A Day (Or Two) In The Life Of An English Teacher In Vietnam

Since moving to Vietnam, I get a lot of questions on what my days typically look like. In reality, the daily activities here are not that much different than in America, but it’s more of that my lifestyle is different. I ashamedly admit that I spent most of my free time in America watching Netflix, with occasional outings. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that Ho Chi Minh is a busy city or that I want to make the most out of living in a foreign country or maybe both, but my lifestyle has completely changed. I hardly ever just sit in bed and binge watch Netflix now. I always at least try to just get out of the house, whether it’s going on an aimless walk, to a coffee shop, or to a museum. I work 8:00 – 5:00 PM every Monday – Friday, which is pretty rare for expats in Vietnam. Expats working as English teachers typically work evenings on the week days and all day on the weekends. My week days and weekends differ quite a bit so I will do a rundown of both.

Week Days

6:00 AM

This is when I wake up and get ready for work. Since I don’t work until 8, I normally go to The Coffee House by my work in District 3 every morning to get a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese milk coffee with ice). Yes, all of the workers know my order and have it put in before I even reach the counter with their hand waiting to scan my rewards. Yes, they also help me with Vietnamese pronunciation and yes, my pronunciation is still the worst, xin lỗi.

8:00 AM

I work from 8 – 5 PM, with a two-hour break from 12 – 2 PM for the kids’ naptime. This is normally when I eat lunch, grab another coffee, lesson plan, and then steal a kid’s pillow to take a nap too. After work I will book a Grab Bike home, but if it’s Monday or Wednesday I will head straight to Vietnamese lessons until 8:00.

Yoga
Another foreign teacher’s and my class doing yoga.

6:00 PM

I normally get dinner in my neighborhood around this time, either solo or with my roommates. My go-to places are Út Hương and Bánh Canh Ghẹ (both off of Nguyễn Cảnh Chân street in District 1). Vietnam isn’t necessarily known for its great customer service, but the customer service at Út Hương is probably the worst I’ve experienced. every. time. The only thing that keeps me coming back for more is the terrific food.

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Mì xào trứng at Út Hương.

7:00 PM

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll head to either The Running Bean or Cộng Cà Phê (both are coffee shops) to get some work done for a few hours. If not, I’ll probably just run some errands and then work on stuff at home.

10:00 PM

After working with little kids all day, I’m normally exhausted so catch me going to bed early every night, not sorry about it. People in Vietnam normally wake up early anyway, so I like to as well … just not as early as they do. I can hear my neighbors out and about by 5:30 AM. Some breakfast places in my neighborhood are normally closing up shop by the time I leave for work at 7:15 AM if this tells you anything.

The Weekend

9:00 AM

The sunlight normally wakes me up pretty early in the mornings, but I tend to not leave the house until around 9 in the morning. The first thing I do on weekend mornings is take my laundry to get cleaned (exciting, I know).

9:30 AM

In the mornings I’ll go for a long walk, stopping at Phúc Long to get a smoothie and chocolate croissant then head to the park to get a little nature fix in this concrete-filled city. Every time I go to the park, I end up meeting a local or two wanting to practice their English, which gives me the chance to practice my Vietnamese.

TempleTaoDan
A Buddhist temple in Tao Đàn Park.

12:00 PM

Lunch time! My favorite lunch spot so far is Hum Vegetarian in District 1, where I got green curry and rice noodles.

1:00 PM

Around this time, I’ll try to do something more intriguing. A few things that I’ve spent my days doing is going to the War Remnants Museum, visiting temples in District 5, and going to a spa with an infinity pool in District 7.

TempleThienHau
Thiên Hậu temple in District 5.

3:00 PM

With no shame at all, there is always a part of my day that will be dedicated to some coffee shop time. Vietnam’s coffee culture is out-of-this-world so you can’t not go to a coffee shop every day. I always go to my favorite place to get work done on the weekends, The Running Bean.

6:00 PM

My favorite time of the day – dinner time! I normally eat dirt cheap throughout the week, so I like to treat myself to nice meals on the weekend. One of my favorite finds so far is VO Rooftop Garden. The food is superb, the aesthetic is on point, there’s a nice view of Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street, and it’s decently priced for the location. A few weeks ago though, Ngân (a woman who owns a laundry shop in my neighborhood) invited my roommates and I over for a home-cooked Vietnamese meal with her, her family, and some friends.

Nganandfriend
Having dinner at Ngân’s home.
Nganfood
The dinner she prepared for us. She even made a ton of vegetarian food for Mima and I.

7:30 PM

My weekend nights are always different, but mainly consist of doing something in District 1 or 2. Right now it’s soccer season, so on game days there will be huge screens set up on the square of Nguyễn Huệ for people to sit and watch (it gets CRAZY – the Vietnamese don’t play around about their soccer). Some other things I have spent my weekend nights doing are going to rooftop bars, hitting up Bùi Viện (my feelings for Bùi Viện are bittersweet but I’ll spare you), going to a Sofar Sounds show, the movies, and more.

Vietnamwinaff
After Vietnam beat Malaysia and won the AFF!

There you have it, a day (or two) in the life of an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!

Until next time,

Hales

The Benefits Of An In-Person TEFL Course

*Disclaimer: I have only taught English and taken the TEFL certification course in Vietnam, so this may or may not apply to those wishing to teach English in other countries.

One of the biggest decisions I had to make when deciding to teach English abroad, was whether I should take the online or in-person TEFL certification course. Now that I have finished the course and started teaching, I cannot recommend taking the in-person class enough. Not everyone’s situation is the same, but if you have the means to do so, it is well worth it. Here are some of the benefits of taking an in-person course in Vietnam:

Personally, I learn better in a classroom environment

This isn’t everyone, but it is me. I couldn’t tell you a lick of knowledge I retained from my online classes when attending university. I would skim through the information I needed to finish my assigned tasks and ignored the rest. I was even blessed with the amazing invention of Quizlet that helped me study even less for those classes than I already was (if you’re a university student in the United States, you know). Granted, maybe it would have been different if my online classes were even somewhat relevant to my area of study, but I have a strong sense it wouldn’t have made a difference. I am a visual, collaborative, and kinesthetic learner, which makes in-person classes far more beneficial for myself. I strongly recommend taking into consideration what type of learner you are before making the decision to take an in-person or online course. Having an instructor that I could meet face-to-face with when I was stressed or confused about the material made a world of difference. I also loved having classmates to learn from and bounce ideas off of. If you learn better individually, then maybe the online course would be a better fit for you – or maybe the in-person course would push you outside of your comfort zone, grow you, and help build up your confidence in teaching like it did for myself.

The people you meet

It’s scary enough moving to a new country, but even scarier to do it by yourself. Taking the TEFL course in Vietnam provided me with 37 other students who were in the same boat as myself. They welcomed me with open arms and there I made some of my best friends in Vietnam. A lot of the people I met through the course were similar minded as myself: wanting to grow, travel, meet new people, and learn about a different culture. They all come from different places and backgrounds, which was a breath of fresh air and I’ve learned so much from them. People aren’t lying when they say the TEFL course is intense. I have never been busier than I was those four weeks. Luckily, I was surrounded by people who constantly encouraged and refreshed me when I needed it the most. These are still people that I can count on to this day.

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These are some of my classmates from the course.

Getting familiar with a new place and culture

I found a lot of comfort in the fact that when I hopped off my plane in a foreign country there would be someone waiting to pick me up at the airport and take me to housing that was already provided for me. For the first month I didn’t have to worry about what area I’d want to live in, who my roommates would be, or how to even find a place to live in the first place. Instead, I got to spend that time meeting new people, exploring Saigon, and learning more about the Vietnamese culture. My friends from the course turned into my future roommates and after living in Ho Chi Minh for a few weeks, we then had a better idea of the type of area and amenities we desired in a home in Vietnam. There was no rush in finding a place to live or a job, which made the process a breeze for the most part.

I probably would have never stepped foot in Gò Vấp District if it wasn’t for the course

Okay, Gò Vấp isn’t for everyone. If you’re backpacking through Southeast Asia,
it probably isn’t on your list of stops. It’s kind of dirty, crowded, and not the most beautiful sight in Ho Chi Minh. It’s a more local Vietnamese area, which means being one of the few foreigners there, you get stared and pointed at more than one would like. ‘Hello’ is the extent most of the locals’ English there goes, which makes Google Translate and charades your best friend. Taking everything into mind, there still is always a special place in my heart for Gò Vấp District. I got to experience a more genuine Vietnamese way of life than I would have if I had lived in District 1 or 2 right off the bat. But really, let’s talk about the food – it is out of this world good! I have yet to find cheaper and better tasting food than I had in Gò Vấp. All of my favorite spots knew my order by the end of my stay and I spent less than $2-3 USD a day on meals. My daily sinh tố dâu (strawberry smoothie) cost 20,000 VND (~ $0.86 USD) and bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) was a merely 7,000 VND (~ $0.30 USD). Gò Vấp has so much charm and is unique from any other place I’ve been to in Ho Chi Minh, I couldn’t recommend a visit there enough.

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The view of my neighborhood in Gò Vấp District.

It makes the job search process SO much easier

To start off, the TEFL course at AVSE requires their students to complete 8 hours of classroom observations and 12 hours of teaching practices. This helps when employers ask about your experience in teaching English as a second language, as well as getting a better understanding of the education system here in Vietnam (which is very different from that of the States). Many of the companies my classmates and I taught at while taking the course offered us jobs on the spot and AVSE helps you throughout the entire job search process. This is really just a huge shoutout to Jane at AVSE, because she works day in and out to ensure that all of the students find jobs when they graduate from the program. I really would not have found my amazing job without her help and I am eternally grateful. It made the entire process a lot less stressful than it would have been otherwise.

Those are just a few points as to why I would recommend taking the in-person course in Vietnam, but there are many more. Again, this may not be the best option for everyone, but if you are able to, go for it! If you have any questions about life in Vietnam, teaching English, or getting TEFL certified feel free to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

 

Growth

In the past two months, I have completed my TEFL certification, signed a lease on a house with three kick-butt roommates, and have been working a full-time job teaching English at a Kindergarten. Things have settled down over the past few weeks and I am finally feeling adjusted to life in Vietnam. Living here has been amazing, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. I was sick for two weeks from the pollution, caught a stomach bug, got a nasty Saigon kiss (burn from a motorbike’s exhaust pipe), and have had a few phone problems. If I hadn’t developed a love and gratitude for this country, I probably would have packed up and flown home by now. When a motorbike driver turns my 8-minute drive home from work into 25 because he doesn’t want to look at his GPS or listen to my directions, I get frustrated. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m smiling, saying ‘this is great’ every time something negative comes my way. But at the end of the day, this country is worth all of the downs because it has so many more ups.

I have been doing what I came here to do: have new experiences and grow as a person. I am constantly being pushed outside of my comfort zone, meeting people from all over the world, and learning a new culture and language. Not every day is a huge adventure. Some days my biggest adventure is going to work or taking my laundry to get cleaned – but every day does provide me with learning experiences. You become quick to realize the people who genuinely want to get to know you versus those who just want to use you (especially being a westerner). Although there are some that fall into the latter, there are far more in the prior. The people I have met here, locals specifically, are the most kind, gentle, helpful, and playful people I have ever met. I will continue to stand by that. I have been apologized to countless times because of their English being ‘not good’ (which most of the time, isn’t true) … I’m sorry, what? I am living in their country, they are speaking my language because I cannot speak theirs, and they are apologizing to me?! There is always someone who will stop to tell me directions, help me move tables when it starts pouring down rain, or just wants to have a conversation to get to know me and/or improve their English. Back home I would just do the same things day-in-and-out, but here I am forced to try new things and meet new people. I have learned a lot about who I am, grown mentally, and developed a newfound confidence in myself.

Teaching has also been a huge factor in this. I can’t say I was thrilled when I learned I would be teaching three-year-olds, but now I wouldn’t change it for a thing. I have grown in my communication skills, creativity, and patience. I have also learned to always celebrate the little things. I get SO excited when my kids even say ‘please’ or ‘sorry.’ I’m grateful for this because I realize we would miss so many of the small, but beautiful things in life if we solely focused on the ‘big’ achievements.

Life isn’t meant to be predictable, it’s meant to be exciting, adventuresome, and full of growth. Before I moved to Vietnam, I was working 9 to 13-hours a day, 6 days a week (sometimes more). I would come home, eat dinner, then go to bed – occasionally meeting up with friends to maintain some form of social life. There wasn’t any excitement and I sure wasn’t growing, but I thought that’s how life was supposed to look. Society says that we have to go to university, get married, have kids, and work towards retirement – then you can travel and do all of the things you wanted to do at the age of 65 (or older). We are supposed to climb the ladder at our jobs and make a ton of money – that’s what ‘success’ is. But are the people who have more money than they know what to do with, truly happy? Maybe, but I think life is more than just material things and satisfying ridiculous societal standards for my life. It’s my life. There were many people who told me not to come to Vietnam or that I needed to start ‘settling down’ (honestly laughing at the phrase ‘settling down’. What does that even mean anyway?). I could have let those things stop me, and they almost did. I’m dang glad they didn’t. Moving here was the best decision I have ever made and I couldn’t imagine my life any different. I’m not saying everyone should quit their jobs and move to Vietnam, I’m just saying please don’t let society or other people tell you how you should live your life. Do you. Get to know people who are different from you, continuously push yourself out of your comfort zone, and just grow, man.

Okay, my update-turned-rant is now over.

Until next time,

Hales

Life In Vietnam: Week 1

*This is my experience living in my area (Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh).

As my first week living in Ho Chi Minh City comes to a close, I reflect on my experience so far in this beautiful and chaotic place I now call home. I have learned so much about myself and the Vietnamese culture just within this past week. A common question I am asked by friends and family is what it’s like living in Vietnam. I have written and rewrote this blog multiple times because it’s hard to put into words. So here goes nothing!

This is a quote that I look back to while living abroad:

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” -Clifton Fadiman

It’s easy to be ethnocentric and try to compare a country and its ways to your own. If you do this, you’ll more than likely find nothing but negatives and a downer attitude. You have to remember while traveling anywhere that they don’t design things for your comfort, they do it for their own comfort. When you realize this and open your mind, you’ll see the beauty around you. “Travel like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes, and an uncluttered mind.” That’s how you learn and grow as a human being. As an anthropology minor in college, I loved studying other cultures and decided to take myself out of the books and to learn first-hand. Short term travel is great, but you only get a slight peak of what’s underneath. So why not live long-term amongst a culture completely different than my own?

Vietnam is a world of its own. From the rainy days, messy sidewalks, and chaotic streets, to the wonderful people, good food, and beautiful culture; I have come to fall in love with it all in such a short time. The rain showers have become a refreshment during the hot and humid days, the messy sidewalks tell a story and make for a good laugh (and really who cares if you get a little dirt on you), the chaotic streets are full of life and energy. My friends and I joke that we always feel super powerful as we cross a street while motorbikes are zooming past us. I don’t know why, so I won’t have an answer for you if you ask. As I’m typing this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop blowing kisses to a little baby while she puts on her Hello Kitty pollution mask about to hop on a motorbike with her mom. You’ll find the craziest things watching motorbikes drive by that I’d like to declare motorbike watching is WAY better than people watching! I feel less stressed, carefree, and happier than I have been in my life. (And the food is some of the best I’ve ever had)

But the people here? That’s what takes the cake. The Vietnamese are the loveliest people I have come across in my life. They LOVE westerners. I have never felt so treasured, welcomed, and safe than I do here in Vietnam. Anytime I leave the house I receive tons of smiles, waves, and hellos. They are also not afraid to pull you in for a picture without asking and relentlessly stare at you – when I say stare, I mean STARE. Sometimes it can be a tad bothersome, but as soon as I say hello, I am greeted with a huge smile and enthusiastic wave like the rest and my heart melts every time. They call Thailand the ‘land of smiles’ and although I’ve never been and might be biased, I think Vietnam is the real ‘land of smiles’ hands-down. They are eager to have conversation with you to practice their English and help you with your Vietnamese. For instance, when my group of friends and I were exploring District 1, we were approached by a 10-year old girl named Ashley asking to practice with us, where we then had a 20-minute conversation learning about her and her family. They will also go out of their way to help you find where you’re trying to go, open doors for you, make sure you feel comfortable, and help you move tables when it starts pouring down rain on yours. The kindness I’ve been shown here I have rarely experienced in the States. So, to all of my loved ones back home who are worried sick, don’t be. I’m in good hands!

This unique country has already come to feel like home in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation to see what will come.

Until next time,

Hales

I’m Moving Where?

As I sat in graduation two months ago, I thought I knew the plan for my life (at least for the next year). I was going to live and work in Springfield as I prepare to send out grad school applications, move into my own apartment, and get a dog. Little did I know, life had a change of plans for me.. Throughout the next few weeks I grew unsatisfied with the thought of staying in my small college town. It felt so…stagnant. My goal going into 2018 was to stop living life in my comfort zone. I wanted to experience new places, people, and things. I had always wanted to live overseas and the suggestion my mom gave about teaching English abroad became more than something I just giggle about because it sounds so unrealistic. The more I researched, the more realistic it became. Come mid-July, I had bought my one-way plane ticket to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam!

Why Vietnam?

My heart was originally set on Italy. The magnificent architechture of Rome, rowing through the city of Venice, eating delicious pasta in Florence! It all sounded too good to be true…and it was, for me at least. For starters, Italy would drain my bank account to the point where I’d be barely making it by. On top of that, the Italian government isn’t super keen on giving work visas to American citizens, so I’d be working ‘under-the-table’ aka illegally. I decided to open my mind to new places and Vietnam began to grow on me. It’s an easily overlooked country when it comes to travel, but its amazing beaches, motorbike-filled streets, good food, and beautiful culture drew me in and the more I started to dig, the more I fell in love. On top of that (and much more), it’s decently easy to obtain a work visa in Vietnam and the cost of living is very low. I’d be able to save money moving there. Yes you heard it right, I’d be able to save money moving overseas!

So, come September 12th I’ll be boarding a plane (or three) and flying off to my new home. I’ll be taking a month-long course to get my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate so that I will be able to teach English in Vietnam. Throughout that month, I will be studying English grammar intensively, creating lesson plans, and getting hands-on teaching practice. After that I’ll be free to look for a teaching job anywhere I please!

I’ll make mistakes, miss home, and have bad days, but I’ll also have good days, make new friends, and have the adventure of a lifetime! I’m excited to learn, grow and experience a new culture different from my own. This blog is to keep y’all updated throughout my move to Vietnam, but feel free to reach out to me at anytime!

Until next time,

Hales