Glasgow University Graduate Niamh studied English Literature and Sociology and is now coming to the end of her internship in Hanoi, Vietnam. She is extremely interested in various cultures and how they can differ from each other so vastly – which makes her an ideal TEFL traveler. Read on to hear all about her Phở-nomenal time in Vietnam
Vietnam! You’ve traveled a long way! Tell us about your journey to teaching English in Vietnam? What were you upto prior to your trip?
I graduated from uni last June from a degree that, although incredibly interesting and useful, did not exactly leave me with a long line of prospective employers at my door. I think it’s fair to say that graduating made me a feel a little lost and directionless, and I had an itch to try something completely different. This internship caught my attention because I had always been interested in teaching, and it seemed quite the ‘dive-off-the-deep-end’ experience I’d been craving. I also wanted to branch out – to travel and make my own mark for the first time. This experience has certainly given me ample opportunity to do just that!
You have a really musical background. Tell us about it, and give us some details if you incorporate music into your lessons in Hanoi?
I’ve always been extremely interested in learning about all kinds of music from across the globe. I guess it links to my curiosity about different societies and cultures, and music is often a cool way to find out more about them. I think that traditional Vietnamese folk music is beautiful – though I’m not quite so keen on the karaoke remixes – and it’s been great to see it live (sometimes with dancers too!).
I often bring my guitar into class – the kindergartens look at me like I’m a wizard whenever I play, and it certainly keeps them quiet! I play simple english songs, or sometimes the older kids will request songs they like and I learn it for them for the next week. I find it a super easy and fun way to engage the students, and make the lessons a little more interactive. It’s also so important to vary lessons and keep a mix of media involved to keep English interesting!
How did your friends and family react when you told them you were moving halfway around the globe?
On the whole, everyone was very encouraging and positive about it. I think that everyone who knows me understands that it was the right move for me at the time, and they’re glad to see that I’ve had a great experience out of it. Of course, it has been difficult not seeing good friends and family for a long period, but it’s been such a hectic schedule out here which means you’re constantly distracted from thinking about it too much.
What are two interesting things about Vietnam that the average person wouldn’t know?
- People like to karaoke at all times of day, by themselves, in literally every place imaginable. You see it in front of shops, in back allies, in parks, and you can hear it leaking through open windows of houses 24/7. I think it’s so fantastic – they don’t care in the slightest who sees or hears them, they’re just doing it out of pure enjoyment.
- Everything is cheap cheap cheap here – you can get a very decent Banh Mi (a vietnamese sandwich) for 10,000 Vietnamese Dong, which is approximately 32 pence. And beer is dangerously cheap – there are ‘Bia Hoi’ bars where everyone sits on tiny plastic yellow seats and drinks from cold, sticky glasses that will cost you a steady 5K. To give some context, that’s just over 15 pence in U.K currency. That price can get you into dangerous territory sometimes!
Have you had many challenges throughout your time teaching in Vietnam? How did you overcome them?
There have been so many challenges of this experience, but with each one I think you learn something new and become a little stronger as a result. Teaching such big classes is pretty challenging, especially when you don’t speak their language. But it’s important to modify lessons accordingly, and be creative with activities so that as many kids as possible can be involved and engaged.
Communication can also be difficult – it’s hard to discipline a class when they don’t understand most of what you say. But being vigilant with punishment is important, and finding different disciplinary techniques is key. Sending kids outside, for example, or getting them to stand up for the lesson etc. works well with very little verbal communication.
What have you learned about yourself these last few months?
I think I’ve learned that I’m a lot more resilient than I thought, especially when it comes to change. I’ve found that having to adapt to so many new things in one go can make you a lot stronger, and it feels like you can take on anything!
It has also triggered a strong desire to travel the globe and experience as many cultures as I can. Each one teaches you different things, about alternative ways of living and how the ‘West is Best’ illusion can so easily be refuted.
Whats next for Niamh? Can you see yourself teaching in the future?
This summer I’ll be travelling around South East Asia a little, and will get to see more of beautiful Vietnam along the way. I have a new job in Ho Chi Minh City starting from August, teaching English to students in a University. Hopefully I’ll get to exercise the teaching skills I’ve picked up here in Hanoi and use them in a totally different environment. Irregardless, this experience has definitely given me a whole lot to work with. I’m excited to see where it takes me next!