My first few months teaching English in Vietnam

 

 

Hello, my name is Linus. I am 32 and from Dublin. Ireland. I earned my CELTA qualification in April 2018. I immediately got to work on trying to find employment in Vietnam. Having tried to go the direct route by emailing potential employers, I eventually gave up and instead turned my attention to agencies who would help to bridge the gap.

After some research, I finally settled on, ‘Teach to beach’. They are a company with lots of positive reviews and plenty of connections in the country I was hoping to go to and beyond. I made contact. A phone call from Dora, a couple of emails and it wasn’t long before the ball was rolling. Then there was the dreaded wait to see if I could be placed. On the morning that I was told I would be informed of placement I opened my email and was delighted. I had been placed in Moc Chau which is rural and beautiful. I’ll talk more about Moc Chau later.

Once I was placed. There was straight forward, step by step guidance on everything from obtaining my visa to booking flights, getting the relevant injections, suggestions on where to stay in Hanoi before moving on, and even arranging for me to be picked up at the airport. This was a nice touch as although I’m sure I would have figured it out eventually. It was nice to not have to worry after a long flight.

 
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I booked my flight for a week early as I wanted to have a poke around Hanoi before starting my new job teaching in Vietnam. I landed on the 28th of August. Found my hotel and went to bed. The following day I preceded to get completely lost walking in the wrong direction for nearly an hour in a vain attempt to find the city centre. I realised a few days later that google maps work offline!!

Essentially, I walked out of my hotel and went right instead of left. It wasn’t a bad thing though. It was interesting to see the bustling city at work as I wandered around the outskirts. Motorbikes everywhere. Sometimes four people on one. I saw a man delivering 10 plus crates of beer on a scooter. I saw 2 dogs on a scooter. Medium sized dogs. One standing effortlessly on the back and one between the legs of the driver on the front. Within 10 minutes of my first walk. I had nearly become one with perspiration. It is very humid here, but you get used to it in about a week or so. I also had the pleasure of being caught in a torrential downpour on my way home. So I was soaked in two formats in the space of a couple of hours. I brought insect repellent and got bitten nearly every day for the first 2 weeks. For whatever reason as soon as I stopped using it. I stopped getting bitten. So you can make your own decision on that.

When I did finally get to the city center the following day, It is a pretty amazing place offering a wide range of everything. If you want an ultra-modern night club. It’s there. Equally if you want to eat local food practically in someone’s house. You can do this too. In my entire week in Hanoi. I mostly stuck to the local foods and tried to take in as much as possible. I did indulge in a bit of a pizza binge on one of the nights in a place called. ‘Belga pizza’, in Tay Ho, Hanoi. This pizza was as good as any I’ve ever had. So it’s nice to know that you can find some more common comforts if and when you desire them. People in general in Hanoi seem to be very nice. I went to a bar where lots of expats hang out and it wasn’t long before I was chatting to lots of friendly people. A total blend of Vietnamese, Italian, German, South African, Malaysian and the list goes on. I was only there for a couple of hours, but people seem eager to communicate and eager to help. I met up with a group from that evening a few nights later and was shown some of the popular places in the ‘Old Quarter’. A place that some seasoned expats are bored of but seemingly a good place for the likes of myself to adjust.

On my last day in Hanoi. I met up with a fellow Irishman who had just arrived to begin the same type of adventure as I. He had also gone through, ‘Teach to beach’. He was off to Ha Long, which looks amazing and may end up a temporary home for me at some stage in the future. We met on the rooftop of the Pan Pacific hotel. Almost panoramic views of Hanoi really rubbed it in that I had only explored a tiny fraction in my six days there. I’m looking forward to spending more time there early next year.

I left Hanoi at about eight am on Monday the 4th of September. A four-hour bus journey meandering through the mountains. The roads are kind of mad here and we passed a couple of spots where there had obviously been a landslide. There was particularly bad weather the week before I got to Moc Chau. It’s not uncommon to meet a truck coming towards you on the wrong side of the road going around a blind corner. Equally, the motorbike traffic is just insane at first glance. Still. Amidst the chaos. I haven’t seen an accident yet.

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It was a little after midday when I arrived in Moc Chau. About 32 degrees, lovely and bright and the colours around the streets looked pretty amazing. I headed to the nearest coffee shop or internet refuge. Ordering by pointing to a menu had become second nature at that stage.  I sat down and tried to figure out where the school was and how to dismantle the apparatus that my coffee arrived in. It wasn’t long before I was found by the guy who I would be replacing, Also Irish. He had been here for the previous three months and was tasked with filling me in on the daily procedures. He had also come here through Teach to beach. We got on well and I was shown my room and the basics in the school.

I made a point of walking around the town a lot in my first week. I would walk down any road I had not been on before and this gave me some idea of the lay of the land. There are shops everywhere. Often a shop doubles as the owner’s house and essentially you are buying from their front room. Water, noodles, tuna in cans, bathroom supplies and all of the basics can be found in most of these. A 500ml bottle of water costs 5000 vnd. That works out at about 19 cent in euro. Try finding that sort of value in your local Tesco express. Restaurants are also scattered in abundance throughout the town and even between the two or three main areas of the town. I would say that it is difficult to walk more than 50 meters in any direction from anywhere in the town without passing somewhere that sells food. Initially I was in the mind frame of trying everywhere. I learned though within a couple of weeks to just follow the locals. I’m pretty sure I was aware of this rule before but for some reason i hadn’t put it into practice. While there are restaurants everywhere the quality and consistency can vary greatly. So once you follow the crowd you know you’re in the right place. I can have a full delicious plate of egg fried rice and beef with a side of vegetables for 35000 vnd. That’s about 1.30 in euro. It is possible to spend a lot more on food when eating out. There are some higher-class places which are more western in style. You can expect to pay 90000 to 130000 vnd for a massive meal. I go to a BBQ place about ten minutes’ drive from the school once every week or two.

Speaking of 10-minute drives. I rented a scooter in my second week here. It cost me 1000000 vnd for a week, had no back brakes, made a horrible sound and had to be revved to within presumably inches of its life to get it started. I subsequently bought a second had motorbike the following week for 6000000 vnd. So 6 weeks rent equals ownership. It is by no means pretty or cool in any way but it gets me from A to B or in my case school to school. About 40000 vnd will fill the tank. I am working in 4 different schools all with the same assistants which makes thing a lot easier. All of the schools are within a 10-15-minute drive from the school I reside in. I live on the third floor of the school and have a bathroom right beside the room. Shower, drinking water wifi and a kitchen on the top floor just above me which is outdoor. It took me at least two weeks to not be terrified of the kitchen at night as there was the odd bat or absolutely gigantic moths which I had mistaken for bats. Having gotten over the creepy crawlies. I have been cooking up there a lot. Day and night. Most of the insects here are completely harmless even though they may look a little strange to begin with.

I’ve found it difficult to find a source of good beef here. I bought some in the market, but it turned out that you would need a chainsaw to cut through it. Chicken is not a problem, but it was a great laugh trying to explain that I didn’t want the bones or the skin. Just fillets! 15 minutes, a picture from the net and google translate did the job. Bread is another thing that took me a while to find. There is sweet bread everywhere, but I was after something a bit more normal. It does exist. It’s just not very common. In terms of other things that are uncommon. Clothes in my size are limited to say the least. That didn’t stop the lady at the sandal stall in the market trying her best to sell me a pair that I would only get use of by hanging on the wall. I am approximately a 34 waist and medium shirt size. These sizes don’t really exist here, so you’d be best off doing some shopping in Hanoi before coming. I would imagine that this applies to most of the more rural areas.

The view out my bedroom window is of the roof tops of thirty or forty houses. Reds, greens, blues. A lot of them have the Vietnamese flag waving about on top. Most of them have some sort of roof access. A bit like my kitchen. All this is set against the backdrop of mountain tops covered in evergreen trees. We are already quite high up here as the town runs through a brief flat part of land. You really notice it if you try to climb the mountain. I climbed about 50 meters up steep steps embedded in the mountain face to visit a bat cave. It wasn’t like a marathon, but it was certainly more difficult than I had anticipated. The bat cave is situated about 300 meters from my school and you can go in for 10000 vnd. It’s definitely worth popping the head in and they have some pretty cool shrines inside. Always well maintained and covered in offerings.

There are several other beautiful places scattered around. A large waterfall about 15 minutes away by bike. A place called. ‘The Love Garden’, which has some really cool giant metal animals set in a well-kept garden with lots of colourful plants and flowers. There is an outdoor swimming pool down the road. It is huge and perfect in the warmer months. I’ve been there five times and for whatever reason I’ve been the only person there every time. My own little paradise.

 
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On the teaching side of things. I teach somewhere between 13 and 22 hours a week. I have about 12-14 different groups that range in size from 6 to 15. Some of them twice in a week. The age ranges from 4 years old up to adults. Most of the kids are great. They like learning and of course educational games. There are also a few kids that could drive you mad. I sometimes wish I could hit them with something between a pillow and a fly swat. I work 6 or 7 days a week but Monday to Thursday I only have 1 or 2 classes. So I have the majority of those days to myself. I have at least one Vietnamese assistant per class except with the adults. This is handy for classroom control as well as translation when we come across some vocabulary that is harder to explain. There are food types in the books and certain cultural events that just don’t happen here.

I have been here for pretty much 2 months on the dot. I’ve started to make some friends and will meet up with a couple of local lads to watch football later. They’re big into karaoke here and it seems to be their idea of a night out. I was invited to one a couple of weeks ago. They wouldn’t accept my money. So free beer and a large assortment of fruit on trays. The same way we might order a platter of food at home. I have learned the very basics of Vietnamese. I can count to 100. After 10 it is very repetitive so it’s not that amazing an achievement. I can order noodles or rice with beef, chicken or pork. Please and thank you always come in handy and I’ve learned to say, ‘quickly’ and ‘quiet’, which can be necessary in the classroom. For now, I’m trying to add 3 or 4 useful phrases per week. Then I try to use them out and about as much as I can. I would strongly recommend using either Youtube videos, a Vietnamese person or some sort of online paid language training. I tried learning by reading it during the first few weeks and really only developed bad habits. As the language is tonal. Pronunciation is extremely important. For example. mười muối. One of these words mean salt and the other means ten so presumably I spent a lot of the first few weeks asking for ten on my noodles or trying to pay with salt thousand vnd.

Yesterday I went to a new friend’s place. He owns Moc Chau retreat. It is an absolute treat. Incredible looking, very peaceful and it is surrounded by some really amazing open landscape with tea fields, plum, peach and orange trees and the odd shard of mountain jutting out in the distance. We spent about an hour walking around the village on a glorious November day and then I attempted to make hamburgers with mash potato. I went very well though, again the meat could have been a bit more tender. We’ll do a chicken curry dish their next time. So, to wrap up for now. I’ve had a fantastic experience so far and I’m looking forward to the coming months. When arguably the worst thing here so far is that their idea of a large coffee is miniature. I can’t complain.

 
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