Frances is an English teacher living in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam for over a year with her boyfriend, David. She talks about their expat life and what it is like living in the city!
Introduce yourself. Who are you and where are you from?
Hello, I am Frances. I was born and raised in the beautiful Scottish capital Edinburgh, but in 2016 my boyfriend and I moved to Vietnam where we have been teaching English for over a year now. Ever since I was a teenager I was interested in living abroad and the opportunities to experience other cultures that teaching English could offer – so as soon as I graduated I jumped aboard the chance to live in SE Asia.
Where you teaching (city, country) and what are is it like there?
I have been teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and fastest growing city in Asia, for over a year now. It’s a vast metropolis where Vietnamese, French colonial and now Western influences all merge together, creating a vibrant place to live.
What made you choose to teach here at this location?
We had travelled to Asia once before but only experienced Thailand (which we loved), so returning to SE Asia was known from the get-go. Many of our friends who were lucky to travel throughout SE Asia had all pinpointed Vietnam as their favourite (for scenery, culture and food) which made it pretty clear this is where we should aim for. The icing on the cake was the dynamic teaching scene due to the country’s rapid development and growing economy. Deciding on the actually city came down to the climate (year round warmth in the South VS 4 true seasons in the North).
The Teaching Job
What type of school do you teach?
We teach English to children at a language school.
What grades / levels do you teach?
I work with a range of abilities, from absolute beginners learning phonics to advanced students who can analyse texts together and have formal debates. All the students fall between the ages of 5-16.
What are your main responsibilities?
At our company we are provided with full lesson plans, so our prep involves getting familiar with the materials we will be teaching and gives us more time to focus on building a strong relationship with all of our students. However we do have other responsibilities which include writing reports (in 6 week intervals), testing and grading, creating and editing mini-skits with the students where they can showcase their progress to the parents, and occasionally taking part in marketing events and fundays at school.
I am actually the head teacher at my school, which gives me some additional responsibilities. As a head teacher, I essentially manage the teaching quality at my school by watching a number of lessons every month and providing feedback to the teachers. I also deal with the scheduling/vacations, run training workshops and make sure the teachers are all happy. Plus, I have to work intimately with the Vietnamese staff to help grow the school, ensure students are achieving their bests and that all staff at the school are happy.
What is your typical schedule?
My schedule is typical of a Vietnamese language centre, with classes in the evenings on weekdays and all day on weekends. All teachers at my company only work 18 hours a week and have two days off a week (I am lucky to have two together).
What is your favorite thing on the job?
Our favourite thing about teaching in Vietnam has got to be the kids. We have such a great relationship (almost friendship) with all of our students and it’s been amazing to watch them progress over the past year into more confident speakers.
What is your least favorite thing about the job?
The most challenging thing has to be communication breakdown. Our company is run from Hanoi, and as such schools in Ho Chi Minh City can become a bit of an afterthought with information filtering down to us late.
What is your salary and benefits?
Teaching packages in Vietnam are not like they are in countries like Korea, at least not for us as language centre teachers. Our packages are our salaries, plus a housing allowance every month. On top of that we get a bonus for completing our 1 year contract and referral bonuses for new recruits. We also get support in setting up our bank accounts and lots of support in obtaining work permits.
How do you make friends? Is it easy to meet locals and/or other expats?
The complex nature of the Vietnamese language does make it challenging to become friends with lots of locals. However, you will find that a lot of the young Vietnamese speak enough conversational English and we have a selection of Vietnamese friends we spend time with – mostly met through work or friends of friends. The majority of our social comes from the expat community (of which there is a big one). There are huge expat Facebook groups where you can find opportunities to meet us. For us, living in a shared house, going to classes and expat centered bars has helped us to forge a social life here in Ho Chi Minh City.
Do you speak the local language? If you do, how did you learn it? If not, how do you get by?
We definitely wouldn’t come near to saying we speak Vietnamese, but we know enough to get by paying for things and general greetings. Vietnamese is a tonal language and as such is extremely difficult for us to learn. You can take lessons to improve but we are able to get by comfortably with our limited knowledge.
Have you ever encountered social barriers based on your appearance, race or ethnicity?
We haven’t personally experienced any racism but we do know of others who have. If you are of Asian descent, then parents can be quite funny about having you teach their children, but it’s definitely more of an issue in Northern Vietnam. In the South, it is a bit more liberal and understanding that looks isn’t a direct factor in the quality of teacher. Unfortunately it is parents who ultimately complain and create issues with regards to race, not the companies.
How did you find this job?
We found our jobs while still in Scotland through an advent on a Facebook group. We did the interview via Skype and were offered a position with a start date a month in advance to give us time to get organised and make the move.
How can someone apply for the same position? What qualifications do you need?
For similar positions you can find adverts on Facebook, but also through websites like Dave’s ESL cafe. To get a legit job in Vietnam you must have a 4 year degree and a TEFL certification (for the work permit). We were able to get our jobs with minimal experience, but having experience will open more doors and higher pay.
What qualifications did you have?
We have bachelor degrees in unrelated fields and 140 hour TEFL certificates which we completed online.
What was the recruitment process like?
Our whole application experience was very quick and all done over Skype. David did an interview first and, upon mentioning that I had also applied, we then did an interview together a week later. Both interviews were done via Skype.
In a few words/ sentences, how can you describe your overall experience?
The whole experience has been a whirlwind and by far the fastest year of our lives. We left with minimal experience and no understanding of the culture we were moving to. Over the past year, we have become confident teachers, progressed into managerial positions and forged friendships with locals. We have grown an understanding of daily life in Vietnam, from the everyday poverty that is experienced by so many, to the diverse cuisine and stunning nature of the country, to the rich culture and traditions. It’s been a very eye opening experience.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to move abroad and do what you are doing? Would you recommend your city?
We 100% would recommend Ho Chi Minh City as a great places to have your first living abroad experience. The city has a great mix of traditional Vietnamese and modern living, and is very expat friendly. I would recommend getting some experience teaching – be that assisting or tutoring etc, in your home country before leaving if you have never taught before.
Also, Facebook is your friend. There are seas of groups for expats and teachers in Vietnam that you should join to scope out the job, housing and social aspects before taking the leap. I also recommend checking out our blog, which has lots of information about getting moving and establishing yourself in Vietnam.
What are your future plans?
We haven’t got any set plans for the future yet, and are just enjoying our time in Vietnam for now. We have hopes to head out on the road for a prolonged period of time sometime next year!
Frances is a 20-something Scottish lass, with an adventurous heart and a taste for new cultural experiences. In 2016, Frances and her boyfriend David made the move to Ho Chi Minh City, to teach English and explore Vietnam. They blog about their travels and experiences living and teaching in Vietnam on their blog So The Adventure Begins.
The ‘Teaching English Around the World’ is a series of interviews of real people who are teaching English in different countries. It was made to inspire you to move abroad and to show you how many countries you can go to with a teaching English career. If you are interested in participating or to learn more about the project, please view here.