizzing down the road in a t-shirt. Most teaching jobs are in the Southern part of the country, especially Ho Chi Minh City, which varies between hot and hotter all year. It has a tropical climate, with 6 months of dry season followed by 6 months of rainy season. Don’t let the term “rainy season” put you off though, the rain only lasts about an hour a day, and almost always predictably occurs in the late afternoon, so you can plan your day around when you know it’s coming. Aside from the times you get caught on the road in it, life here isn’t much different during the rainy season. The early part of the dry season (December to February) is the coolest time of year and though we just experienced the “coldest winter in ten years,” Ho Chi Minh City is never actually cold. Bring long pants for teaching and a couple of cardigans for air conditioned buildings, but otherwise you’ll be wearing shorts and flip-flops year round.
That said, the weather in the north is much different. Hanoi has the four seasons you might be used to, and while it can get down-right chilly, you won’t experience freezing temperatures. It is humid however, so it can feel colder in winter and hotter in summer than the actual temperature would indicate. While Hanoi has fewer teaching jobs than Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not difficult to find work there if you’re really looking, so if you can’t handle the heat 12 months a year, head north!
Need a happy medium? Da Nang is Vietnam’s 3rd largest city and growing FAST. Therefore, they need English teachers! Did I mention they have some fabulous beaches? I have a few friends who moved to Da Nang to get out of the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City and have lived happily as teachers in the evening/beach bums in the morning for the last couple of years.
The students I’ve encountered while teaching in Vietnam have been some of the best in my experience as an English Teacher. Education is so prized here that everybody puts their full effort in. The smallest of children take their lessons very seriously, teenagers are (usually) courteous and hardworking, and adults are willing to put in the effort to get everything they can out of their investment. While it’s true that Vietnamese learners can be wary of speaking activities, if you work hard to develop rapport with your class, they’ll come bursting out of their shells and prove to be the most dedicated of students.
“You’re an English Teacher? That’s just getting paid to babysit, isn’t it?” If you’re already teaching English, you’ve heard this question many a time. If you’re just embarking on your teaching adventure, get ready to answer it. You’ll be asked this infuriating question around the world. Never mind the fact that you routinely put in way more than 40 hours a week between class, lesson planning, and grading. Let me just say that unless you have successfully organized 20 kids into a musical mingle using a language they don’t understand, you are not allowed to tell me that my job is easy.
One of the reasons I love teaching in Vietnam is the amount of respect that English teachers receive from the general population. In most countries English teachers are a dime a dozen and the assumption is that if you work in TEFL you must spending more time drinking than lesson planning. The Vietnamese however, are inclined to think the best of you.
The Teaching profession is highly regarded in Vietnam and considered a very worthwhile career path. Don’t be surprised when random security guards or people in the street pass you with a nod and a “Hello Teacher.” Yes, Teacher is a title here, like Doctor back home. If your adult students call you “Teacher” they’re not regressing to 3rd grade vocabulary, they’re just showing you the respect they feel you deserve. When coming to Vietnam it’s important to know how respected teachers are here and try to live up to your students’ expectations by taking them and your job seriously. They pay good money to have you teach them, and deserve some hard work on your part in return.
Everybody needs a vacation
Full time teaching can easily lead to burn out, but while teaching in Vietnam, you’ll have time to unwind once in a while. If you’re American, you might have never had a paid vacation. Or perhaps you had a measly 10 days off a year. Get ready to enjoy life a little more! If you have a lot of teaching experience and want a job teaching in a proper international school or university you might be more constricted as to when you take your vacations. However, if you’re working at a language school it’s almost absurdly easy to take time off to see the rest of the country or other unbelievable destinations in SE Asia. There are always other teachers willing to cover your lessons, and schools generally have a very flexible vacation policy. Check your contract and ask lots of questions before you sign if this perk is important to you. The serious schools will include paid vacation time in their full time contracts.
Springboard to SE Asia
Since you’ll have all that vacation time, you won’t want to miss the beautiful sights that the country has to offer, like world-famous Unesco World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay, the hardly developed beaches of Phu Quoc Island, or the mountains of Sapa. But don’t forget that you’re also a stones throw from a host of other incredible destinations as well. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are well-connected to the major SE Asian hubs of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Jakarta. You can make those your final destination or you can use them as a connecting point to pretty much anywhere! Check out deals on sites like Agoda and sign up to be notified when prices are at their lowest. In my time teaching in Vietnam, the abundance of budget airlines has allowed me to see Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, and Thailand, and I have a few more trips planned before I leave here. You’ve come all the way to Vietnam anyway, and your time here will be made that much fuller by visiting other SE Asian nations while you’re here.
Just kidding, you won’t get rich teaching in Vietnam. Nor will you even get the kind of paycheck teachers in S. Korea, Japan, or Saudi Arabia bring in. On the other hand, Vietnam is unbelievably cheap! As long as you’re not ordering in Western food twice a day and drinking cocktails in fancy hotels every night, you should make a lot more money than you need. Whether you’re saving for grad school like me, or spending it all traveling to the amazing destinations I mentioned before, you’ll have plenty. A first year teacher in a language school can expect to make about 20 USD / hour, and save a significant amount if they live frugally. An experienced teacher or a teacher at a university, can pocket much much more. Keep in mind that you won’t be paying for a car, or insurance, or an expensive cell-phone plan, or whatever else is eating up your current paycheck, and this is a country where you can eat for $1.00!
A final word on teaching in Vietnam
Ah, the truth must come out. If I’ve left you under the impression that teaching in Vietnam is all butterflies and ponies, here’s a warning:
Working in any foreign country is a challenge, especially if it’s your first time. There will be surprises (there are HOW MANY students in this class, you say?), and inconveniences (is there not one sidewalk that is actually walkable?), as well as stark differences from your own culture that will drive you totally nuts (let me OFF the elevator, before you get in, PLEASE!).
It will also be a life changing experience though, and if all of the above reasons haven’t yet convinced you that Vietnam is the place to teach English, let me also tell you that the beer is the cheapest in the world. It’s not good beer mind you, but it’s cheap. Remind me, why am I leaving again?
Are you teaching in Vietnam? Do you plan to?