From my own experience as someone who employs new teachers after they’ve completed a TESOL course in Hanoi, a single job vacancy can attract 50+ Curriculum Vitaes (also known as a ‘CV’ or ‘Résumé’), sometimes even more. Anecdotally, large English language schools in Hanoi receive 100+ random CVs a day from folks looking to secure a job teaching job. Numbers like those tell us that your CV needs to stand out in the crowd. ‘Curriculum Vitae’ is a Latin term; the English translation is ‘course of one’s life’. In layman’s terms, a CV is a written summary of a person’s background, qualifications, and employment history.
The significance of a quality CV that’s responsive to local expectations cannot be overemphasised. Arguably, your CV is the single most important document that you’ll submit to a potential employer. Given the number of CVs and related documents that a single employer processes daily (note my comments above), your CV needs to be ‘noticed’ by the decision-maker in less than two seconds. It must include relevant information in a compartmentalised format and an engaging (professional) photo. Your CV should be no more than one page and easy to visually scan. I’d suggest that you put some time aside during your TESOL course in Hanoi to develop a decent CV that’s formatted in a manner that local employers expect. Check out the sample CV below.
Let’s look at the sample CV in more detail, starting from the left-hand side of the document.
Photo: Your photo needs to show that you’re a professional person with an engaging disposition. It should strike a balance between formal and informal. If you’re not very photogenic, here are some tips: choose the background carefully, don’t look at the camera, find your good side, place the camera slightly above eye level, avoid a double chin, make sure your eyes are wide open and get the lighting right. You’ll find plenty more photo tips on the internet. You might even find someone in your TESOL course in Hanoi who’s pretty handy with a camera.
Profile: This section of the CV provides you with an opportunity to sell yourself to the employer in two short paragraphs, totalling no more than 120 words. Most employers are smart people. They can see through ‘fluff’. Be honest. Choose words that show you’re an engaging person who’s qualified for the job. The employer needs to know that you’re attuned to the importance of lesson planning, inclusivity, delivering a highly interactive, fun classroom environment and reflective thought.
Contact: Include a local phone number on your CV. Suppose a Vietnamese employer has a choice between calling a candidate with a local phone number or a candidate with an international number. In that case, even if it diverts, they’ll almost certainly go with the local number. Make sure your email address presents you in a professional manner. If your email address is something akin to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or similar, it would be a good idea to get a new one for your CV.
Your name: Some folks have long names that take up a lot of space. If you’re in this camp, I’d suggest that you shorten your name so the text sits nicely on the CV. For example, let’s imagine your name is Trixibelle Maryanne Esplanardo. It’s a lovely name, but it’s wordy. How about going with something like Trixibelle Esplanardo? The letters will fit comfortably in the available space.
Education: In my opinion, the certification from your TESOL course in Hanoi should be listed first. Why? It’s essentially your ‘licence’ to teach. Your highest degree should come next – Doctorate, Masters or Bachelors. If you don’t hold a university or college degree, shine a light on other qualifications that you hold, training programmes that you’ve successfully completed or both. Note the examples below.
Certificate IV in Carpentry (4-year apprenticeship)
Dandenong College of TAFE
02/02/02 – 31/12/05
Warrant Officer Training
Australian Defence Force
01/01/00 – 31/12/01
Teaching Experience: This heading presents some challenges for people who are completely new to teaching English, at least until you scratch below the surface.
Let’s say you’ve worked as a Cashier at Walmart in San Antonio, Texas, for the past five years. Almost certainly, there would have been a training component to your Cashier’s position. When a new Cashier starts at Walmart, they need to be taught what to do – correct? For example, if you’ve trained newcomers at Walmart, use it to your advantage in your teaching CV. Schools that are seeking to employ a teacher in Hanoi or elsewhere in Vietnam want to know about your experience teaching people things. If necessary, scratch below the surface, and you will find that you have more teaching experience than you think. Keep in mind that you can also quite legitimately refer to your teaching experience while completing your TESOL course in Hanoi.
Here’s what you might put under the Teaching Experience heading on your CV if you: 1. were the Cashier at Walmart that I mentioned earlier, or 2. choose to include your teaching experience during the TESOL course:
Trainer: Cash Management & Customer Service
Walmart Pty Ltd
San Antonio, United States
05/05/15 – 04/05/20
English Language Teacher
03/03/22 – 02/04/22
Referees: Ideally, you should include the name, job title, place of employment and contact details of two people who’d be prepared to attest to your ability to work as an English teacher. Your referees should not be family members. You may wish to ask the Trainer at your TESOL course in Hanoi if he (or she) is prepared to be a referee. Importantly, make sure that you have permission from the folks you list on your CV as a referee. Including referees on CV should look something like this:
Your transition to a great teaching job in Hanoi or elsewhere in Vietnam, will much smoother – and quicker – if you have a quality CV ready to hand out to employers immediately after your TESOL course finishes. Your CV needs to be really sharp! It should be no more than one page. It should include a decent photo, two short paragraphs about who you are and what you do – and your name, contact details, education, work history and referees. Give this important task your full attention and there’s every reason to believe that you’ll be living that ‘teach abroad’ dream quicker than you might think.
About the writer: Peter Goudge has been living and working in Southeast Asia for more than 15 years. He is the Managing Director (and founder) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
If you’re anything like me, when the word ‘paperwork’ is mentioned, the ‘shutters come down’. Who can be bothered? Paperwork is tedious and reeks of boredom, but getting your documents in order before leaving your home country to join a TESOL course in Vietnam, is essential. Vietnamese officials love paperwork. They also love red stamps (occasionally blue, depending on the document). If your paperwork (or stamp) doesn’t meet the requirements, there’s a good chance your teaching abroad adventure will fall in a heap before it starts.
There are six crucial documents that you need to sort out before leaving your home country to participate in a TESOL course in Vietnam: 1. your passport; 2. a visa to enter Vietnam; 3. your qualifications (if any); 4. a background check; 5. an English proficiency test (if you’re a non-native English speaker); and 6. medical insurance. Of course, not all the paperwork I’ve mentioned comes with a legal requirement, for example – medical insurance, but it’s best to cover all your bases. I’d suggest that you use a ‘check list’ to tick off the key documents one by one, when they’re finalised.
Your passport must have at least six months remaining before the expiry date – and it must be in ‘shipshape’ condition. If your passport is due to expire within the next six months or during the time that you plan to be abroad, you’ll need to renew it before you depart. Torn pages, water damage and suchlike are also good reasons to renew your passport before you head off.
Some nationalities can enter Vietnam without a visa. It’s best to assume that your nationality is not one of them. Assume you need a visa to enter Vietnam and seek guidance from the Vietnamese Embassy closest to where you live on what’s the best visa for your particular circumstances. Once you have advice from the Vietnamese Embassy about the most appropriate visa, it would be worth running the idea by a few teachers who are on the ground in Vietnam – and the entity that’s delivering your TESOL course in Vietnam. There might be quirky factors that the embassy doesn’t know about.
If you hold a university or college degree – or some other qualification – you need to bring the original document with you. Moreover, documents of this kind must be notarised in your home country as being genuine and correct. While some foreign embassies in Vietnam are prepared to notarise documents, this is not universal. So, it’s best to do it before you leave home. There’s a division of government in every country that takes care of notarising documents for use abroad. It’s simply a matter of finding out who takes care of this process in your country.
More than 90% of the teaching work in Vietnam involves young learners aged 4 through to 17 years of age. Given the age of the students, it makes sense that employers (schools) want to know about the person they’re about to employ. One way that employers can do this is through a background check from the candidate’s home country. It will be your responsibility to provide a background check. It needs to be no more than six months old. It needs to be an original document that’s notarised in your home country as genuine and correct.
How can you get your hands on a background check before departing your home country for a TESOL course in Vietnam? Good question! Every country has an arm of government that deals with background checks. The best place to start is the Department of Justice (or similar), closest to where you live.
English Proficiency Test
If you’re a non-native English speaker, a potential employer will likely want to see hard evidence of your skill level in English. Rightly or wrongly, employers in Vietnam place trust in a decent IELTS or TOEFL internet-based test (ibt) score. Therefore, non-native English speakers should: 1. complete an IELTS or TOEFL ibt examination in their home country; 2. have the original document that contains the score notarised in their home country, and 3. bring the original document (notarised) to Vietnam.
Are you one of those people who think they’re indestructible? If so, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You’re not. Medical insurance with adequate coverage is crucial when travelling abroad for any purpose, to attend a TESOL course in Vietnam or otherwise. With a simple Google search, you can find horror stories about people who became ill or injured while travelling abroad, incurring medical bills that they were unable to pay. Being hospitalised in Vietnam and unable to pay the bill is one way to trash your once in a lifetime teaching abroad adventure. By taking out Medical Insurance before you leave home, you’ll be able to pay your way if something untoward happens.
In this short blog post, I’ve identified six important documents that you’ll need to get sorted before leaving your home country to attend a TESOL course in Vietnam. You need to make sure the expiry date of your passport is at least six months away. Having the right visa coverage is imperative. Any qualifications that you hold should be notarised and legalised in your home country. You’ll need a background check (notarised and legalised in your home country) that’s not more than six months old. If you’re a non-native English speaker do an IELTS or TOEFL ibt test in your home country. Lastly, before heading off for your TESOL course in Vietnam, make sure you have medical insurance with decent coverage!
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and founder) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. AVSE-TESOL has been delivering Australian Government accredited TESOL programmes in Southeast Asia for more than a decade. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
There’s a lot of information on the internet for the benefit of newcomers to ESL teaching in Vietnam about managing a class, writing a lesson plan, maximising the benefits of information technology and suchlike. Regrettably, information on how new teachers should manage themselves from a mental health perspective is scarce. Your ability to manage your wellbeing is pivotal in acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to become a competent – and medium to long term – ESL educator.
Teaching in Vietnam can be immensely pleasurable and rewarding, or it can be your worst nightmare. Teachers who are adept at managing themselves tend to do well; those who aren’t inevitably move on to a different profession. Managing your wellbeing while teaching in Vietnam mainly involves ‘being aware’, making subtle changes in how you approach your teaching work or both. It rarely requires folks to make drastic changes in their life, although this does happen on occasions.
While doing some rudimentary research before writing this blog post, I was surprised to see that the Australian Government accredited TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh is the only TESOL or TEFL course in Southeast Asia that has ‘managing yourself’ or similar as a ‘stand-alone’ unit. Yet another area where ESL teacher training at AVSE-TESOL is ahead of the pack.
In this blog post, I’ll shine a light on three areas where people who are new to teaching in Vietnam can positively contribute to their wellbeing – from today – managing stress, time management and building a teaching portfolio.
In plain English, stress is an adverse reaction that some people experience when subjected to excessive pressure or have demands placed on them. Why touch on stress in this blog post? Firstly, it’s a hot topic amongst people teaching in Vietnam. Bemoaning and finger-pointing are commonplace in ‘teaching in Vietnam’ social media platforms, with schools named and shamed, mostly unfairly, for being the root cause of a teacher’s stress. Secondly, and more importantly in my view, stress can have a disastrous effect on our ability to process information. This can have serious implications on a teacher’s:
Situational awareness within the classroom
Ability to make objective decisions
Ability to communicate effectively
Capacity to competently discharge their duties
Like any profession, there are many elements of teaching that are stressful. Stress can manifest in various ways, including, but not limited to: working long hours; living away from home for the first time; delivering unfamiliar course content; dealing with the pressures associated with student achievement, or being ‘buried’ under a mountain of paperwork. Some or all these factors could lead to a new teacher feeling that they’re unable to cope. Whether it’s just a hint of a feeling or something more paralysing, here are some coping strategies that have worked for me in my role as an ESL teacher and may work for you also:
Don’t ignore stress. If you can feel the pressure building while teaching in Vietnam, don’t wait until it’s too late to release the valve or seek assistance. It’s okay to find it hard to cope now and again, and it’s okay to feel angry or upset. These are natural human emotions. Instead, work to build your stress awareness, learn to look out for the signs and recognise potential triggers. Once you can acknowledge stress building or identify a stressor, you become more equipped to manage your responses.
Gain perspective. Stress can sometimes result from a loss of perspective. When we become overwhelmed, we can lose sight of what is important. If you’re feeling stressed, then you may need a new frame of reference, whether that means taking a day off, spending some time with friends or family or simply getting away from the teaching environment for a while. This might at first feel counterproductive, especially if you are balancing lots of tasks, all of which are pressing. However, a break or change in environment can revitalise and refocus the mind.
Learn to relax. Relaxation is said to restore our balance. Therefore, it’s crucial that you develop the ability to switch off at some point in your day and take the opportunity for a few moments of calm. For some people, this is through exercise. For others, it’s quiet meditation, reading a decent book or watching a film. Most importantly, don’t confuse relaxation with recreation. If you are already exhausted in daily life, trying to relax by doing even more, may not be the panacea. Relaxation techniques that could be used to reduce stress include focused breathing exercises and meditation. If you feel that you’re struggling and the sense of being overwhelmed won’t abate, make sure you seek medical assistance.
Be organised. Becoming more organised can be a useful preventive measure in reducing personal stress. It’s usually those moments when our lives seem cluttered and out of control that our coping systems become more fragile. Many of these moments of inundation can be curtailed by learning to manage time more productively.
Time management plays a pivotal role in handling the demands of ESL teaching in Vietnam. Not only will poor time management affect the quality of your teaching and potentially your ability to go on to find other work, but it can also detract from the enjoyment experienced in the process itself. Moreover, poor time management, a lack of work structure and poor course planning can lead to greater levels of stress. While much of an ESL teacher’s role is framed by the institute and school timetables, assessment frameworks and deadlines, the effective use of an individual’s time can lessen the feeling that there is simply too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Here are some hints to assist you in productively managing your time while teaching in Vietnam:
Create a teaching in Vietnam ‘to-do’ list. One of the fundamental tools for managing time is that list of things you need to complete and when they need to be completed. The to-do list essentially consolidates all your tasks into one place. From there, you can prioritise the tasks and tackle the important ones first. Also, by prioritising the tasks according to their urgency, you reduce the temptation to start with more manageable tasks rather than those that are most urgent.
Review your list. It is a matter of priority that you ensure the to-do list is monitored, reviewed, and updated on daily. The to-do list should be a rolling resource that you constantly reference to ensure its currency and relevance to your work teaching in Vietnam.
Create an organisational framework. Keeping on top of your administrative tasks, including the boring stuff like filing, student reporting and associated school paperwork, will ensure your stress levels are not heightened by an avalanche of jobs and competing deadlines. Remember, stress levels can build if you leave everything until the last minute.
Delegate! Delegation is arguably the most crucial time management skill. If you are allowed to delegate while teaching in Vietnam, use it wisely and strategically. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should try and get someone else to do the work for you, but if your school provides clerical and/or technical support, avail yourself of the service. This will ultimately increase opportunities for you to invest in duties or tasks that provide the most significant impact within the classroom.
Set aside time each day for communication, such as emails and phone calls. Doing everything in an assigned block of time is far more efficient than spreading tasks out across the day in a piecemeal fashion. Moreover, you’re less likely to leave emails unanswered if you know there is an assigned time for dealing with them.
Building a portfolio
Folks who are new to ESL teaching in Vietnam often underestimate the value of creating a ‘teaching portfolio’ and developing the habit of keeping it updated. So, what exactly is a teaching portfolio? It’s a personal record drawn up and compiled by the teacher. The teaching portfolio is an effective way for teachers to reflect upon, describe and document their teaching philosophy, goals and achievements. In addition, it provides a structured means of presenting information for job search, promotion or career enhancement. Most importantly, if you make a point of keeping your teaching portfolio updated, you won’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ by remaking lesson plans and preparing teaching resources for topics that you’ve already taught. In short, the ‘tools of your trade’ will be in one place.
Here are eight tips on how to start putting a ‘teaching in Vietnam’ portfolio together.
Tip 1. At the beginning of the portfolio, it’s important to outline your teaching philosophy via a brief statement (1–2 pages). Essentially, you should aim to explain why you make the pedagogical decisions that you do.
Tip 2. Endeavour to describe and provide a framework of the teaching responsibilities to which you’ve had exposure – if any. This can be as simple as listing in tabular form the units or courses, levels, and class sizes you have taught.
Tip 3. You need to show the reviewer evidence of your effectiveness as a teacher. This may be illustrated by providing examples of selected written comments from teacher evaluations, reference letters from students, summaries of peer teaching observations, and the like.
Tip 4. What teaching strategies do you deploy while teaching in Vietnam? Put simply, what kind of work do you do with your students? Examples here could include lesson plans, course plans, videos of classes you have facilitated, learning resources or handout materials you have created – the tools of your trade (see above).
Tip 5. The portfolio should also show your involvement in developing syllabi and any influence you may have brought to higher course-level planning, design or development. For example, amendments you have suggested to a syllabus, courses you have planned, learning objectives you have devised belong in the portfolio.
Tip 6. What methodology do you use to construct assessments and feedback material? This section is an opportunity to demonstrate the approaches you use to map assessment regimes to learning outcomes and how these instruments have been used to help students evaluate their progress. In the context of teaching in Vietnam, evidence might include examples of written feedback, tests and quizzes you’ve formulated, assessment mapping samples – and a precis of how things worked in practice.
Tip 7. What investment have you made in your personal and professional development? Provide descriptions of professional development experiences that you have engaged in to enhance your instructional abilities.
Tip 8. Remember to organise your portfolio so that it is easily accessible, is well structured and reflects your best work and thinking. This applies regardless of the portfolio’s medium, whether digital or paper-based. It is also important to remember that it is much easier to collate and file documents as you go along rather than trying to create a portfolio in one sitting, under a tight deadline.
Teaching in Vietnam is hard work. It’s not all ‘bells and whistles’. There’ll be times when you love the work and the experience, but like any job, there’ll be times when you’d rather be in another place. This blog post was directed at shining a light on three simple things that you start doing now to manage your wellbeing throughout your teaching journey proactively. First, learn about stress and how to manage it. Second, become a time management guru. Third, develop a teaching portfolio. Your longevity teaching in Vietnam is in the interest of all stakeholders.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the founder and owner of AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phnom Penh and Online. TESOL certification (Australian Government accredited) from AVSE-TESOL offers a brilliant pathway to teaching English in Southeast Asia. Here is a link to the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.edu.vn
Teaching in Vietnam – it’s ‘PHO-nomenal’…
From the very beginning of this short piece, I want to confess to an abject failing on my part during the 15+ years that I’ve spent teaching in Vietnam and running my business, AVSE-TESOL. Here it is! I didn’t take to eating (or slurping) Pho until very recently. Putting together this article was the impetus for my change of heart. I suspect my dislike of Pho over the years has something to do with a medical condition called Misophonia. Folks with this condition have profound and adverse reactions to the sound of other people eating. I can feel my blood pressure rising at this moment just thinking about slurping, chewing and suchlike. While I’ve never been diagnosed with Misophonia, I am very familiar with the symptoms. The good news is that I found the perfect antidote, but more of that later.
Now that I’ve bared my soul to personal shortcomings when it comes to Pho consumption, let’s turn our mind to the purpose behind this article. The Story of Pho! What’s the origin of Pho? Why is Pho considered ‘PHO-nomenal’ by every Vietnamese person I’ve ever met, including my extended family and colleagues teaching in Vietnam? Where will Pho be in 2040 – how ‘Pho’ will it go (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)? We’ll finish off this piece with the ‘Ultimate Pho Recipe’ for you to try at home.
Pho, as we know it today, gained popularity in the north of Vietnam in the mid-1880s. It brought together the key ingredients of Chinese and French cuisine at the time. Keep in mind that the Chinese have tried on a few occasions throughout history to occupy Vietnam. The French colonised pretty much the whole of Vietnam (and neighbouring Cambodia) for more than 100 years until the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 heralded the end of French occupation. The Chinese influence on Pho includes noodles, rice, vegetables and various spices; the French contribution was red meat.
Over time, Pho made its way from the north of Vietnam to the country’s southernmost point in Ca Mau Province, located in the Mekong Delta. On its north to south journey and over time, the original version of Pho has evolved into a contemporary ‘dish’ available in restaurants of all sizes and traditional street food outlets the length and breadth of Vietnam. It’s served up to visiting Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and even the occasional dictator. There’s a terrific photo on the internet of Bill Clinton eating Pho at a restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City during an official visit. Certainly, it’s a staple food of most long-term expats.
Why is pho considered to be ‘PHO-nomenal’?
From what I’ve seen over the past 15+ years, Vietnamese people, foreigners I’ve met through my work teaching in Vietnam and random expats, enjoy a decent bowl of Pho for the same reasons: 1. it’s cheap; 2. it’s quick, and 3. it’s consistent with a balanced diet and healthy living.
There is no question – Pho is cheap. At a ‘half-decent’ inside restaurant, a bowl of Pho in Ho Chi Minh City will ordinarily cost no more than US $2.00. If you’re happy to sit on a small plastic stool at a small plastic table (almost universally blue in colour for some unknown reason) and eat your Pho with shared chopsticks in a shared plastic bowl, then the price will be not much more than US $1.00. The good news is that the shared utensils and bowls are washed between customers, or at least they should be. Vietnamese customers don’t seem to care. They simply take a napkin, give the utensils a quick wipe, and then ‘hoe into’ their meal. Expats teaching in Vietnam tend to a bit more discerning. I’ve seen expats bring their own bowl and utensils to an outside Pho stall – to the amusement of locals – or ask to rinse the utensils that are provided with boiling water. It’s probably wise, but I can’t imagine that I’d be bothered going to so much trouble.
Anecdotally (with my Vietnamese wife as the source), it will take an average person no more than 5 minutes to pull together a bowl of Pho, assuming the ingredients have been prepared beforehand, chopped, diced, boiled and suchlike. In a restaurant, it typically takes less than 5 minutes.
An average-sized bowl of Pho contains 350 to 400 calories, which equates to 20% of the recommended daily intake for an adult. Is Pho as healthy as people suggest? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’ – if you go light on the noodles and salt, heavy on vegetables and opt for lean meat. ‘No’, if the bowl of Pho is dominated by noodles, subject to a heavy hand with the salt and has undesirable additives for colour or flavour. I once saw a foreign chap add sugar that he brought with him, to a bowl of Pho at a street stall, but I don’t think this practice is usual.
Where will pho be in 2040?
When it comes to history and fast food, Pho clearly does not match the ‘reverence’ of the Aussie Meat Pie, which we know dates back to pre-biblical times. Moreover, from my observations, Vietnamese folks’ love for a bowl Pho is yet to match the passion that the French have for a plate of snails. I have always found it to be one of life’s ultimate contradictions that the French version of ‘fast food’ is the ‘snail’, but I digress.
While Pho has inroads to make, quite literally of biblical proportions, or perhaps I should say ‘portions’ given the context, make no mistake, it has ‘rusted on’ support. These days, those who love a good-sized bowl of Pho go well beyond local people, ‘Viet Kieu’, tourists, and expats teaching in Vietnam. Business conglomerates – large multi-business and multi-national companies – are ‘gobbling’ up the ‘Pho Market’ in Vietnam and elsewhere. Pho 24 (Vietnamese owned) now has more than 50 Pho restaurants across Vietnam and abroad. Pho Hoa (2018 Top Global Franchise List – Entrepreneurs Magazine), 70+ locations, Pho Que (rather an unfortunate name) Huong is another North American Pho Business with a sizable international footprint.
So, where will Pho be in 2040? I expect it will be every bit as popular as it is now, but increasingly it will be consumed in fast food chains rather than at small food stalls found on the street. Just as the proliferation of large shopping malls spelt the end of ‘mum and dad’ grocery shops, it looks to me that the Pho Fast Food Franchises spell the end of the small, blue plastic stools and tables and the shared utensils that I referred to earlier.
The ultimate pho recipe
After an exhaustive search online, speaking with Pho connoisseurs, taking advice from friends and acquaintances in my ‘teaching in Vietnam’ orbit and trying various concoctions in my own kitchen (while wearing earmuffs – note my earlier comment about an antidote to Misophonia), I’m confident that I’ve found the ‘Ultimate Pho Recipe’. It belongs to a quirky Vietnamese / Canadian chap named Quang Tran. While I have never met or spoken with Mr Quang, his version of Pho scores 10/10 from me, which shouldn’t be underestimated given my eating affliction, although ear muffs make a world of difference. My extended Vietnamese family – all life-long Pho eaters – also gave Quang’s Pho recipe a perfect score. You will find Quang Tran’s Pho recipe on his YouTube channel found here.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this piece – we’ve ventured near and ‘Pho’ (again, I couldn’t help myself). I’ve bared my soul about the sound of chewing and slurping. We’ve looked at the origin of Pho and noted that it only goes back 120 years or so. Surprising for sure! We’ve turned our mind to where Pho will be in 20 years from now, concluding that the blue plastic chairs and tables (and shared utensils) are under threat from business conglomerates. It has been determined that the ‘Ultimate Pho Recipe’ belongs to the Mr Quang Tran. This occurred after an extensive research and consultation process including, crawling the internet, and reaching out to expats who, like me, are teaching in Vietnam. Arguably of most importance, it’s been determined that ear muffs allow folks like me to enjoy a good bowl of Pho. This alone is news that’s worthy of being spread ‘Pho and wide’!
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Peter now calls Ho Chi Minh City home. For more than a decade, AVSE-TESOL has been providing aspiring ESL educators with the skills, knowledge and certification they need to land well-paid teaching jobs in Vietnam or Cambodia. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
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.
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 in one way or another, they’ve continued to do so to this very day.
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 tragically 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 finally achieved and the country started on the path to reunification.
While the end of the war in 1975 brought a level of peace that Vietnam hadn’t known for decades, it also heralded 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 just over 30 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. There’s no doubt in my mind that 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 distinct 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 97.3 million people in 2021, making it the fifteenth most populous country in the world. ‘Kinh’ is the largest ethnic group in Vietnam (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 jobs teaching English in Vietnam in regional and rural areas.
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.
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.
As a Communist State, Vietnam is officially atheist, but 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 that are collectively serviced by 2,600+ ordained priests; and
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 some of 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 everyday food items 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 English 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 English 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 – for obvious reasons.
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. Such is life in a Communist State. 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, MoneyGram and alike.
In this ‘Country Profile’ blog 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 (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
‘Grey Nomads’ – teaching in Vietnam…
Here’s a prediction based on phone calls and emails that I’ve received over the past few months. I’ve got it pegged that when it’s possible for people to travel freely again, we’ll see Grey Nomads (50+ years of age), predominantly from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, teaching English in Vietnam in unprecedented numbers.
Grey Nomad is an endearing phrase that’s commonly used Australia. Over the past few years, the phrase has gained traction in Southeast Asia. In the context of teaching English in Vietnam, a Grey Nomad is a foreigner of a more mature age who has travelled to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or elsewhere in Vietnam to work as an English language teacher. Arguably, the most famous Grey Nomad of all time is Marco Polo. He travelled around Asia in the late 1300s and early 1400s. History tells us that Marco Polo took full advantage of the opportunities presented to him in Asia; it seems to me that the modern-day Grey Nomads are doing pretty much the same.
Let’s drill down a bit on these Grey Nomads. We know they’re 50+ years of age, but what else do they have in common? What pathway do they typically follow from their former life to teaching abroad? Why is Vietnam a beacon for Grey Nomads? How are they received by the Vietnamese schools that employ them?
The pathway that leads to teaching English in Vietnam for a good number of mature teachers is remarkably similar. Most are single people, professionally-minded, with a solid work history. They’re seeking a positive experience with an element of adventure in retirement or following redundancy, divorce or another life-defining moment.
Almost to a person, Grey Nomads that I’ve encountered through my work teaching in Vietnam are well-informed. They’ve done the necessary research. Your average will Grey Nomad has it pegged that the number of English teaching jobs in Vietnam is greater than the number of suitably qualified people to fill them – many times over. They know it’s not enough to be a native-English speaker who happens to be breathing and upright to call themselves an English language teacher. Most Grey Nomads have invested in quality English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher training that’s government accredited and internationally recognised. The Australian Government accredited TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is an excellent example of top-notch ESL teacher training. More ‘mature heads’ know that quality training provides the skills, knowledge and certification that are collectively pivotal to getting a decent job in the first place – and to do the job well. Grey Nomads are attuned to the idea that job training – teacher training in this instance – is not an area where people can scrimp.
Why is Vietnam a beacon?
Typically, foreigners who are teaching English in Vietnam earn a decent salary; from my observations, the vast majority of Grey Nomads aren’t motivated by how much they can earn. On a list of motivating factors, making money would come in around number nine for most ‘Grey Nomads’. Not in any particular order – lifestyle, low cost of living, personal safety, ease of travel – within Vietnam and to neighbouring countries, diversity of experiences on offer, warm climate, decent beaches, and friendly local people – would all rate higher than making money. Most of the Grey Nomads who are teaching in Vietnam are happy if they can cover their everyday costs. I suspect this reflects their ‘stage of life’. Grey Nomads tend to be people with a long work history. Some will have worked like a ‘Trojan’, perhaps even held two jobs at the same time, scrimped and saved, bought, and sold properties, raised children, experienced heartache and suchlike. They’ve done the hard yards for the benefit of themselves, the benefit of others and the benefit of the wider community. Now it’s about ‘me time’. In a nutshell, why is Vietnam a beacon? It has ‘me time’ written all over it.
How are Grey Nomads received by employers (schools)?
Earlier in this article, I inferred that the number of English teaching jobs in Vietnam is greater than the number of suitably qualified people to fill them – many times over. This is the case now, and it has been for the 15 years that I’ve been living and working in Vietnam. Pretty much from the time Vietnam opened up after the devastating war years, the country has experienced economic growth that’s envied around the world. This growth has led to an insatiable demand for English language skills – and qualified, foreign English teachers.
In a ‘job-seekers market’, schools welcome anyone they can get their hands-on, including Grey Nomads, who are qualified to teach English. Consequently, ‘market forces 101’ dictates that Grey Nomads are well-received by schools along with other qualified teachers. Having said this, if a School Principal can choose between Person A – quality TESOL certification, a wise head, even temperament, professionally minded, stable work history, and culturally empathetic – or Person B – dodgy ‘TESOL certificate’, youngster, a bit of an attitude, demanding, fussy, expects ‘top dollar’, almost certainly the decision making process will be short.
I expect we’ll see an unprecedented number of Grey Nomads from all over the world taking on jobs teaching English in Vietnam once it’s possible to travel without restrictions. Almost to a person, the coming wave of Grey Nomad teachers in Vietnam, like those who came before, will have done their ‘homework’, hold quality TESOL certification, and travel abroad for diverse reasons. The principal motivation for those Grey Nomads who take on jobs teaching English in Vietnam will most likely be ‘me time’; it won’t be money. One thing is certain, the next wave of Grey Nomad English teachers in Vietnam will be welcomed with open arms by schools nationwide because of who they are and what they bring to the important work of teaching people things.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the owner of AVSE-TESOL in Australia and Southeast Asia. AVSE-TESOL offers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online – a great pathway for teaching English in Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE) offers an Australian Government accredited and internationally recognised ‘in-class’ TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Holding quality TEFL certification is a prerequisite to teach English in Vietnam and many other countries. While this short article focuses on AVSE’s teacher training programme in Ho Chi Minh City, AVSE offers the same in-class, Australian Government accredited TEFL course in Hanoi and Phnom Penh – and online, if you aren’t able to travel to Vietnam or Cambodia currently.
If you’ve decided to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City, it makes sense to complete your TEFL training in Ho Chi Minh City, your preferred teaching location. It also makes sense to complete your TEFL course at AVSE.
Why Ho Chi Minh City?
By doing your TEFL training in the city where you plan to teach, you’ll be: 1. more accessible to potential employers (schools); 2. in a familiar environment when you land that all-important first teaching job; 3. able to physically check out medium to long term accommodation options, and 4. surrounded by friends from your TEFL course. In addition, you’ll be able to catch up with the trainers and staff at AVSE – folks that you got to know well during your TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City – for guidance and support if the need arises. There are plenty of other reasons why it makes sense to do your TEFL training in Ho Chi Minh City, if that’s where you plan to teach, including:
more ‘Bia Hoi’ joints than you’ll have time to visit in a single lifetime
By any measure, AVSE is the largest TEFL course provider in Vietnam (and Cambodia). They’ve been on the ground in Southeast Asia for more than a decade. Most importantly, AVSE’s TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City is accredited by the Australian Government. As someone who aspires to be a professional educator, accreditation is not an area where you can cut corners.
TEFL at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City is suitable for professionally-minded people over 18 years of age – any country, any background. The TEFL programme at AVSE is also ideal for practising teachers who wish to build upon their skill set or obtain high-level certification as an English as a Second Language (ESL) educator – certification accredited by the Australian Government.
The key goals of AVSE’s TEFL programme are twofold: 1. to uphold professional teaching standards by offering certification that’s government accredited and therefore truly carries international recognition, and 2. to equip aspiring ESL teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their chosen profession. It’s all about providing the certification and hands-on experience central to securing a well-paid English teaching job.
Unashamedly, the TEFL programme at AVSE focuses on the practical dimension of teaching English as a second language in developing countries. Sure, theory is essential, and there’s plenty covered during the course, but knowing how to create an environment where students are ‘chomping at the bit’ to study English is equally important. TEFL training at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City involves a time commitment of 150 hours over four weeks. Trainees need to complete a minimum of 14 hours of practical experience (critically assessed) with ‘real’ Vietnamese English language students engaged in ongoing classes.
‘What about the actual ‘learning environment’ at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City?’ I hear you ask. ‘What about the trainers?’ ‘Will I secure a teaching job once I’ve completed my AVSE TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City?’ These are all fair questions that warrant ‘upfront’, plain-English responses.
AVSE’s TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City is co-located with a fully functioning English Language School. AVSE’s strategic location in Ho Chi Minh City means that TEFL students can complete their teacher training in a real school environment from day one of their study programme. You’ll find all the modern features you’d expect from a quality vocational training institution with a genuine Australian connection – the latest IT, superior teaching resources, air conditioning, designated areas for ‘down-time’ and ample parking for motorbikes. The AVSE building in Ho Chi Minh City is subject to the same occupational health, fire safety and disability access considerations that apply to schools and training centres in Australia, despite being in Vietnam.
While teaching experience is helpful, not all experienced teachers possess the qualifications, skills, and knowledge to be a vocational trainer. Teaching and training are very different activities. To illustrate this point, I’d like you to think about ‘sex’. You can teach people about sex – pregnancy, health risks and suchlike or train people…, I think you get my point. Students who are completing a TEFL course have every right to believe that the person who is taking their course is a certified Trainer in a vocational context. All TEFL Trainers at AVSE possess specialist Vocational Training qualifications and industry experience, mandated by the Australian Government.
Employers (schools) in Ho Chi Minh City have a distinct preference for hiring new teachers who are on the ground and ready to start immediately. By doing your TEFL training ‘in-country’ – and ‘in-city’ at AVSE, you’ll be: 1. ‘Johnny on the spot’ when it comes to employment; and 2. part of the AVSE ‘family’. When point 1 is coupled with point 2, there’s every reason to believe that you’ll be in a decent teaching job in Ho Chi Minh City – that pays market rates, provides for a safe and secure work environment, requires sensible work hours and is with a reputable school – within a matter of days of completing your TEFL course. On top of points 1 and 2, TEFL training at AVSE comes with ‘hands-on’ job help. It’s a commitment that AVSE takes very seriously. The ‘proof is in the pudding’.
In this article, we’ve touched on selected matters about the Australian Government accredited TEFL course at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City. Eligibility, reasons to enrol, course content, learning environment, trainers and job prospects have all been canvassed. If you’d like more information about the Australian Government accredited TEFL programme at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City, reach out to the friendly folks at AVSE today.
About the writer: Peter Goudge has been living and working in Vietnam since 2006. He is the Managing Director and owner of Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE). AVSE has TEFL training schools in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
Feedback from former students is invaluable
This morning, I did some counting and reading to better understand what motivates TEFL course customers. I was surprised to learn that 3,032 students have completed the TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE over the past decade, and 1,007 students have completed the TEFL course at AVSE’s two other locations, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh. While number crunching, I also took the time to re-read many of the ‘end of course’ feedback forms that we’ve kept in safe storage. Some dated back to 2010.
While I’m not a mathematician, feedback from 3,032 TEFL students in Ho Chi Minh City and 1,007 students in Hanoi and Cambodia (combined), is a hefty statistical sample. True, not every student completed a feedback form, and some students didn’t answer every question. Let’s say that 50% of TEFL students fully completed the feedback form – then round the number down – and the total is 2,000. It’s still a good statistical sample, at least from a layperson’s perspective. What was learnt from this ‘good statistical sample’ of feedback forms? In my view, there were three lessons.
Firstly, it seems that I was a scallywag in my teaching days. If you’re a former TEFL student of mine who is reading this blog post, please accept my belated apologies. Yes, my teacher-training style was unconventional. However, I have mellowed with age. I no longer get around with a woman’s wig and a small trumpet.
Secondly, I was taken aback by the similarity of the written responses to the following question: “Why did you enrol in the Australian Government accredited TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City?” Almost to a person, students wrote something akin to: ‘learn how to teach English as a second language’, ‘get a job’. In short, TEFL trainees were telling AVSE that the TEFL course is a ‘means to an end’.
Before revealing my third point, allow me to provide some perspective.
Between 2009 and 2012, a typical 4-week TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE would attract eight to ten students. In more recent times, AVSE has typically offered two TEFL courses a month, running concurrently in Ho Chi Minh City, with an average of 16 students in each class. While AVSE’s TEFL numbers have grown exponentially in Ho Chi Minh City over the years, you could set your clock by the 14 to 16 students enrolled each month in both Hanoi and Phnom Penh. Succinctly, one site has experienced substantial growth, our other two sites consistently cater for a similar number of students, but all three sites offer precisely the same product. Intriguing!
While almost to a person, trainees were telling AVSE in their feedback form that they see the TEFL course as a means to an end – learn a bit and get a job (see above) – the responses related to the choice of destination (city) were strikingly different. It seems that there are ‘pull factors’ at play – ‘word of mouth’, location and climate – that heavily favour Ho Chi Minh City as a TEFL destination over Hanoi and Phnom Penh – my belated point three. This idea is evidenced by AVSE’s own numbers – in Ho Chi Minh City, 3032 students with exponential growth, in Hanoi and Penh Penh (1007 students combined) with numbers that are regular as clockwork. So, let’s drill down on these pull factors.
‘Word of mouth’
One way or another, every foreigner who joins a TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City first heard about the opportunity to do a short course and get a teaching job by ‘word of mouth’, either literally, or via the internet. Word of mouth, in a literal sense, would typically come from a family member, a friend or an acquaintance. In the context of the internet, ‘word of mouth’ would come from a Google search, social media, online reviews, chatting and suchlike.
Ho Chi Minh City is ‘English teaching central’ in Vietnam. There are more schools, more students, more teaching jobs, more teaching vacancies and more teaching-related social media platforms in Ho Chi Minh City compared to Hanoi and Phnom Penh. With more foreigners teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City than in any other city in Vietnam or Cambodia, it follows that there will be more people spreading the good news. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen a classic ‘snowball effect’ playing out with ‘word of mouth’ related to teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City. We haven’t seen the same in Hanoi and Phnom Penh – it may well be a case of ‘watch this space’.
With a population of just under 9 million people, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s commercial hub and international gateway. Ho Chi Minh City is conveniently located in the south of Vietnam. You can travel by bus from the central business district to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, within six hours. Likewise, you can fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, or Indonesia within three hours.
In addition to being Vietnam’s international gateway, Ho Chi Minh City is the transport hub for all domestic travel in the south of the country. Key tourist destinations in the south of Vietnam, including Vung Tau, the Mekong Delta, Phan Thiet, Muine and even Dalat, are a relatively short bus journey away. You can even fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Phu Quoc or Danang within a couple of hours; both are hugely popular with domestic and international tourists.
The ‘knowledge’ aspect of a TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City is undoubtedly important, but the overall ‘TEFL experience’ is multi-faceted. Spending a month with like-minded souls from the 4-corners of the world, finding your way around the back streets of Ho Chi Minh City, taking a bus to an exotic location for the weekend or flying to a neighbouring country for a short trip are all part of a quality TEFL experience – and a ‘pull factor’ that clearly favours Ho Chi Minh City.
Initially, it might seem counter-intuitive to list climate as a pull factor for doing a TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City over Hanoi and Phnom Penh. However, when you scratch a bit below the surface, it’s not counter-intuitive at all; it makes perfect sense.
Ho Chi Minh City has two seasons, the dry season and the wet season. The dry season is characterised by oppressive heat and very little rain. Oppressive heat, high humidity and a daily downpour are the key features of the wet season. In contrast, Hanoi has the classic four seasons and extreme weather events on occasions that are not prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City. When it’s hot in Hanoi, it’s very hot. When it’s cold, it’s very cold. Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City are only 203 kilometres apart, and the two cities have similar latitude and longitude lines. These factors dictate that Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City have a similar weather pattern, although Phnom Penh does present an array of challenging variables. When you add dust, dirt, abject poverty, and poor infrastructure – all commonplace in Phnom Penh – to oppressive heat, high humidity and severe flooding, it’s pretty easy to understand why some folks would choose to stay away.
The weather in Ho Chi Minh City may be hot, but it’s a known quantity. So, you would have ‘built it into the equation’ before leaving home. Moreover, there’s a lot of upsides to hot, predictable weather, 24/7 – socialising with friends late into the evening, getting around in shorts and a t-shirt, flip flops rather than lace-up shoes, pursuing outdoor hobbies, trips to the beach and suchlike. Conversely, the weather in Hanoi and Phnom Penh is far less predictable and can present unwanted challenges.
In this blog post, from a layperson’s perspective, I’ve analysed enrolment numbers and feedback from students who completed AVSE’s TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh over a many of years. The analysis suggests that: 1. most people do the TEFL course at AVSE because they want to know how to teach English as a second language – and get a teaching job; and 2. pull-factors – ‘word of mouth’, location and climate – have driven exponential growth in AVSE’s TEFL programme in Ho Chi Minh City, while student numbers in Hanoi and Phnom have remained relatively stable.
Turning your mind to what motivates paying customers is undoubtedly a good thing.
About the blogger: Peter Goudge is the founder and Managing Director of AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Phnom Penh. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Peter now calls Ho Chi Minh City home. Check out the AVSE-TESOL website: www.avse.edu.vn
Do some ‘taxi homework’ before arriving in Vietnam…
I can say, with my hand on heart, that I’ve heard a taxi-tale from every continent, except Antarctica. I’ve heard some horror stories from ‘globetrotters’ of all ages and backgrounds while going about my business running a TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Equally, I’ve had my own undesirable experiences in several countries, including my native Australia.
Some taxi tales are good news stories, the birth of a baby on the back seat, for example, but most are about situations that travellers dread. We’ve all heard stories, or experienced them first-hand, about getting ripped off, taken to the wrong location, arguments about paying a tip (or surcharge), lecherous cabbies, lead-foot drivers verging on street racing, tailgating, jackrabbit starts, clutch dumps, modified meters, and road rage; the list goes on.
This taxi-related blog post comes with four tips based on ‘coalface’ experience. It’s directed at the 400+ students (annually) who travel to Vietnam from countries near and far to complete the Australian Government accredited TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE. Having said this, three of the four ‘taxi tips’ apply equally to folks who visit Ho Chi Minh City for other purposes.
Avoid privately-owned taxis at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Why? There’s a high chance your experience will result in displeasure for many reasons – aggressive behaviour, an argument about the agreed price, taken to the wrong address and suchlike.
So, let’s assume you’re travelling to Vietnam to complete the TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE, with the view of teaching English after the 4-week study programme concludes. Almost certainly, your first ‘taxi experience’ in Vietnam will be at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City immediately after you exit the airport building. If you choose to travel by taxi from the airport to the AVSE campus or somewhere else, you’ll essentially have two choices – a ‘taxi’ that’s privately owned or a ‘run-of-the-mill’ taxi that’s operated by one of the branded taxi companies.
Distinguishing between the two taxi options can be tricky for a rookie, but there are tell-tale signs. The privately-owned taxis tend to come with aggressive touts, impeccably dressed drivers, vehicles parked in far-off places and zero branding. The importance of branding can’t be over-emphasised; it’s central to personal security. It’s much easier to track down a recalcitrant taxi driver when he (or she) works for a known cab company as distinct from tracking down a person who drives a ‘white Toyota’ or similar like 50% of other drivers on the road. How the service fee is calculated is another telling difference between the two taxi options. Private taxi services tend to set an arbitrary price that’s well above the market rate in the hope that you won’t know any better. People fall for it! The regular taxi services in Ho Chi Minh City charge according to a meter reading. You’ll see the meter clicking over as you travel from Point A to Point B. If the taxi you’re thinking of using doesn’t have a working meter – walk away, it’s that’s simple.
Use Vinasun taxis in Ho Chi Minh City for a trouble-free experience.
If you choose to heed Tip One, you’ll find an ‘everyday’ branded taxi at the airport’s designated taxi rank – turn left when you leave the airport building and walk to the end of the concourse. There are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction. On the way to the designated taxi rank, there’s a good chance that private taxi touts will harass you (see Tip One); it’s best not to engage with them, just keep walking. The taxi touts at Tan Son Nhat Airport are very shrewd. If you engage one of them, it’s not easy to disengage.
Okay, you’ve found the public taxi rank at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are six or so branded taxi companies that want your business. Personally, I use Vinasun taxis in Ho Chi Minh City, or I walk. Why Vinasun? Here’s my response.
From my experience, Vinasun taxis in Ho Chi Minh City are clean, reliable, 100% metered, have decent air-conditioning, you’ll see them everywhere, and the drivers mostly know their way around the city. Vinasun taxi drivers are purposely trained to: 1. be polite to customers; 2. deal with language issues in a professional manner; 3. load and unload baggage; 4. check if anything has been left in the taxi before the passenger disappears into the Ho Chi Minh City crowds, and 5. give the correct change.
There’s a quirky feature about Vinasun that you’ll notice the first time you take a cab ride with them. When a foreigner sits in a Vinasun taxi, seemingly by divine intervention, a recorded message in beautiful English plays, expressing gratitude for choosing Vinasun and wishing the person well during their time in Vietnam. I have heard a few variations of the same message over the years. It’s a nice touch.
In the 10+ years that I’ve been running a TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE, we’ve literally had thousands of students from the four corners of the world go through our programme. Almost to a person, I have recommended Vinasun taxis. I haven’t received a single complaint. Conversely, I’ve heard about mishaps with some of the other taxi companies in Ho Chi Minh City.
Don’t get into any taxi that doesn’t feel right – go with your gut feeling.
Put simply, what I want from a taxi service is to get from point A to point B for a reasonable price, without any surprises. I think most commuters want the same. Certainly, that’s the message I hear from work colleagues, friends, neighbours, students doing the TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at my school and from other folks in my orbit. Before you get into the back seat of any taxi – including a Vinasun cab – make sure it feels right. If it doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it’s not right, so let it go. There are plenty of other taxis in Ho Chi Minh City that will feel right. Classic tell-tale signs that a planned taxi journey may leave you disillusioned, in tears or worse, include:
driver who appears not to listen to your instructions
driver who doesn’t understand where you want to go
dirty exterior or interior
meter present, but the driver wants to negotiate a set price
driver’s body language
driver and a passenger in the cab when you are collected
If you’re enrolled in the TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE, lock in a plan a week or two before your arrival date to be collected from the airport by an AVSE staff member (fee involved).
If you don’t want to be harassed by taxi touts after a long flight or find your way to the public taxi rank at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, arranging for an AVSE staff member to collect you on arrival makes sense. The airport collection service comes with a fee of US $30.00, which covers the return journey for the staff member, your one-way journey to the AVSE campus and up to three hours waiting time in the event your flight is delayed. By any measure, it’s a bargain – and it’s super convenient. You can book the airport collection service by sending an email to the coordinator of your TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City at AVSE.
In this blog post, I’ve noted that: taxi-touts at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City should be avoided; Vinasun cabs are my personal favourite; you should pay attention to your ‘gut feeling’ before getting into the back seat of a taxi, Vinasun or otherwise; and last but not least, there’s always the airport collection service offered by AVSE if you can’t be bothered with taxi-related matters on arrival in Vietnam.
The reality is that all of us are only one dodgy taxi ride away from having a horror taxi tale. Do some taxi homework before you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, and be smart when you’re getting about town. If you follow a few simple ‘rules’ with taxis, there’s a good chance that you’ll be a listener rather than a storyteller when taxi tales are the topic of conversation.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the owner of Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE) in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE has been delivering an Australian Government accredited TEFL course in Ho Chi Minh City and at other locations in Southeast Asia for more than a decade. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn
Teaching English in Vietnam without a degree – Yes or No?
Pretty much on a daily basis at AVSE-TESOL, we’ll receive a phone call or an email from a well-meaning person enquiring if it’s possible to get a job teaching English in Vietnam without a degree. You’ll find plenty of information on the internet about this topic, but a sizable portion of what you discover will be outdated or written by people who have got their facts wrong. This short article aims to provide the current information on the ‘state of play’ in Vietnam for folks without a degree based on ‘coalface’ experience as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and school owner.
Is teaching English in Vietnam without a degree possible? The short answer to this vexed question is ‘yes’, but there’s ‘small print’ that you’d ordinarily associate with travel insurance rather than teaching jobs. ‘Yes’ in the sense that ‘exception to the rule’ and varying interpretations of the rule in a developing country like Vietnam are more prevalent than literal compliance. The crux of the issue is – eligibility for a Work Permit. Keep in mind, an application for a Work Permit must be sponsored by an employer, a school in our line of work. It’s also important to remember that a Work Permit and a visa are not the same thing in Vietnam, they are distinct documents, each with a different purpose.
Expressed in plain-English, the minimum requirement to be granted a Work Permit in Vietnam for the purpose of teaching English is: “……. a degree of associate or higher …….and a certificate in teaching skills”. This gives rise to two questions: 1. what’s an Associate Degree; and 2. what’s a certificate in teaching skills? An ‘Associate Degree’ is commonly used to describe a qualification (typically involving 2 years of study) between a high school certificate and a Bachelor’s Degree. The certificate in teaching skills relates to nationally recognised training (in the country of origin) in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) – TESOL, TEFL or CELTA cetification. Keep in mind that not all TESOL and TEFL courses are the same. You need a course that’s ‘nationally recognised’ in the country of origin. If a course isn’t ‘nationally recognised’, it’s simply not possible for it to be internationally recognised. Courses that are ‘accredited’ by a self-appointed accrediting entity – and there are many – carry zero academic value.
In a literal sense therefore, if you hold post-secondary school certification that involved a time commitment of around 2 years, quality TESOL certification and if you can jump through a few more hoops (certifying documents and suchlike), teaching English in Vietnam without a degree is not only possible, it’s legal. If you hold a degree, it’s ‘plain sailing’. You might also be interested to know that there’s scope for 5 years of documented, relevant, industry-experience to carry the same weight as a degree or an Associate Degree when applying for a Work Permit. Certainly, it’s best to check with qualified experts if you feel you need a definitive answer on where your circumstances fit in the context of a future Work Permit application in Vietnam.
Worst case scenario
Let’s say you didn’t complete high school, you don’t have an Associate Degree, you don’t have a Bachelor’s Degree, you can’t point to 5 years of relevant experience, but you do have quality TESOL Certification that’s accredited by a government. Is teaching English in Vietnam completely out of the question? No, it’s not – see my earlier comment about ‘exception to the rule’. Confronted with circumstances like those, the school that wants to employ you might simply make a plan with the local authority, such is the demand for ESL teachers the length and breadth of Vietnam.
Regardless of your academic history, I’d strongly discourage you from being anything other than impeccably honest with potential employers (schools) about qualifications that you hold or don’t hold as the case may be. In addition to being unprofessional and probably unlawful, straight out lies and embellishment with qualifications in Vietnam can have serious ramifications. It’s best to be upfront and there’s a good chance the school will ‘move mountains’ to ensure that you get the tick of approval from the decision makers.
In this blog post I’ve ‘shined a light’ on issues relevant to teaching English in Vietnam without a degree. The cornerstone of this discussion was eligibility (or otherwise) for a Work Permit. If you hold a degree and quality teaching certification you’ve got every reason to think the Work Permit process will be relatively straight-forward. If you can point to two-years of post-secondary school study (and related certification) or 5 years of relevant industry-experience, it’s possible that you’ll be treated as if you hold a fully-fledged university degree. In the event that you don’t hold a degree, can’t point to two-years of post-secondary school study (and related certification) and can’t point to 5 years of relevant industry-experience, there’s still the possibility that an employer will bat for you with local authorities. For this to occur, you’ll need to have been upfront from the start. There is one aspect that’s not negotiable with Work Permit related documentation. You must have quality TESOL Certification that’s ‘nationally recognised’.
It has probably taken months of painstaking research on your part, but I’m genuinely delighted that Ho Chi Minh City, one of my personal top-three teaching destinations in Southeast Asia, has made your list of ‘definite possibles’. Teaching English abroad is a privilege, regardless of the location, but teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, affords a personal and professional experience like none other. I love the place – and the people. In this blog post, I will touch on employment options & related conditions and where teaching jobs are advertised.
Teaching opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City largely come in six forms (in order of job volume):
English Language Centres (privately owned)
Tertiary institutions, and
Anecdotally, around 90% of people who are new to teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City find their first job at a privately-owned English Language Centre or a government school. Language Centres account for around 60% (of the 90%) of total placements. You will find Language Centres the length and breadth of Vietnam. Teaching jobs in government schools are mostly filled by Language Centres that are contracted to recruit qualified people. Independent recruiters also work in this space, but from first-hand experience, they tend to be quite mercenary. While the net income and the number of hours on offer in Language Centres and government schools are similar (around US $1,700.00 +/- a month x 100 hours +/-), the work conditions can differ markedly.
Here’s some feedback from AVSE-TESOL alumni on Language Centres and government schools:
Teaching hours in a Language Centre are primarily in the evening and over the weekend, whereas hours in a government school are exclusively during the day, Monday to Friday.
Class sizes tend to be substantially smaller at a Language Centre (15 +/-) than a government school, with 40+ students being commonplace.
Language Centres offer a team environment (in most cases) where people take a genuine interest in how each other is doing. In contrast, teaching in a government school typically involves doing your hours and going home with minimal interaction with other foreign teachers and local staff.
While problematic student behaviour rears its head on occasions in both Language Centres and government schools, it seems less prevalent in Language Centres.
Employment conditions in a Language Centre seem to be less stringent than in a government school. There is a ‘flipside’. Language Centres are notorious for expecting foreign teachers to do unpaid, extracurricular work of one type or another.
Support services and teaching resources are more readily available in a Language Centre than in a government school.
English teaching jobs at international schools, companies and tertiary institutions (universities and colleges) in Ho Chi Minh City tend to be the domain of folks who are skilled at networking and have been ‘in the loop’ for an extended period. Having said this, there’s no harm in putting yourself out there. You might be lucky! If you do secure a teaching job at an international school, a company, or a tertiary institution in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be in the ‘premier league’. You can expect a higher hourly rate and, in most cases, substantially better work conditions. Typically, international schools and tertiary institutions pay a monthly salary of well over US $2,000.00 for ‘office-type’ hours. Company classes pay around US $60.00 for a 1.5-hour class. You’d need to get a few companies on board to make a living from company classes only. It’s possible, but a daily commute from Class A to B to C to get the hours you need will require unwavering determination given the oppressive year-round heat, the daily monsoonal downpour during the wet season – and 24/7 traffic congestion.
Private tutoring opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City are readily available, but almost certainly, you’ll need to see two, three or more students at the same time to make it worth your while. Personally, I’ve never gravitated towards private tutoring. Why? Finding private students can be hard work; cancellations at the last minute (without payment) are not uncommon, and the buzz for me just isn’t the same. You may have a different view of the world. It’s certainly worth trying your hand.
Where are teaching jobs advertised?
Teaching jobs in Ho Chi Minh City are advertised in many places, but ‘Facebook Groups’ are clearly the most popular. Simply go to the Facebook search option, type in ‘Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City’, click on the ‘Groups’ option, and 50+ relevant Facebook Groups will show up on your screen. Join the groups that appeal to you and sit back and watch the job vacancies roll in. Here’s a selection of my favourite Facebook Groups for teaching opportunities.
Employers in Ho Chi Minh City, Language Centres and the like, have a distinct preference for engaging teachers who are already on the ground. While there’s no harm in reaching out to employers before you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, don’t be disheartened if a response (or an interview) is not forthcoming. Assuming your credentials stack up, including quality TESOL / TEFL certification, employment applications you submit after you arrive in town will undoubtedly result in more job offers for teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City than you could have imagined.
In this blog post, I’ve touched on issues related to teaching English at Language Centres and government schools in Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve also noted that there are teaching jobs available in Ho Chi Minh City at international schools, companies and tertiary institutions, but you’ll need a bit of luck on your side. As a new person to teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, joining relevant Facebook Groups, and closely monitoring what’s posted is arguably the best way to find that all-important first teaching job. Certainly, that’s the message that I hear from newbies to the teaching profession. Importantly, don’t be disheartened if job applications you submit from abroad don’t even result in a ‘common courtesy’ response. The number of positive responses you’ll receive once you’re physically on the ground in Ho Chi Minh City will more than adequately make up for earlier disappointment.
About the writer:Peter Goudge is the Managing Director and owner of AVSE-TESOL in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE-TESOL delivers an Australian Government accredited TESOL training programme in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phnom Penh and Online for prospective English language teachers. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn Feel free to contact Peter directly with questions about teaching English in Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia; he’d be pleased to help. Here is Peter’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ho Chi Minh City – local people & opportunities…
Let’s wind back the clock to June 2006. We’re seated in a quaint coffee shop. It’s located in a cobblestone laneway off Flinders Street in Melbourne. We’re enjoying a lovely brew on a cold afternoon in the middle of winter. Small talk (and Australian Rules Football) is our thing. For some reason, you ask me: “where will you be in 2021?” I can assure you that the words “teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City” would not have passed my lips.
In a few months from now, I will have clocked up 15 years living and working in Southeast Asia, with Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as my base. Gosh, where has the time gone? How many other foreigners have I seen come and go? Many, but I’m still here for some reason. Digger from Port Macquarie in New South Wales was a terrific mate for the first 10 years, and then he called it quits. I had many laughs – and far too much amber nectar – with Chalky over four or five years in Ho Chi Minh City, then Hanoi, and the grand ‘finale’ in Phnom Penh in November 2019. Old Johnno has been holed up in Phnom Penh for 15 months due to the border restrictions. There were seven Ho Chi Minh City ‘long haulers’ in my immediate circle of mates in January 2020. They’ve all gone, but that’s okay. I see Ho Chi Minh City as my home. I see the school community as ‘extended family’.
So, what’s my fascination with teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City? Am I just an odd bloke who likes things that others detest? I’m referring to lesson plans; the occasional naughty student; working five evenings a week and most weekends; a harsh climate; poor infrastructure; high-density housing; rivers that you can smell a kilometre away; peculiar food items – although, ‘curried goat brain’ comes highly recommended – and infestations of rats, cockroaches and geckos like you won’t see anywhere else on planet earth. It’s not uncommon in Ho Chi Minh City to see a rat that’s the size of a monkey or a cockroach that would be more comfortable in a shoebox than a matchbox. I’m not a fan of rats and cockroaches, but to be completely honest, I could watch geckos strutting their stuff on the ceiling of my bedroom for hours. While I find geckos to be funny little fellows, allow me to share a personal gecko secret. I never wore underwear to bed until that balmy evening in Ho Chi Minh City 14 years ago when I first saw a gecko on my bedroom wall. Underwear at night has been compulsory attire ever since. I figure it’s best to be careful.
Over the past 3,000 years, there have been plenty of people like me who have ventured to Ho Chi Minh City from neighbouring and far-off lands. Whilst it’s comforting to know that I’m not ‘Robinson Crusoe’, I do make a point of occasionally reminding myself that I am a visitor here. It’s not my place to tell local people how to run their country or their life. History is full of stories about entire ‘armies’ that came to Vietnam with their superiority complexes, thought they owned the place and were eventually thrown out on their ear. While I love teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City and the ‘expat lifestyle’ that comes with my work, I won’t outstay my welcome.
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in September 2006, the local people and the opportunities captured my fascination and imagination. Why do I remain in Vietnam after all these years when there’s a comfortable life on offer in my native Australia? The answer is pretty straightforward; the local people and the opportunities still capture my fascination and imagination. On this point, nothing has changed despite the passing of time and good mates coming and going.
My personal experience with local people is that they’re genuinely happy with their ‘lot in life’, despite the harsh climate, poor infrastructure, rats the size of monkeys and other things that most westerners would find intolerable. True, it hasn’t always been like this. Hundreds of thousands of ‘boat people’ are testament that there was a period, not that long ago, when remaining in Vietnam wasn’t an appealing option.
The cornerstone of Vietnamese society has not changed since the glorious Vietnamese hero, King Hung 1, was a lad. It was the family in King Hung’s day, and it’s the family now. In stark contrast, I’m a living example of how western culture has shifted ground to its detriment. If you get fed up with your family in Australia, the UK and elsewhere, no problem, just get a new one. In Melbourne, I always saw myself as a ‘lovely white-picket fence’ kind of chap with family and community as the foundation of a healthy society. I lost the argument in Australia, but time spent in Vietnam has rekindled my faith. Interestingly, the commitment that most Vietnamese people have to their family, in part at least, fuels the demand for foreigners with the qualifications, skills and knowledge to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City and other cities and towns across the nation. How? Vietnamese parents want their kids to have more opportunities than they did, and English skills are pivotal to achieving this goal. There’s an insatiable demand for English language skills. This directly translates into teaching jobs in Vietnam (and Cambodia) for people like me.
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I was AUD $7,500 in debt and 44 years of age. The debt thing is a long story. It’s enough to say that the ‘lovely white picket fence’ was turned into kindling on more than one occasion. Despite previously holding relatively high, elected office and leading the lifestyle that comes with it, I arrived in Vietnam with the ‘backside out of my pants’. In political life, there is one ‘greasy pole’ with a marauding hoard of smart, ambitious people clamouring to get to the top. Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City was my saving grace.
There’s no doubt that time spent working as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City has been a terrific healer. I’ve been afforded opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been available in my homeland. Vietnam essentially gave me the chance to ‘reinvent myself’ for the better. People who know who I am and where I come from might even say that Vietnam has allowed me to ‘find myself’. I’ve relished the opportunity to create things. Despite working at the epicentre of power in Australia for several years, I never had the opportunity or gumption to create anything. Creating new things makes the world a better place, and it does marvels for your self-esteem.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ‘dirty’ on Australia at all, and I have long since forgiven myself (and others) for the difficulties that occurred before I arrived in Vietnam. I love the company of fellow Australians – Digger, Chalky and even old Johnno (on a good day) – and I pine for some time with my elderly parents and other family members in Australia. I miss live Aussie Rules Football, freely expressing opinions on political, and social issues and there’s not much that I wouldn’t do for a paper bag, full to the brim with Aussie ‘dim sims’, fried or steamed, I’m not fussy.
Yep, teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City has been good to me. I’m grateful.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. AVSE-TESOL is the largest provider of TESOL training programmes (Australian Government accredited) for aspiring English language teachers in Vietnam and Cambodia. You can contact Peter directly via email: email@example.com
Ho Chi Minh City – brilliant place for a ‘Gap Year’…
Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE-TESOL) is seeking adventurous folks, 21 years of age (plus), with no upper age limit, who are keen on pursuing a ‘Gap Year’ opportunity teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
What is a ‘gap year’?
In a traditional sense, a gap year is 12-months, before or after tertiary studies, where people do something different to what they’ve been doing – or plan to do in the future. While a gap year comes in all ‘shapes and sizes’, there is one common denominator – ‘me time’. Often referred to as a ‘sabbatical year’, a gap year is about experiencing something new at a particular stage in your life because it feels right. Perhaps you’ve just completed high school, but college or university isn’t on your agenda at the moment. You might be a corporate high-flyer, who is looking for an extended break from the hustle and bustle. You might be a parent who wants to devote more time to your children when they need you most. You might be a retired person who wants to experience life outside your comfort zone. Anybody can take a gap year.
At AVSE-TESOL, we use the expression ‘gap year’ loosely. Your ‘gap year’ might be a ‘gap three months’, a ‘gap six months’ or perhaps even a ‘gap who knows how long’. The decision is yours to make. We’re sufficiently flexible to facilitate paid teaching work in Ho Chi Minh City for a period that meets your needs.
The first step with AVSE-TESOL’s ‘gap year’ initiative involves equipping yourself with the skills, knowledge and internationally recognised certification that’s needed for teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City. Conveniently, AVSE-TESOL offers an in-class, Australian Government accredited TESOL training programme over four weeks in Ho Chi Minh City. While TESOL training at AVSE-TESOL comes with a fee, you’ll be pleased to know that the cost for our ‘in-class’ course includes accommodation for the entirety of the four-week study programme. The price also covers a welcome dinner and drinks on the Saturday evening before the course starts, a bus tour of Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday, all materials and equipment – and the cornerstone of your ‘gap year’ experience, that all-important direct referral to a partner school. If you’re unable to commit to a four-week, in-class TESOL course in Ho Chi Minh City, you have the option of completing exactly the same TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL via online study – before you arrive in Vietnam.
The second step with AVSE-TESOL’s ‘gap year’ initiative involves transitioning from the TESOL programme, in-class or online, to an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching job in Ho Chi Minh City. Post TESOL training, some folks are determined to start teaching immediately. Others choose to spend a week or longer taking in the best of what Ho Chi Minh City (or elsewhere in Vietnam) has to offer before they start a paid teaching job. It’s personal choice; either is absolutely fine.
Teaching jobs in Ho Chi Minh City typically pay a salary of US $17.00 +/- (net) per hour. You can expect to teach 20 to 25 classroom hours a week. When you multiply the hourly rate by the number of hours worked, you will see that a monthly salary of US $1,400.00 +/- (net) is on offer. With the cost of living in Vietnam being much lower than in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, South Africa and many other countries, you can realistically expect to save (after meeting all your living expenses) 40 to 50 percent of your salary without cutting corners. Frankly, I don’t know anybody in my native Australia who can save between US $500.00 to US $700.00 a month working full-time hours, let alone only working 20 to 25 hours a week.
If you’re looking for a ‘gap year’ experience, regardless of your age, background or the specific timeframe – three, six or twelve months, teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City is a great choice. AVSE-TESOL will be by your side every step of the way. There’s no doubt that the TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City involves some ‘heavy lifting’. You’d expect nothing less from an ESL teacher training programme that’s accredited by the Australian Government. Once you’ve completed the TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be working as an English language teacher in no time. You’ll be saving money while living the ‘gap year’ dream. Do it!
About the writer:Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Peter Goudge now calls Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam home. More than a decade ago, Peter Goudge set up the Australia-Vietnam School of English (AVSE). His business interests have grown to include Teacher Training Schools (AVSE-TESOL) in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh.If you’d like more information about teaching English abroad, feel free to reach out to Peter via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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