A New Life In Vietnam – Interview With Jodie Smith
Tell us about your path to TEFL teaching. Was it hard to leave your friends and family and move to Vietnam?
At the beginning of the year, I was in a job I did not enjoy. I could of easily of stayed at this job for many years, but I wasn’t happy and I felt like a robot going through everyday life. I had no idea about TEFL Teaching before I decided I wanted to go traveling but through a little bit of research into how I could travel whilst having a regular income (I didn’t want to spend all my savings), I knew it was something I wanted to do! Leaving my friends and family wasn’t too bad, I know I will see them in the future and I regularly contact them online. My mum even sends me parcels to Vietnam full of clothes and toiletries so it’s like I’ve not even left home.
What was the move to Vietnam like considering you hadn’t traveled abroad previously? Did you have a bit of culture shock?
Moving to Vietnam was fun and different! I was so bored of England and the routine I was in, that moving to southeast Asia was a thrill. I definitely had some culture shock in the first few weeks so I decided to embrace the unusual rather than fight it. Everything is different; the food, the people, the weather but it’s all part of the experience.
How was the orientation in Hanoi?
Orientation week was fun and helped me settle into Vietnam. I met so many people in a short space of time, as well as explore a new city. I loved the support I got from everyone involved in the TEFL Teaching programme, so I used orientation week to organize any problems or worries I had. The teaching training was helpful and I even learned a little bit of Vietnamese although it’s extremely difficult to learn.
We heard you rocked karaoke with Becky during orientation; Was this your favorite part?
Karaoke night was hilarious! At the end of orientation week, we had a goodbye party organized for us that included karaoke! I have never seen so many people into karaoke before! It was a great night and singing with Becky is definitely a highlight in my week. I’ve even been to a few more karaoke nights in Haiphong, and they are the best nights out! Vietnam loves karaoke.
Describe a typical school day since you’ve been in Vietnam.
I start work at 2 pm in a public primary school. When walking into the school gates I get bombarded by tiny cute faces shouting “hello teacher, how are you” wanting to hold my hand as I walk into the staff room. This happens every day and even when I’m tired and struggling to motivate myself to teach in front of 40-60 children, their little faces brighten up your day and lifts your mood instantly.
I teach three 40 minutes public lessons per day then head to a private language center straight after. I get some time before teaching again to grab some dinner and a cafe den (ice black coffee). Private language center lessons are 2 hours long so I can have a lot of fun playing different games and going over the new English vocab. I prefer private language centers because I find that I create more of a relationship with the students as the classes are a lot smaller and I am teaching them for a longer amount of time. I then finish work at 7.30pm and head straight for the shower!
Tell us three things a future teacher in Vietnam should know before they go?
- Young primary school students are the cutest! They will play with your strange coloured hair, run up and hug you, and call you “beautiful”. Most young children (especially in Haiphong) rarely see western people, therefore, get really excited to see you!
- Vietnamese students are very shy on the first couple of lessons you teach. They will be well mannered and quiet but don’t expect that to last as they soon become cheeky and loud once they familiarise themselves with you.
- You will receive stickers, drawings and sometimes even food from the students. Students show their appreciation to their teachers through little drawings they make, or they give you the last of their snack from lunch, or they will give you so many stickers you don’t know where else to put them! It’s really nice to feel appreciated by the students as you feel you are making a difference to their learning.
Describe the fun you have when you’re not in the classroom? Is it true what they say about Vietnam and the amazing nightlife?
When I’m not in the classroom I am often out eating food and having little trips away from Haiphong. Everything is so cheap so it’s fun to go explore on your days off. My favorite place to go is Nimh Binh because of the beautiful location and mix of traditional and western food. If I don’t go away at the weekend, I’ll either be in a beer hall drinking beer that’s less than 50p a beer or in a cinema watching all-new English films.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced on the road to living abroad? How did you overcome them—any advice for our readers/future TEFL adventurers?
Within the first couple of weeks, I got an infected insect bite on my leg. I suppose this was a challenge because although it doesn’t sound like a big deal, it was because of the language barrier and lack of local knowledge. I spent half a day in a hospital with a local teacher translating between myself and doctors. I then had to get my leg cut open and drained and spend the next week on antibiotics. I now have a tiny scar on my leg, but I look back on the experience and see it as a learning curve.
Pushing yourself in these type of situations is life. You can not expect it to seem like a holiday the whole time, you will face some tough times but there is so much support out there willing to help you. Vietnamese people are very friendly and always want to help.
Compared to other countries Vietnam has a little bit of extra paperwork to complete before you arrive. How did you find the legalization process? (eg. Did you feel supported/were you pleased support was available, did you find it daunting?)
The extra paperwork was confusing because I have never legalized a document before. I had no idea what I was doing so I found it stressful at times, thinking I will miss a deadline and not be able to go to Vietnam. Looking back on the process, it was very straightforward I had a lot of support on how to complete the process and once I sent my papers off I received them back very quickly!
It’s nice to know they are solicitor certified now because I do not have to repeat this step again, the process is already complete. Therefore if I wanted to visit other countries where they need legalized documents I just have to do the last step.
Do you have plans once your internship is finished? More English teaching perhaps?
I have fallen in love with Vietnam and teaching and have decided to continue living and working as a full-time TEFL teacher. I plan to move to another location in a Vietnam, hopefully, Da Nang or HCMC, so I am able to continue traveling and exploring. But the plan is to stay for another year and save some money before I return back to the UK.
I am in no rush to go back to England where it costs £5 for a coffee! The quality of living is a lot higher for me in Vietnam so I want to enjoy it whilst I can, and maybe even head to another South East Asian country after Vietnam.