Ways To Adjust To Life Abroad

Moving to another country can be tough. The environment, food, air quality, and mannerisms can be different than what you’re used to. This is especially the case when moving from a western to an eastern country and vice versa. After 10 months of living in Vietnam, I am officially adjusted and can’t imagine my life any different. Most of it has been good, but some of it has been really dang hard. I’ve compiled a list of a few things that helped me during my adjustment period while living abroad: 

Try learning the language

Although it’s pretty easy to get by in bigger cities without knowing any of the language, knowing even a little bit can completely change your experience while there. This is especially the case in Vietnam, where a handful of the Vietnamese don’t know much English besides a few simple words or phrases. Knowing the language makes it so much easier to find more local spots and friends. It also never fails to put a smile on someone’s face when I attempt to speak to them in Vietnamese (or even a belly-laugh as they ask “are you trying to speak Vietnamese to me?” when I completely botch what I am trying to say).

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Attend as many events and classes you can

Especially in bigger expat hubs like Ho Chi Minh City, there are always events and classes going on to meet other people. Even just getting out of the house can help with the initial homesickness. There are several things you can go to such as yoga classes, live music, city clean-ups, drag queen shows, and my personal favorite: taco cook-offs! Put yourself out there and make friends both local and foreign. Foreign friends are much needed, but really what’s the point of moving abroad/traveling if not to meet locals, listen to their stories, and get to know their culture? The Vietnamese friends that I have made are some of the most generous, kind-hearted, and fun people I have met. They are always more than happy to tell me about their country and show me all of the good spots to eat and shop.

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Living a balanced life

“Everything is a balance” – isn’t this what people always say? Well, they’re right. For the first few months living abroad my life was consumed with work and that’s all I really had time for. I was constantly exhausted and my depression was creeping in. I was unhealthy mentally and physically, as I didn’t make time for my physical health, social life, and most importantly – “me time”. After evaluating what I really needed, I decided to cut back my working hours and really focus on myself. I noticed such a difference in just a few days after making this adjustment.

Practice self-care

Going along with the above, making time for yourself is so so important! Make sure to fit things into your schedule that refresh you, relieve stress, and bring joy. Every morning before work, I wake up 30 minutes early to meditate, stretch, or journal. All of these things calm my mind and make me feel energized for the rest of the day. Having a healthy lifestyle such as eating well and exercising regularly has a tremendous effect on how someone feels physically and mentally. Other good self-care activities can consist of massages, facials, creating art, reading, and much more. Find what works for you and make sure to incorporate it into your schedule whether it’s daily or weekly. 

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Research research research

I did so much research before moving overseas and I can’t stress enough how much it helped me. Any free time I had I was reading blogs, watching videos, and talking to expats about their experiences and advice. Although culture shock is inevitable, I was able to understand/empathize with the differences that maybe would have caused frustration if otherwise. I understood the currency, knew how to get around, what food to try, and simple Vietnamese phrases that I would need to know.

Give it time

It sounds so simple, but it’s actually pretty difficult to practice patience when things get rough. I’ve been in love with Vietnam since day 1, but the first few months were like a rollercoaster of emotions. I was constantly sick as my body was adjusting to the environment and pollution, exhausted from long working hours, and easily irritated at the smallest of things because I was so worn out mentally and physically. I knew I would never go home that quick, but the thought occasionally popped into my head on how easy it would be back in the States. BUT MAN am I glad that I just gave it time because all of those things have past and now I’ve never been happier.

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Although adjusting to life abroad can be hard, it’s one of the most fun and exciting things! You’re constantly being challenged and exposed to new things. I’d love to hear your stories about your big move overseas!

Until next time,

Hales

Q and A: Teaching English In Vietnam

I had jokingly typed into Google “how to teach English abroad” and thought it was the most far-fetched thing ever… Until I realized it wasn’t! If you’re even slightly thinking about teaching English, just DO IT! Making the decision to uproot your life and move overseas is scary, but what’s scarier is the regret I knew I would have for the rest of my life if I hadn’t taken the jump.

Here is a list of questions I am frequently asked about teaching English in Vietnam:

What qualifications do I need?

In order to obtain a work permit, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and a TEFL/CELTA/TESOL certificate. Taking a course to get your teaching certificate gives hands-on experience and makes you more attractive to potential employers. Here is the link to my blog post talking about my TEFL course experience. Although you don’t necessarily need a degree to teach English in Vietnam, you will have less job options and possibly a lower pay (you would also risk working here illegally, but that is the case for many expats who live in Vietnam).

What organization did you go through?

There are numerous organizations to choose from, but I chose International TEFL Academy (ITA). They have connections around the world and are highly respected. The first step is to call and get set up with an advisor. Your advisor will help you figure out which TEFL course to enroll in, find a job, and get ready for your big move abroad. Here is the link to ITA’s website (if you call or sign up for a course through ITA, please let them know that I referred you).

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What documents do I need for a work permit?

-Degree in any field (original document)

-TEFL/CELTA/TESOL certificate (original document)

-Background check (within the last 6 months)

-Health check (this can be done in Vietnam)

-Copies of your passport and visa, along with 2 passport photos

**Please note that your degree and background check will need to be notarized and authenticated. US citizens are able to do this at the embassy in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, but some countries are not able to do this in Vietnam. Before you come research your country specific information!

Should I find a job beforehand?

Although most places prefer in-person hires, there are some that will hire you before arriving in Vietnam. That being said, I would still highly recommend waiting until you get to Vietnam before finding a job. This will not only give you more options, but will give you the opportunity to check out the school and leadership before accepting a position.

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What type of school should I work for?

There are quite a few options when it comes to choosing a school in Vietnam. Many English teachers who come to Vietnam work at language centers. Teachers at language centers typically work in the evenings during the week and all day on the weekends (around 20-25 hours a week plus lesson planning time). The hours are like this because most language center students have school or work during the day. The typical class size is around 15-25 students. Another valid option is public schools. Teachers who work at public schools usually work week days between 7 AM – 5 PM (hours vary between these times as some periods you may not have class) and Saturday mornings. The class sizes for public schools are normally about 40 students. I personally work for a private kindergarten where full-time hours are from 8 AM – 5 PM with a 2-hour lunch/nap break from 12 – 2 PM. The ages at most kindergartens range from 18 months – 6 years old.  If you have a degree in education then you are qualified to work at an international school, which has a higher pay.

What are the start-up costs?

Start-up costs include any expenses you may have the first 2-3 months before getting a paycheck. I would recommend bringing around $1,500 – $2,000 USD to be safe. Typical expenses during this time are rent, food, transportation, and toiletries. Keep in mind that many landlords in Vietnam require a 3-month deposit (my roommates and I were able to talk our landlord into a 1-month deposit and lower monthly rent – try to negotiate). Start-up costs also will depend on the area you live and lifestyle. Living closer to the city center and spending money on more Western items will be significantly more expensive than if you lived more locally. For example, a Western meal can be around $10 while a Vietnamese meal can be less than $2.

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How is the pay compared to cost of living?

The pay for an English teacher in Vietnam all depends on the teacher’s qualifications and the school they work for. Native English speakers (citizens of the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and South Africa) with a degree and teaching certificate can make roughly $1,200 – $2,000 USD per month. This money goes a long way since Vietnam’s cost of living is so low. Most people spend around $600 – $1,000 USD per month in Vietnam. This allows one to live comfortably, travel often, and even save money. Personally, I am able to finish work at noon, go to a personal trainer twice a week, travel once a month, and have multiple spa days! In America, this would literally be impossible for me to do.

Teaching English allows you to change lives, explore other cultures, and grow as a person. It has truly been an amazing experience so far and I’d love to help others who wish to do the same! If you would like more information about living / teaching abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

52 Places To Eat In Ho Chi Minh City

(*) = my top picks

Breakfast:

1. The Running Bean

  • Order. the. french. toast.
  • 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Quận 1

2. Saigon Bagel (*)

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 2
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Salmon Gravlox Bagel

3. The Hungry Pig

  • They are most known for their breakfast, but offer lunch and dinner options as well.
  • 144 Cống Quỳnh, Quận 1

4. Cork & Fork

  • A small French restaurant that offers sweet and savory crepes, paninis, and wine.
  • 3/2 Đề Thám, Quận 1

5. L’Usine

  • Multiple locations in District 1

Vietnamese:

6. Quán Út Hương (*)

  • They have a large menu filled with various Vietnamese meals such as mì xào, bột chiên, rice dishes, and much more. They have two shops across the road from each other: one for take-away orders (with some seating) and the other for sit-down meals. Warning: the service here is terrible, but the food is cheap and good!
  • TK31/7 Nguyễn Cảnh Chân, Quận 1
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Mì xào trứng

7. Vo Roof Garden 

  • A beautifully decorated restaurant with a rooftop view of Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street.
  • 7th floor, 44 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1
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Fried fish filet with green mango and basil sauce

8. Cậu Ba Quán (*)

  • Various Vietnamese seafood dishes with vegetarian options (the tofu is highly recommended). If you are in Hồ Chí Minh, you cannot leave without stopping here!
  • 85 Hoàng Sa, Quận 1
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Mì xào hải sản

9. Cơm Tấm 577

  • 577 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Quận 3

10. Bánh Canh Ghẹ Chicharito

  • Good bánh mì. Pro tip: I notice that the food is better around dinner time, rather than lunch.
  • 17 Nguyễn Cảnh Chân, Quận 1

11. Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn

  • 103 Ngô Quyền, Quận 5
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Bánh xèo

12. Bánh Tráng Nướng in Chợ Hoa Hồ Thị Kỷ

  • This is not the exact address. It is a small food stall located within Chợ Hoa Hồ Thị Kỷ (flower night market).
  • Hẻm 52 Hồ Thị Kỷ, Quận 10
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Bánh tráng nướng (aka Vietnamese pizza)

13. Quán Lẩu Cá Kèo Bà Huyện 2 (*)

  • Very good and a little less pricey than the fancier hot pot places.
  • 10 Nguyễn Thông, Quận 3
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Hot pot

14. Bún Thịt Nướng KK 

  • Hẻm 51 Cao Thắng, Quận 3

15. Bún Thịt Nướng Cây Xoài 

  • 1238 Quang Trung, Gò Vấp
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Bún thịt nướng (minus the pork)

16. Lò Bánh Mì Hà Nội Cúc Phương 

  • Good and very cheap bánh mì and bánh bao.
  • 61/5 Phạm Văn Chiêu, Gò Vấp

Vegetarian:

17. Mãn Tự Vegan 

  • Free vegan buffet, all that the owner asks is you make a donation as you are leaving (however big or small). It’s a small restaurant and does get extremely crowded, but the experience, food, and friendly staff make it worth it.
  • 14/2 Tôn Thất Đạm, Quận 1

18. Pi Vegetarian Bistro (*)

  • 19 Võ Văn Tần, Quận 3
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Pumpkin curry

19. Hum Vegetarian 

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 3

20. Prem Bistro & Café (*)

  • 204 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Quận 3

21. Buddha Chay

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 5

22. 3LA Chay

  • 32A Cao Bá Nhạ, Quận 1

23. Rou Vegetarian 

  • 37B Cô Bắc, Quận 1

24. Chay Phương Mai

  • 86F Võ Thị Sáu, Quận 1
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Pad thai

24. El Cafe International Vegetarian Food

  • 1 Bis Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Quận 1

English:

26. Union Jack’s Fish & Chips (*)

  • 130-1 Tôn Thất Đạm, Quận 1
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Veggie bangers & mash

American:

27. Burger Joint Saigon (*)

  • 136 Nguyễn Thái Học, Quận 1

28. Journey’s Sandwich Café

  • 21 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, Quận 1
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Black bean sweet potato burger

Sushi:

29. Poké Saigon (*)

  • It’s not exactly sushi and it’s Hawaiian, but it’s basically sushi in a bowl so I’m throwing it under this category. It’s the best poké I’ve had and the staff that work here are incredible.
  • 2nd floor of The Café Apartment, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1

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30. Sakura Việt Nam

  • 505 Sư Vạn Hạnh, Quận 10

31. Sushi 79

  • 2nd floor of The Café Apartment, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1

32. Sushi M – H (*)

  • Side of the road, cheap, and delicious sushi shop.
  • 193 Đường Nguyễn Văn Cừ, Quận 5

33. TL Sushi 

  • 34 Đường số 45, Quận Gò Vấp

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34. Yen Sushi & Sake Pub 

  • Locations in Districts 1, 3, and 7

Italian:

35. Pendolasco 

  • 36 Tống Hữu Định, Quận 2
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Squid ink tortellini stuffed with shrimp

36. Pizza 4P’s (*)

  • Locations in Districts 1, 2, 3, and 7
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Half salmon miso & half margherita pizza

37. Pizza Company 

  • It’s a chain restaurant across Southeast Asia and the inside is nothing special, but the pizza is actually very good and always my go-to.
  • Multiple locations in HCMC

38. Phở Ông Tây (*)

  • Great western pasta dishes.
  • 17 Quốc Hương, Quận 2

Korean BBQ:

39. Lò Nướng Đá

  • 63 Phạm Văn Chiêu, Gò Vấp
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Vegetable skewers

Mexican:

40. La Fiesta! (*)

  • Amazing food and staff. There’s always a coupon for a free margarita online and you get a free lemon tequila shot when you get your bill. Pro tip: try the queso mac & cheese.
  • 33 Đặng Thị Nhu, Quận 1

41. A Simple Place (*)

  • 84 Quốc Hương, Quận 2

42. Sancho’s 

  • 207 Bùi Viện, Quận 1

43. Taco Leo 

  • A more healthy Mexican option.
  • 20 Cao Bá Nhạ, Quận 1

Indian:

44. Bollywood Indian Restaurant & Bar (*)

  • 207 Bùi Viện, Quận 1
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Dal tadka

Other:

45. Vintage Emporium 

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 2

46. Bến Thành Street Food Market 

  • There are various food stalls offering different types of food from around the world – Vietnamese, Indian, German, Thai, etc.
  • 26-28-30 Thủ Khoa Huân, Quận 1
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Egg biryani from an Indian food stall

47. The Maker (*)

  • 3rd floor of The Café Apartment, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1
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Spaghetti arrabbiata

48. Chanh Bistro Rooftop 

  • Multiple locations in District 1

Dessert:

49. Ca Cao Dừa 136 (*)

  • There are various things on the menu, but the ca cao dừa is a must-try and only 17k.
  • 136/1 Nguyễn Tri Phương, Quận 5
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Ca cao dừa (coconut ice cream with cocoa powder)

50. Maison Marou (*)

  • 167-169, Calmette, Quận 1

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51. Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart 

  • This place is known for their cheese tarts, but an unusual (and somehow good) option from the menu is cheese ice cream. They also have durian and chocolate cheese flavors.
  • Multiple locations in District 1
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Cheese ice cream

52. Uncle Lu’s Cheesecake 

  • Just a heads up – it’s not your typical cheesecake, as it has the texture more of like angel food cake. Nonetheless, it is delicious (especially with milk poured over it).
  • 25 Đường Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, Quận 1

 

Until next time,

Hales

Pros Of Being An Expat In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Almost 7 months ago I made Hồ Chí Minh my home and it has been spoiling me ever since. Not every day is a bed of roses, but Việt Nam has enriched me with so many new experiences and growing opportunities that I will forever be grateful for.

Over the last few years, Hồ Chí Minh’s expat community has grown immensely, and continues to do so. Here are a few reasons why I, as well as many other expats, have chosen Hồ Chí Minh as a second home:

Lifestyle

One of the main things that bring aspiring English teachers to Việt Nam is the low working hours for good pay. A typical work week for English teachers is around 20 – 25 hours, giving plenty of free time. The pay is also high compared to the low cost of living, which allows for a comfortable lifestyle, frequent travel, and a little money left over for savings.

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Travel

With Hồ Chí Minh containing one of Việt Nam’s main airports, it is cheap and easy to travel within Việt Nam and Southeast Asia. There are many beautiful places in Việt Nam to travel to that are just a quick bus or plane ride away. International travel is also fairly cheaper here than it was in the US. It’s easy enough to book a last minute plane ticket to Malaysia without breaking the bank. Of course, this all depends on the type of traveler you are. If you’re wanting to stay in a nice resort it’s going to be pricey, but if you’re down with hostels then it can be very cheap. After moving to Southeast Asia and seeing the beauty it has to offer, my bucket list of destinations has expanded drastically (RIP to my bank account).

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Cheap Beauty Treatments

Back in the US I was hardly ever able to have a spa day, as it’s ridiculously overpriced (along with basically everything else in the States). Luckily, ‘Nam has blessed me with all things cheap – massages, facials, nails, the works. Don’t get me wrong, there are many expensive places here too, but why would I go to those when I can get a killer gel mani / pedi for 350,000 VND? Ladies, are you ready to move here yet?

There’s Always Something To Do

Hồ Chí Minh is a big city packed with millions of people, which means it’s always filled with things to do. There are night markets, DIY classes, and various shows. My favorite Friday night outing has been going to the past 2 Sofar Sounds shows. Seriously, amazing. I have a love / hate relationship with Bui Vien, but it’s definitely a must-see as it’s filled with various bars, clubs, and restaurants! If none of those do it for you, there are always the tourist hot spots like The Café Apartment, Post Office, or War Remnants Museum.

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Before my second Sofar Sounds show. They discourage having phones out during performances, so it’s a nice way to disconnect and relax.

The Unreal Coffee Scene

Việt Nam is the perfect place for coffee lovers, as it’s one of the world’s largest coffee exporters. Whether it’s the famous cà phê sữa đá, drip coffee, avocado coffee, egg coffee, coconut coffee – you name it, Việt Nam has it all. There are at least 5 coffee shops on every street and most of them are so cute and offer a unique experience.

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Shelter Coffee & Tea – one of my new favorite coffee shop finds. Avocado coffee (left) and cà phê sữa đá (right)

Food

Don’t worry, Hồ Chí Minh has most western food to satisfy your cravings (if you find Ranch though, please hmu), but the real deal is how delicious and underrated Vietnamese food is. There’s nothing like sitting on a small stool on the side of a road eating a plate of cơm tấm. If you can tell me where I can find better bún thịt nướng or bánh mì, that’s the day I will leave Việt Nam. On top of how amazing the food is, I can eat most meals for less than $1 or $2 USD. There’s no beating it, really.

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Bánh tráng nướng (Vietnamese Pizza)

If you have any questions on my life as an expat in Hồ Chí Minh, please feel free to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales