William Davies might be from Wales, but his sights have been set on destinations far from the United Kingdom. Having taught in both Romania and Vietnam, we were excited to catch up with Will (check out his last interview here) to learn more about his journey towards teaching abroad—and what else he has in store for the future. Read on for some serious inspiration and wanderlust!
Where did you grow up, and where did you go to school? What were the most impactful experiences from your younger years that inspired you to teach English abroad?
I grew up in North Wales and went to Welsh-speaking schools, and I have lived in Wales my entire life (aside from my university and TEFL experiences). I wasn’t much of a traveler and during my time at school, I wouldn’t have ever considered working abroad, however, I grew enormously in my time at university. Funnily enough, what inspired me to teach abroad was a mixture of career uncertainty, and the realization that the opportunities are endless. The opportunity to travel and work simultaneously was too good to turn down.
Your TEFL travels have taken you to Vietnam. What advice do you have for future English teachers considering this beautiful country for teaching abroad?
When I first arrived in Hanoi, I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast to the cultural norms of the UK, from the climate to standard social behavior and countless other aspects. However the crazy yet simultaneously laid-back culture of Vietnam was something I fell in love with, and my advice for future English teachers is to just seize the day and embrace unfamiliarity.
Despite my initial apprehension, I am reaping the rewards of being patient while engulfed in something completely foreign to me. Despite how nervous you may feel, you will surprise yourself with how capable and culturally flexible you are.
What TEFL course(s) did you complete and what were the three most helpful lessons that you learned along the way?
I enrolled in the 168 hour Online TEFL Course which was incredibly helpful, as I was able to balance my work life while studying without either interfering with the other. Even though I had worked in summer camps, I had never led a group of children in a classroom environment. Therefore I needed as much preparation as possible. Modules vary from classroom management to pronunciation and vocabulary and guide you to carefully structure lessons to maximize the student’s development as a result of effective teaching methods.
What has surprised you most about your life abroad?
What surprised me most was how culturally adaptable I am. Although I was overwhelmed by the experience, to begin with, I eased into life in Vietnam as well as I possibly could, so much that I am going back to teach for another academic year. I have tried to learn as much Vietnamese as possible, however, I’ll be modest (or brutally honest) and say my Vietnamese is hilariously woeful.
Despite my gibberish, I have not only got by but have loved being immersed in Vietnamese culture, whether this is down to a developed sense of independence or the helpfulness and friendly nature of the locals.
Not every day of teaching is a walk in the park. Do you have any strategies to share when the TEFL road gets tough? How do you wrangle in wild students, for example?
If you’re dealing with a difficult class, sometimes it’s easier to just remember how natural and easy it is for kids to be distracted, and not to discredit your teaching methods. However, there are many things you can do to influence a student or a class’s behavior. In Hanoi, each of the schools that I have taught utilizes a ‘star system’, where teams are awarded stars for winning games, answering questions, and good behavior.
To say that they abide by the star system would be an understatement – it’s as if they live for these stars made of chalk. I have genuinely never seen students so enthusiastic about something (ever), and you can easily control the class by potentially awarding or even removing stars from a team.
If you were to start over the entire process of teaching abroad, would you change anything? If so, what?
Not at all. This experience has been nothing short of amazing, and quite possibly the most rewarding thing I have ever done. While Vietnam has allowed me to broaden my perspective, my classically awkward social interactions have allowed me to develop (and laugh at myself), and my early doubts have taught me to be patient.
Ultimately, my confidence has developed significantly as a result of exposing myself to new experiences. I have embraced each instance of adversity as much as the memories I’ve created with new friends. Having been put in a position with around 40 other new teachers like myself, I have made many friends that made the experience even more unforgettable.
Will you share a story from Vietnam/your TEFL classroom?
There aren’t specific stories from the schools that stand out, as it’s hard to distinguish one day from another as each day proves to be full of adorable and funny moments created by the children. The reception when you walk into school is amazing, children would run up to me screaming “teacher William!” with enthusiasm and lining up for high fives while others would invite you to play football while chanting about Gareth Bale.
Entering a classroom can be even more heartwarming, as the younger grades attempt to run at you for a hug the moment you walk in, making it impossible for you to begin teaching (whether it’s genuine affection or tactically delaying the lesson, I don’t know).
Thank you for taking the time to share your magnificent stories from Vietnam with the Premier TEFL community. Happy travels!