A new year, a new destination - well, for a few days at least. After an unimpressive and exhausting Christmas week filled with teaching in Hanoi, we were looking forward to the New Year and the rare four-day weekend it gifted us. To celebrate the start of 2015 we took advantage of our time off work by escaping to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay for some adventure and relaxation.
We’re almost half way through our teaching contracts in Hanoi, Vietnam. In one way it feels like the time here has whizzed by in a blur of lesson planning and noisy classes but in another way it also seems like we've been here for much longer than four months. Isn't that always the case when you stand still in one place for a while?
Being away from home at Christmas time is hard. I’m surprised by how tough it feels because when we lived in England, Christmas wasn’t a big thing for me. In fact, I hated the present-buying culture and although I’d usually have about a week off from work, the stress of driving around the country squeezing in visits to our scattered family usually left me tired and deflated come January. However, after battling through our second Christmas overseas I’m determined to make sure we’re back home to celebrate next year.
We were totally overwhelmed when choosing where to teach in Asia. Should we select a country we'd been to and loved, or go for somewhere completely new? After much debate and research we narrowed down the options to five countries and analysed which one would be best in terms of pay, benefits and working hours - here's what we found out.
Hanoi is a concentrated city, it’s centre in the Old Quarter is a tightly wound sprawl of snaking lanes and shop-lined streets, pavements over-flowing with parked motorbikes, goods spilling out from open-fronted stores and people sat in clusters on tiny stalls drinking coffee and eating from steaming bowls. Zoom out from that area and you’ll find the streets get wider but they’re no less congested; there are bigger, glass-fronted shops, shiny malls and a few lakes and small green spaces to dilute all the steel, glass, stone and smog but you can’t see any mountains or fields off in the distance, the view gives the impression of a never-ending city.
Tuesday morning is the hardest part of my week, I teach four grade one classes in a row and I always finish them half-deafened, exhausted and defeated. For me, the five-year-old kids in these classes are great one-on-one and when I meet them out in the playground, but when they’re packed into a tiny classroom and asked to sit still and be quiet for more than a minute they can be an absolute nightmare. Admittedly, the rest of my week is full of lovely classes so I can’t complain too much, but still, when Tuesdays roll around once more I find myself dreaming of an escape.
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.