Read about Aoife’s TEFL journey in Vietnam. Get to know her amazing journey in Vietnam
Tell us more about yourself. What’s your background?
I’m from Dublin’s Clondalkin, and I graduated from DCU in 2018 with a degree in analytical science. I had a great time travelling around South East Asia for six weeks after my exams. There was no doubt in my mind that I would return soon. When I returned home, I began working at a large pharmaceutical business I liked. Yet, I was only thinking about travelling, so I decided to quit my job after one and a half years and return to Asia, signing up for the TEFL Vietnam Internship. The wisest choice I’ve ever made!
You’re currently teaching abroad. Awesome! Tell us about your unique journey to working abroad as a teacher—including your TEFL course experience.
Though I had no teaching experience, I had always considered teaching a career choice and had been exploring pursuing a master’s to teach secondary school science. When I came across the internship program, it looked like the perfect opportunity to gain some teaching experience while simultaneously living abroad and seeing a whole other culture. The actual TEFL course went rather nicely. Because it was online, I could complete it whenever possible and at my own pace.
The internship had me stay in a language school in Hanoi when I arrived in Vietnam. After the training, we all decided to continue working at that job, and I immediately shared a house next to it with two other girls from the program. My TEFL certificate and degree qualified me for a job teaching Science through English in a secondary school in Vietnam to help the pupils get ready for their GCSE. Although I occasionally miss teaching the kindergarten students their ABCs at the language centre, I really like that!
Do you recommend learning a bit of Vietnamese before the big move?
It would be best to wait until you arrive if you plan to study Vietnamese. I tried to learn a few words and phrases but wondered if anyone could understand me because the tones and pronunciation were so challenging! Face-to-face instruction from a native speaker is far more effective. To begin with, I received many blank looks and a few laughs, but the Vietnamese people appreciated the effort. For them, hearing a Westerner use their language is entirely novel. When I coin a new phrase, my kids think it’s the funniest thing ever.
What surprised you the most about teaching in Vietnam? Was there anything you found particularly challenging or more straightforward than you expected? Are costs of living expenses?
The students here are given much more freedom in school; they have fewer rules than I did and are generally well-behaved. Education is taken very seriously in this country. The school system has progressed from primary to secondary to high school for the last three years. My grade 9 students are only 14/15, but they are under enormous pressure to get into top high schools to attend a good university.
I try to be understanding of this because they frequently arrive exhausted after studying until 2 a.m. The cost of living is meagre. I share a serviced apartment with a friend in the main ex-pat area with two ensuite bedrooms for $250 monthly. I enjoy the local cuisine, and a bowl of Pho or a Banh Mi usually costs around $1-2. It’s a great place to come if you need to save money.
What’s one thing you learned about yourself while teaching abroad?
I’ve learned how to ride a motorcycle! When I first arrived, this was a massive fear of mine, and it took me a week before I’d even get on the back of someone else’s. Now that I have my bike, it is the best way to get around the city.
What advice do you have for someone considering teaching in Vietnam?
Don’t be afraid to come alone; even if you’re not doing the internship, there are so many other people here in the same situation. Everyone is separated from their family and friends, so they are naturally more open to meeting new people, and it truly feels like a small community. Get to know the ex-pat communities and join some Facebook groups to learn about different events and activities.
Prepare for cultural differences in the workplace as well. They could be more organised, and communication is not one of their strong suits (language barrier aside). Many people believe it is just their school, but after speaking with several other teachers, it appears everywhere. It’s just their way of doing things, and it’s all part of the experience, as frustrating as it can be!
How did you find the internship experience? Would you recommend this internship to others?
The internship was fantastic for me, and I wholeheartedly recommend it! It really helped to have that support, especially in the first few weeks. I felt much less nervous about coming over now that I knew I’d have a job and a place to stay. The visa and work permit process appeared to be impossible to navigate, but thankfully, because I was on an internship, I received a lot of assistance. The first week was a lot of fun. Before moving into our accommodations, the 120 teachers on the training stayed in a large hotel together. That’s where I met everyone I’m still friends with today!
Will you stay longer in Vietnam, or are you planning to travel elsewhere and relocate?
I intend to visit a few new countries this summer. After that, I’ll return to Ireland to see my family and friends for the first time in two and a half years. I don’t plan to stay home long because I love living abroad and would like to travel to a different continent soon!