Did you know that November 20th is Teachers’ Day in Vietnam? Yes, that’s right, in Vietnam there’s a whole day set aside each year for students to give thanks to their hard-working teachers and shower them with adoration. Although there's an International Teachers’ Day on October 5th, it isn't really celebrated in the UK, so I think I definitely picked the right country to start teaching in! Here’s a look at our first Teachers’ Day in Vietnam.
Through the early-morning haze, against a backdrop of exhaust fumes, beeping horns and music piped through loud speakers, you can spot the morning exercise crowd gathering around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Shuttlecocks sail back and forth, runners diligently circle the water’s edge, groups of lycra-clad women bust out aerobic moves and bizarrely, couples can be seen practising their waltz. For lack of green space in this city, Hanoians have made the lake into their oasis of calm amid the chaos of life in the Capital.
So, you want to teach English abroad? In that case you’re probably wondering what kind of qualifications you need, which country you should move to and how you’re going to find a job, right? At least, these were the things I was most concerned about when I decided to step into the world of English teaching. One of the first decisions I made was to take not one, but two TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses - here’s why.
No matter which corner of the world you call home or what type of life you lead, we are all constantly moving forward through the pages of our own story; movement is the very essence of life, but this is quite literally true if you’re a traveller. The kind of freedom I experience when we’re on the road facing everyday afresh, often in a brand new place, is exhilarating. I crave that freedom but strangely, I also fear it. A part of me constantly longs for routine, familiarity and the chance to stand still and pause for breath - right now we’re taking the opportunity to do just that here in Hanoi.
When we set off to travel the world in 2013 I never imagined that I’d end up teaching English to five-year-old kids in Vietnam. Back in London I worked as an online writer and continued freelancing during the first six months of our travels through New Zealand, Australia and Asia. I am more used to offices and computer screens than noisy classrooms and the feel of chalk on my fingertips, so just how did I end up here? What's it actually like to teach English in Vietnam?
Built over 1,000 years ago, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is perhaps the most famous, historical area of the city. It certainly seems to attract the most tourists, particularly around Hoan Kiem lake, where you can catch Hanoian’s exercising every morning and evening. We live just a 15 minute walk away from the Old Quarter and go there often, mainly to eat in our favourite cafes or pick up some groceries from one of the delicious French-style bakeries.
When we decided to teach English in Asia we had a lot of decisions to make. Which country did we want to live in? How easily could we find a job? How much money would we make? What qualifications and experience did we need? We wanted to choose a country we felt we'd enjoy living in but with our travel fund running low we also had to consider where we could earn the most money and take into account visa issues.
It was late at night on a quiet Hanoi street (yes, such a thing does exist) and I was learning how to ride a motorbike. As I practised turning in the road Mr Nguyen, who’s renting me my slightly battered 125cc Yamaha for just £25 a month, advised me: “Make sure you use the horn so they know you are a bad driver!” The next comment was just as surprising:
For me, the best and the worst part of travel is moving on. On the one hand, the promise of a fresh adventure and the possibility that I might fall in love with a new corner of the world is what keeps me travelling. On the other, saying goodbye to the places I do love, the people in them and the experiences I’ve had there can be really tough. As we boarded a plane back to Asia after our summer visit to the UK I was wracked with homesickness and nostalgia but I also felt a glimmer of excitement and possibility at the thought of our new lives in Vietnam.