Erin Plum always had three passions in life: teaching, connecting with people, and seeing the world. After completing her degree in 2013, it was time for Erin to combine her passion and truly live her dream life. That’s where Premier TEFL stepped in. Erin left her job and began a new chapter: teaching English in Vietnam. Erin overcame her pre-Vietnam nerves, taught in Asia during a global pandemic, and immersed herself in an entirely different culture. Read Erin’s story to learn how you can do it too and why a TEFL internship is the best introduction to teaching…
Hi Erin, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! I currently live on the East Coast of the US, and I love spending time in nature. I completed my Biology degree in 2013, and since then my career has been mostly centered around education. Before teaching English in Vietnam in 2020, I had spent some time traveling in Europe. I really love learning about and experiencing other cultures, as well as making meaningful connections with the people I meet.
You chose to go on a paid Premier TEFL internship teaching English in Vietnam last year. Could you tell us the reasons behind doing the internship and starting your TEFL journey?
For a couple of years, I had occasionally thought about teaching English internationally. It sounded like a perfect combination of my passions: teaching, connecting with people, and seeing the world. In 2019, I was ready to leave my job and start a new adventure. Within just a few days, I made the decision to apply for an internship teaching English in Vietnam. In hindsight, it was good that I decided so quickly because I didn’t really know how many different things I would have to do in preparation, and I might have reconsidered if I had thought about it longer! I have to say, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
How did you find traveling to this country and the first few weeks you spent there?
I was a bit nervous about the nearly 24-hour trip to Vietnam, but the long flights went smoothly and I was able to get my visa when I arrived. On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I was so excited to see this beautiful country, so different from my home on the other side of the world. During my first week in Vietnam, we had training sessions to prepare us to start teaching. I met over a hundred other teachers from the UK, Ireland, and the US.
I also spent time exploring Hanoi and starting to learn about Vietnamese culture. The following week, about 30 of us moved to the smaller city of Haiphong, where we would be teaching for the next four months. We had a few more days of training, followed by a week off for the Lunar New Year, or Tet. Some of us visited nearby Cat Ba Island to explore, hike, and celebrate the new year with beautiful fireworks.
You happened to be teaching English in Vietnam when the pandemic hit. Can you tell us what impact that had?
Just a couple of days after we started teaching, we heard about the first Covid cases in China. As a precaution, all of the schools in Vietnam closed. Weeks passed and we didn’t know what would happen or whether we would be able to continue teaching, many teachers decided to return home. A few of us chose to stay and wait out the lockdown period in the spring. Vietnam has really done an excellent job handling the pandemic, so schools were able to reopen in May. The school year was extended an extra month, and I was finally able to teach English in schools during the month of June! Meeting and teaching young students in urban and rural schools was very rewarding, though sometimes challenging. It was a great experience to learn that body language, gestures, and joy can be quite effective for communicating across language barriers.
When you did get to explore while teaching English in Vietnam? Where did you go and what places did you enjoy most?
While in Vietnam, I visited Danang’s beautiful beaches and Hoi An’s colorful lanterns and night markets on the central coast. I was able to spend time exploring Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and I visited the Cu Chi Tunnels which were used extensively during the “American War”. I got to see the lush green rice paddies and dramatic limestone formations in Ninh Binh.
Some of my favorite places were Sapa and Ha Giang, in the very north of the country. In Sapa, a lovely local guide took me and my friends trekking through mountains and terraced rice paddies that were cut into the steep hills. We spent a night at a homestay with a wonderful family and shared an amazing meal with them. Then, we spent four days riding on motorbikes to see the incredible mountain scenery along the Ha Giang Loop. Vietnam’s remarkably diverse and unique landscapes are definitely worth a visit!
How did you find meeting new people and adapting to a different culture?
I didn’t really know what to expect as I was prepared for teaching English in Vietnam. I was ready to learn and take everything in when I arrived. Overall, I didn’t find it too challenging to adjust to life in Vietnam. Despite some different attitudes and customs, the kindness of local people and the support and friendship of the other teachers helped me feel at home. Although I didn’t learn to speak the language very well, knowing a few phrases, foods, and numbers helped tremendously. It’s a great feeling to be able to communicate well enough to buy what you need, eat at a restaurant, and interact with taxi and bus drivers.
Exploring local food and customs
I enjoyed exploring the markets where you could buy fruits, veggies, eggs, and live chickens, fish, crabs, snails, and frogs. Some large markets had all kinds of clothing and household items for sale, while some specialized in flowers. I loved trying new fruits that I had never seen before, as well as sampling many kinds of teas, juices, and smoothies. Vietnamese coffee is not for the faint of heart, and neither is riding on a motorbike that’s weaving in and out of city traffic, but that’s part of what makes Vietnam such a special place!
You are currently teaching English online. Have you any tips for fellow freelance TEFL teachers?
I am a teacher with one of the many online TEFL companies. Teaching online is a great way to get experience working with TEFL learners, and many companies provide a curriculum and materials for you, so there’s no pressure to develop your own lesson plans. In order to get hired, you usually have to teach a mock class. I recommend preparing and practicing as much as you can so that you can demonstrate your ability to teach the way the company likes. As long as you have a stable internet connection, you can teach online from anywhere in the world – as long as you are okay with the time zone differences!
I love the flexibility of teaching online, and it seems to be a great fit for many people.
So you studied our 168-hour level 5 course as well as teaching English in Vietnam. How did you come to choose Premier TEFL for both of these big decisions?
Since I was new to TEFL teaching, I hesitated about committing to a year-long internship or job. Premier TEFL’s 4-5 month internship options seemed like an ideal first-time teaching experience for me. Initially, I was signed up for the 120-hour TEFL course, but when I saw that Premier TEFL had an option to upgrade my course to a more rigorous and globally-respected level, I decided that would make more sense for me in the long run. The 168-hour level 5 course was not easy to complete as it requires many essay questions that are meticulously scored, but it’s great to now have this certification for future TEFL or other teaching jobs.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to study a TEFL course, but might be scared about traveling to a new country and getting homesick? Can you reassure them from your own experience in any way?
I think you have to trust your intuition and gut feeling to make a big, life-changing decision like going to teach in a new country. Being so far from home can feel strange, but you aren’t on your own once you get to know other teachers and locals. I have found that anywhere I go can feel like home – it’s really about what you make of the experience and having the confidence to take the first step. Choosing a short-term teaching internship can be a good way to try something new! It’s a unique experience that is different from anything else you will do in life. Being a TEFL teacher is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, meet people from around the world, and share your stories and talents with others.
What’s your favorite phrase or word(s) of the English language?
So difficult to choose one! I’m going to cheat and say that for me, it’s more exciting to learn new words (even “hello”) in other languages because it gives me insight and connection to another culture.
Finally, what does the future hold for Erin?
Hopefully, more teaching and traveling! I will always feel a connection to Vietnam, and I hope to return at some point.