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Name: Kelly – From: Gold Coast, Australia
…”It’s the practical nature of the course that gave me confidence to begin teaching English in Cambodia. Would I recommended the Australian Government accredited TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL?…
Would I recommend the TESOL training programme at AVSE-TESOL in Cambodia? Absolutely! AVSE-TESOL gets a five star rating from me”…
“If you’re a local person who wants to pursue a career teaching English in Vietnam or looking to teach English part-time, AVSE-TESOL is the best place to get the knowledge, skills and quality certification to do the job…
AVSE helped me to secure a full-time teaching job at one of the larger English Language Schools in Ho Chi Minh City within three days of the completing the course”…
Name: Reyna – From: Makati, Philippines
“The great Terry Smith from the United Kingdom was my trainer at AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi. He ably supported by Ms Evie. Both Terry and Evie were knowledgeable, supportive and engaging… I started teaching English in Hanoi immediately after my TESOL course finished…
…What AVSE-TESOL offers in Hanoi isn’t cheap, but it is immersive and worth every peso. By the end of the course, I felt fully prepared for teaching English in Vietnam.”
Name: Joel – From: Pretoria, South Africa
I love AVSE-TESOL and the people who work there. Seriously, they’re like family. From the Director of the school, Peter Goudge, through to Mr Wally, the Vietnamese guy who keeps on eye on the motorbikes out the front, they’re all committed to exceeding expectations…
…What I’ve achieved teaching English in Vietnam over the past 14 months wouldn’t have been possible without support from AVSE-TESOL and the quality teacher training that I received.
Vietnam: Country Profile…
Teaching English in Vietnam is something that you’ve always wanted to do and now the time has arrived where you can live that long-held dream. How lucky are you? Very lucky indeed! Here’s some background information that might be handy to know before you set foot on Vietnamese soil for the first time.
Tip: If history is a passion, there’s a good chance you’ll be impressed with the War Remnants (Vietnam War) Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s best to check the hours that it’s open on the day you intend to visit, rather than just turning up.
Archaeological artifacts indicate that humans were living in northern Vietnam 500,000 years ago, but primitive agriculture didn’t arrive until around 7,000 BC (+/-). It took a further 6,600 years (+/-) for the sophisticated Bronze Age ‘Dong Son’ culture, famed for its drums, to make an appearance.
The Chinese played a huge role in early Vietnamese history and it could be argued that not much has changed with the passing of time.
History books tell us that Vietnam has had more than its fair share of uprisings, rebellion, and occupation. From 1861 through to 1957 (apart from a relatively short period of Japanese occupation), Vietnam as we know it today was occupied by the French. Walk down any street in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other cities in Vietnam and you’ll see buildings from the French era.
Shortly after the French decided that they’d had enough, Vietnam was split into two separate countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. War erupted between the north and the south and millions of people died, including many civilians. The war in Vietnam came to an end on 30 April 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army overwhelmed the South with a massive offensive. Peace was achieved and the country started on the path to reunification.
The war years were followed by 11 plus years of economic and political isolation from the outside world, other than a few like-minded communist states. Food shortages were commonplace. Medical equipment was scarce. Medical treatment was primitive. Tragically, people died in high numbers. How many? Nobody knows.
What we see in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and elsewhere in this wonderful country today, is a stark contrast to the reality of life in Vietnam 30 or so years ago. The transformation from a ‘lost cause’ to an economic powerhouse within three decades is miraculous. I’d like to think that those of us who chose to embark on a career teaching English in Vietnam during this period, played a part, no matter how small, in the transformation that has occurred.
Tip: You’d be well-advised to take plenty of insect repellant on a trip to the Mekong Delta. Without doubt, the nastiest mosquitos in the whole world live down that way.
Vietnam’s total land area is 331,211 square kilometres. The country has land borders with Cambodia, Laos and China.
Crudely, Vietnam can be divided into three segments: 1. the highlands and Red River Delta in the north; 2. the central mountains and costal lowlands in the middle; and 3. the Mekong Delta in the south. Interestingly, more than 10,000 square kilometres of the Mekong Delta is dedicated to rice farming, making the area one of the top rice-growing regions in the world.
The coastline of Vietnam with its stunning beaches is surely one of the country’s best kept secrets. Development has taken hold in coastal cities such as Nha Trang, Danang and Vung Tau, but there are still plenty of small fishing towns and hamlets on the coast that provide insight to the ‘real’ Vietnam. Certainly, Danang and Nha Trang are popular work and tourism destinations for folks teaching English in Vietnam. There are teaching jobs available on the coast, but competition is intense because of the lifestyle afforded by beachside living, especially in a country with a tropical climate. If beaches are your thing, don’t let my ‘competition’ comment deter you. Who knows? You might be in the right place at the right time.
Tip: With 97 plus million people living on a relatively small tract of land, in a developing country, it’s no surprise that traffic congestion is a huge problem in cities and towns across Vietnam. When you need to be somewhere at a specified time, a teaching practice class for example, make sure you allow time for traffic-related delays.
The population of Vietnam is expected to reach 99 million people in 2023 – the fifteenth most populous country in the world. ‘Kinh’ is the largest ethnic group (85% plus of the total population) with the remaining 15% consisting of people from 53 distinct communities.
With every year that goes by we are seeing more Vietnamese migrate from rural areas to larger cities, especially to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Anecdotally, the lack of employment opportunities for local people and access to services such as medical care and education (government schools and tertiary education institutions) are key push factors. Presently, around 40% of Vietnamese people live in urban areas, more than 9% in Ho Chi Minh City alone. While statistics show us that local people are gravitating to the cities, if it happens that you prefer a slower pace of life, you’ll be pleased to know that there are still plenty of teaching jobs in regional and rural areas across Vietnam.
Interestingly, over the past 20 years the gap between the number of Vietnamese people who choose to move abroad, year-on-year, compared to the number of foreigners who take up residence, has narrowed considerably to the extent that it’s negligible. While opportunities to pursue a career path teaching English in Vietnam is a pull factor for many foreigners, history tells us that when a booming economy is coupled with a ‘Welcome Mat’, people respond. I’m a prime example.
Tip: Vietnam is a hardline Communist State and officially atheist. For those reasons and others, folks who are teaching English in Vietnam and other visitors would be well-advised to avoid any discussion about religion.
While Vietnam is officially atheist, the reality is that religion plays a part in the lives of many Vietnamese people. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are the three most prominent religions in Vietnam. It’s not uncommon for those three religions to be grouped together as one religion named ‘Tam giao’ (in Vietnamese) or ‘the three teachings’.
Here’s a question for you. What percentage of the Vietnamese population is Catholic? Have a guess if you’re not sure and I’ll provide an answer further on.
In the meantime, you might be surprised to learn, as I was, that:
– there are more than 2,200 Catholic parishes the length and breadth of Vietnam – collectively serviced by 2,600+ ordained priests
– it took the French colonists 17 years (1863 to 1880) to build the Notre Dame Cathedral in the downtown area of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). It remains a popular tourist destination to this day.
So, getting back to my question, ‘what percentage of the Vietnamese population is Catholic’? The answer is 7%. Did you know the answer? If not, was your guess close to the mark?
Tip: If possible, try and structure your routine so that you’re under an air conditioner or a fan during the hottest part of the day as distinct from being out and about. Heat related illness including dehydration in Vietnam is commonplace.
Vietnam’s climate varies from north to south, with the north having the conventional four seasons and the south having only two seasons, wet and dry.
It is hot and wet in the northern part of the country including Hanoi during the summer months and cold and dry in the winter months. High humidity and sunlight are weather characteristics in the north of Vietnam regardless of the time of year. Although the north of the country is either very wet or very dry, the transition months provide for the conventional four seasons.
The weather in the south of Vietnam including Ho Chi Minh City is oppressively hot and humid 12 months of the year. During the wet season you can almost set your clock by the daily downpour of rain. The rain typically lasts for only an hour or so, but long enough to cause local flooding. Usually, the flood water disappears within 30 minutes or so after the rain stops. During the dry season, as the term suggests, it’s highly likely you won’t see a drop of rain in the south of Vietnam. No rain means lots of dust and poor air quality so it’s a good idea to have a supply of surgical masks in your kit bag.
Regardless of whether you settle on teaching English in Vietnam up north or down south, I’d encourage you not to wear your work shoes to and from school during the wet season. Wear sandals or similar and carry your work shoes in a bag. Why? There’s a high chance you’ll have to wade through water to get from point A to point B at one time or another. Doing a teaching shift in saturated socks and shoes from trudging through ‘pooey’ water will be unpleasant for you – and your students.
Tip: Occupiers rarely add value to a country, but give credit where it’s due. The French baguettes that are found the length and breadth of Vietnam are simply divine. Throw in a bit of salad, meat of some sort and a drop of soya sauce and you’ve got a perfect Banh Mi for breakfast or lunch.
Putting aside the more exotic ‘food items’ that a lot Vietnamese people swear by, you’d have to say that the local cuisine is right up there with the healthiest on offer anywhere in the world. Pretty much every meal contains ‘farm-fresh’ ingredients including lean meat, vegetables, herbs and spices. Most Vietnamese dishes are testament that ‘cheap’ can also taste good. You’ll have ample opportunity while teaching English in Vietnam to make up your own mind. Here’s a random selection of traditional food choices in Vietnam that you should try at least once:
Pho: a soup-like dish with rice-noodles, meat of one kind or another, bean sprouts, a sprinkling of various herbs and spices and a splash of lemon. Most Vietnamese will add soya sauce and chili to a bowl of Pho in quantities that would leave the average westerner aghast.
Bo Kho: a braised beef and vegetable stew with lemongrass and other spices. The stew is typically left to simmer for at least a couple of hours. Make sure you’ve got a French baguette to scrape the bowl clean.
Bun Cha: is a pork-meatball (looks like a rissole) dish that’s typically eaten with salad and bread. It’s a popular ‘street food’, especially with young children in Hanoi and elsewhere in the north of Vietnam.
Banh Mi: is basically a French baguette that’s stuffed with meat, salad and vegetables of your choosing. How quirky is this? The iconic Travel Book, Rough Guides, has ranked Banh Mi right up there with the World’s best street foods.
Tip: If you go with the ‘Visa on Arrival’ option, make sure you’ve got the Approval Letter with you at your port of entry.
To enter Vietnam, you will need a passport that has at least 6 months remaining and a valid visa. These days most people who travel to Vietnam opt for a Tourist Visa on arrival, which can be finalised online from the comfort of your own living room in less than 10 minutes. You will find information about the Tourist Visa on arrival option here.
Assuming you plan to complete the Australian Government accredited TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City with the idea of teaching in Vietnam after your training finishes, you’d be well-advised to opt for a 3-month Tourist Visa on arrival. Why? It will cover you for the period of the TESOL course, your initial employment and the transition to an employer sponsored visa. Keep in mind that Vietnam is one of those countries where the visa that’s available to be purchased today, may not be available tomorrow. The same principle applies to eligibility requirements. Visas are a moving feast in Vietnam.
Tip: If you plan on teaching in Vietnam after your TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL, your employer (a school) will almost certainly pay you once a month with a wad of Vietnam Dong notes. It’s best to open a bank account at the earliest opportunity and deposit spare funds. Don’t stash money in your room – almost certainly it will ‘walk out the door’. Speak with the friendly folks at AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City if you need a helping-hand with opening a local bank account.
Vietnam’s official currency is the Vietnam Dong (vnd). Yes, I agree, it’s a funny name for a currency! Prices are typically quoted and advertised in Vietnam Dong. ATM machines only dispense Vietnam Dong.
Sending money out of Vietnam is complicated and the rules change without notice. If you have bills to pay in your home-country, you may wish to seek advice from other expats on how to send money abroad. In stark contrast, sending money to Vietnam is a breeze with the assistance of entities like Wise, Western Union and MoneyGram.
In this ‘Country Profile’ post I’ve provided a snapshot of Vietnam based on my own experience. I have touched on matters pertaining to history, population, cuisine and other areas that I thought would be useful for a ‘rookie’ to at least reflect upon in a quiet moment. If you take nothing else from this blog post, be careful with those nasty mosquitos in the Mekong Delta (Geography) and please, please, please do not store your hard-earned money from teaching English in Vietnam under your bed or a similar ‘hidey spot’ (Currency).
About the writer: Peter Goudge has been teaching English in Vietnam since 2006. Originally from Australia, Peter now calls Ho Chi Minh City home. Peter is the owner of AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phnom Penh and Online. AVSE’s core business is delivering an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme for prospective ESL teachers. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
Cambodia: Country Profile…
What terrific news! After working double shifts for the past 6-months to save money, you’re about to head-off and pursue that long-held goal of teaching English in Cambodia. Your interest in Cambodia was sparked by email and Zoom communication with the good people at AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh. Personally, I think you’ve made a great choice. Cambodia is the ‘last frontier’ for English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching.
In this post I’ll highlight key information about Cambodia that will help with making the transition to ‘living like a local’ a bit quicker than it might otherwise be.
Tip: They say we should be mindful of bad things that have occurred in history, so it’s less likely they’ll be repeated. With this idea in mind, no stint teaching in Cambodia would be complete without visiting the ‘Killing’ Fields and the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, illustrating the Khmer Rouge years.
The Kingdom of Cambodia has a checkered history, not just over the past four or five decades, but for time immemorial. What we know as Cambodia today was part of at least two ancient realms before declaring independence for the first time in the year 802. At its peak in the 12th century, the Khmer Empire was the largest nation in Southeast Asia (as we know it today). The Angkor Wat religious temple, modern day Cambodia’s premier tourist attraction, dates from this period. Skipping forward six centuries, Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1867. Other than a period of Japanese occupation (1941 to 1945), the French ruled Cambodia until 1953.
Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia under the leadership of the infamous Pol Pot. It’s estimated that the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of more than two million Cambodians, a quarter of the population at that time. In addition to massacre on an industrial scale, the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of Cambodia’s historic architecture and sites that carried religious importance. What wasn’t destroyed by those who ruled Cambodia during this period, was left in ruins by years of war and neglect. In the space of a couple of decades, Cambodia went from being a place that Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Dictators went out of their way to visit, to a place of unimaginable suffering. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Cambodia began to emerge from the darkness of war and famine. The monarchy was restored in 1993 and today Cambodia operates a ‘multiparty’ ‘democracy’ with a King as the head of State.
While Cambodia’s reintegration to the world community is one of the success stories of the late 20th century, there’s a lot of ‘nation-building’ work that still needs to be done. Cambodians see a direct connection between English language skills and the development of their country. This directly translates into decent jobs teaching in Cambodia for people like you – folks with the skills, knowledge, qualifications and willingness to step outside their comfort zone.
Tip: Don’t swim or wade in a river or stream in Cambodia. It might look inviting, but there’s a high chance of something lurking in the water that will make you very ill.
The total land area of Cambodia is 181,035 square kilometres. Cambodia shares land borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. River systems, especially the Tonle Sap and the Mekong, flat farming land and mountain ranges are Cambodia’s most prominent geographical features. Rivers that flow through the country are essentially the lifeblood of Cambodian society. Among other things, Cambodia’s rivers provide an important food source, transportation and water for agriculture, the country’s main industry.
While Sihanoukville in the south of Cambodia is best known as holiday destination for beachgoers and folks who like casinos, it is the country’s only deep-water, maritime port. Sihanoukville has undergone massive transformation over the past decade on the back of casino-related development, funded almost exclusively by Chinese companies.
From a geographical perspective, most of the English teaching jobs in Cambodia are in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Finding a teaching job in a rural area in Cambodia is possible, but it requires patience and lots of networking because they’re relatively few in number.
Tip: If you’re invited to eat with a Khmer family at their house, make sure you remove your shoes and hat before going inside. Also, a small gift, perhaps fruit or flowers, will be well-received.
Cambodia’s population is estimated to be 16.6 million people. Khmer is the largest ethnic group in Cambodia – 90%+ of the total population. Other ethnic groups in Cambodia with sizable numbers include Khmer Muslims, Vietnamese, Chinese and tribal groups such as the Pnong, Tampoun, Jarai and Kreung peoples. Over the past five years in particular, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of foreigners from Europe, North America and Australia who are living in Cambodia. Anecdotally, the key ‘pull’ factors include the low cost of living, the relative ease to open a business and an expat lifestyle that’s afforded by teaching opportunities and other lines of work where English language skills are vital.
I’ve had the good fortune to spend years travelling around the world. I have lived and worked in 8 different countries. I can put my hand on my heart and say without a shadow of doubt that Khmer people are right up there with the best of the best. Abject poverty prevails in Cambodia, but your average Khmer person will literally give you the shirt off his (or her) back. You’ll be invited in for meals, even though it’s not uncommon for a family to forgo a meal because they don’t have any money. There is every reason for Khmer people to be hostile towards foreigners given the pillaging that has occurred throughout history, but they’re not hostile at all. They’re a forgiving lot.
Tip: Monks are revered in Cambodia. It’s important to always show respect to monks. Make sure you are dressed conservatively (fully covered) before entering a temple. Under no circumstances should you touch a monk.
Official statistics on religious affiliation in Cambodia don’t exist, but observers estimate that around 97% of the population is Theravada Buddhist, with the remaining 10% consisting of Christians, Muslims and other denominations.
During your time teaching in Cambodia, you’ll no doubt have the opportunity to visit any number of pagodas and other places of religious significance. It’s wise to do a bit of research beforehand on the places you plan to visit. Apart from providing information that will make your visit more meaningful, you’ll be informed about behaviour, dress code and suchlike, that’s considered appropriate at that location.
Tip: If you’re teaching in Cambodia in the wet season, make sure you carry your work shoes in your bag and wear sandals to and from school. Why? There’s a good chance you’ll have to wade through knee-deep water every now and again.
Cambodia has a tropical climate with warm to hot weather 12 months of the year. There are two distinct seasons in Cambodia, the dry season and the wet season.
The dry season typically starts in November and goes to the following April. The weather in Cambodia during this period is characterised by zero (or next to zero) rain. With temperatures reaching upwards of 38 degrees Celsius, April and May are the hottest months in Cambodia, with clear blue skies being the norm.
From late May through to October, heavy rain and high humidity dominate the weather pattern in Cambodia. Like that famous song for young children, ‘when it rains, it pours’, probably like nothing you have witnessed before. As quickly as it rains in Cambodia during the wet season, the rain stops and life resumes from where it left off. It’s a sight to behold.
Tip: If taking formal Khmer language lessons while you’re busy teaching in Cambodia doesn’t appeal to you, learning how to count in the local language in your own time would be a wise move. You will find it handy when buying things.
With 90% of the population being ‘ethnic Khmer’, it’s no surprise that Cambodia’s official language is ‘Khmer’. Interestingly, it hasn’t always been this way. During the colonial period, French was the official local language.
Nowadays, street signs and the like in Cambodia are usually in Khmer and English. Postage stamps and currency include snippets of English. With a high number of Vietnamese, Chinese and Laotian people living and working in Cambodia, there’s a good chance you will come across folks speaking a language that is less familiar, as you go about your everyday business.
Tip: Doing business at any level in Cambodia can be frustrating due to the bureaucratic processes and language barriers. Put ‘one foot in front of the other’ and nearly always you’ll achieve the desired outcome.
Ostensibly the economy in Cambodia is based on the free market system, but government intervention is commonplace. Cambodia has recorded economic growth over the past decade that most western countries can only dream about, largely on the back of substantial foreign investment. Most economic activity in Cambodia is agricultural in nature. Key products include rice (a staple food across the region), rubber, cassava and pepper. Cambodia also has a thriving export market for teak, mahogany, precious gems, textiles and footwear.
Vocational Education and Training, including English language studies, is a relatively new industry in Cambodia. Like other segments of the Cambodian economy, it’s experiencing exponential growth and job opportunities for foreign teachers and trainers outstrip the number of suitably qualified people many times over. This is good news for people who are up for the challenge of teaching English in Cambodia – or some other discipline.
Tip: Make sure you have a pen of your own that works when you arrive at your port of entry for Cambodia.
You will need a valid passport with a minimum of six months remaining and a valid visa to enter Cambodia. You will also need a lot of patience when you arrive at your port of entry. Entering Cambodia can be really quick or really slow, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.
If your plans include completing the TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh and then travelling outside of Cambodia after the course finishes, a conventional Tourist Visa (coverage for 30 days) may well be sufficient. You can purchase a Cambodian Tourist Visa online or you can buy one at your point of entry. The price is US $30.00. Note, your payment needs to be accompanied by two passport size photos.
Conversely, if your plans include completing the TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL in Phnom Penh and then teaching English in Cambodia immediately after, you’d be well-advised to opt for the one-month Ordinary Visa (E class) on arrival. Why? It can be extended indefinitely without having to leave the country on what is commonly called a ‘border (visa) run’. The Ordinary Visa (E class) costs US $35.00. Again, you will need two passport size photos to keep the visa people happy.
Tip: Cambodians really dislike bank notes that are old, dirty or torn, even if it‘s only a nick. ‘Tainted’ bank notes are often given in change when a person buys something as a way of passing the ‘headache’ onto someone else. Carefully check your change for bank notes that are problematic.
Cambodia’s official currency is the ‘Riel’, but local people prefer to conduct transactions in US dollars. Prices are typically quoted and advertised in US dollars. ATM machines all over Cambodia dispense US dollars. Almost certainly your monthly salary from teaching English in Cambodia will be paid in US dollars.
It’s fair to say that Cambodia is one of those places in the world where there’s a need to be extra vigilant with money and items of value. Such is life in a country where abject poverty prevails. Among other things, being extra vigilant includes carrying your wallet in a front pocket, not storing all your money in one place, only carrying the money that you need at a given time, not counting your money in the street and being super careful when you use an ATM. Here’s a challenge for you. Put your ‘thinking cap’ on and come up with another five ‘being vigilant with money’ strategies.
I have touched on several key issues in this post, history, people and religion to name only three, with the intent of sparking interest and offering a helping-hand with your transition to everyday life in Cambodia. You’ll encounter plenty of frustrations in Cambodia, but they’re just part of the journey. Almost certainly when you look back on your time teaching in Cambodia, it will be the people you met, locals and other expats, that will first come to mind. You’re very lucky! Grab the opportunity with both hands.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE-TESOL) in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. TESOL certification through Peter’s company, AVSE-TESOL, is all about providing aspiring ESL educators with the skills, knowledge and quality certification they need for jobs teaching in Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere. Here is a link to the AVSE-website: www.avse.edu.vn