I know it’s been a while since my last post but getting situated in Hanoi was more work than I anticipated!
As some may already know, most expats living in Southeast Asia take to teaching as their primary gig. Unless you speak Vietnamese or are a musician, artist, or work remotely, there isn’t a lot else. Although I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of teaching kids, having no experience and always supremely hating speaking in front of groups, I knew I’d warm up to it with practice.
My first job was with Ms. Vân’s Outdoor English Club (OEC), which is a pretty sweet gig.
She was a good boss– fair– who really cared about learning outcomes. Having studied abroad in Cambridge University herself, she had good command of English, real expectations, and had a constant stream of ideas. I would meet kids enrolled in the program at local parks, museums, and other outdoor getaways where I’d then lead a mix of games and crafts. The objective was simple: get these kids interacting with and using English in a fun environment, outside of the classroom. For me, this was great because I could build confidence interacting with kids and parents without the pressures associated with a classroom. Despite finding full-time work at a private school a few months later, I’d remain working with Ms. Vân until leaving Vietnam, almost two years later.
While working for OEC for 8-10 hours per weekend was nice, I began to run into some difficulty with the cover classes I’d get all over town.
For those who don’t know what a cover class is, it’s simple. Say you work teaching at a center but are sick. There’s a group set-up and ran by expat teachers; post in the group with the information, lesson plans, and materials, as well as the hourly rate. Boom! Now you, the permanent teacher, have just set up a cover class for another expat. Basically, you’re a substitute. If anybody remembers how we treated substitutes in America, you can maybe see why it isn’t so fun. What I I found was that because of the money involved in English centers and ESL in Vietnam, a lot of centers are at-home, give little regard to true learning outcomes or objectives, and don’t provide the necessary environment for positive outcomes.
Working in “bad” centers can quickly suck the life out of you and cause you to dread going to work.
Because these centers don’t have no concern for learning outcomes as long as the cash keeps coming, I quickly found myself feeling more like a babysitter than a teacher, lacking the framework for success. In Vietnam, they have a name for that: “monkey teachers.” It started to wear me down and eventually developed into a low-grade depression.
In fact, I contemplated taking the meager amount of money I had already saved and continuing on as a backpacker.
I told myself that I would wait it out, keep hunting for a good job– one that cared, regardless of their ability to pay the high wages typical of Hanoi (+20USD/hour). I told myself to ride the waves and reminded myself that life consists of ups and downs; all things arise, exist, then expire.
So, what I did was submit my application to as many centers as I could, refusing to settle until I found one that worked for me. Eventually, I found an English center in Vân Quan, Ha Dong district. My demo lesson went well, the kids and staffed liked me, and the feeling was right– I could see myself working their. After a few weeks, I was offered to take on two more classes.
One year later, I’d find myself there in the capacity as Head Teacher working full-time and earning $25 USD/hour.
Below is a break-down of my biggest expenses:
Rent = 3.125 million VND/month+ 1 million VND for utilities (Roughly $190/month)
Motorbike = 300,000 VND/week or 1.2 million VND/month ($55/month)
Stay tuned for an in-depth breakdown of my costs in each of the four countries I visited.