If there’s one thing I have always wanted to achieve, it’s completing my TEFL qualification and teaching English abroad. I can now officially tick this goal off my bucket list as I write this from my favourite new café in Hai Phong, Vietnam, where I have been living and working as an ESL teacher since January 2018. Becoming a TEFL teacher was something I’d dreamed of doing the minute I graduated from university in July 2016, but it wasn’t until a year later that I finally gathered the courage to apply for a teaching internship position in Vietnam. The decision to quit my job with minimal savings and no clear plan was a terrifying one, and one which I questioned over and over again before making. I’m currently 4 months into my internship with just one month left to go, and I can now say with complete confidence that it’s a decision I’ll be forever thankful for.
As with any big change, moving to Vietnam hasn’t been without its challenges. There were moments during my orientation week in Hanoi where I seriously doubted my own judgement, and wanted nothing more than to catch the next flight home and admit that I wasn’t as brave as I once thought I was. Preparing to start a new job can be daunting, but the added pressure of living miles away from home – all while navigating new language and cultural barriers – has meant that the experience hasn’t always been plain sailing. Despite this, the trials and tribulations of the internship so far have been thrilling and enlightening in equal measure, and have helped me to become a much happier and more confident person than I’ve ever been before.
Above all, discovering a love for teaching means that my time here often doesn’t feel like work. Despite having no prior teaching experience – initially one of my biggest concerns when submitting my application for the internship – I found myself settling into the role after just a few days on the job. Now, after only 4 months of experience, I am planning to use my TEFL qualification as a means for traveling the world. It has been both challenging and exciting that no two days as an ESL teacher have been the same. I currently teach over 600 students aged 5-45 years old, meaning that my working day can begin with a nursery rhyme and finish with a conversation about the present perfect tense. I can switch from playing vocabulary games with over 40 excitable 8 -year-olds to helping adolescent learners get to grips with English tenses – all within the space of an hour or two. I also teach at three different public schools and one private language centre, meaning that my work environment varies day-to-day. One lesson I may be teaching in an over-crowded room with nothing more than a blackboard, and the next I may have a television, a computer, and an interactive whiteboard to hand. It keeps me on my toes, and has certainly helped me to develop a new-found appreciation for the language learning process.
Teaching in Vietnam has been an adventure, to say the least! Many of the cultural differences I have observed between Vietnam and the UK lie within their respective education systems; Vietnamese schools are vastly different to those I have attended in the UK, especially with regards to class size, structure, and attitudes towards learning. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of walking into my first lesson and seeing no less than 50 faces staring back at me, or for the time my lessons were cancelled due to “harsh” weather conditions (i.e. the temperature falling to just below 10 degrees). There was the time one of my students brought his pet turtle to class in a plastic water bottle, and the day when my classes had to be taught outside –without a blackboard, books or chairs – due to a power cut. Experiences like these, however surreal they may have seemed at the time, are part of the reason I have fallen in love with Vietnam and the dynamism of teaching English as a foreign language.
Not only have I had the opportunity to develop an entirely new set of skills, but I’ve also been lucky enough to meet, teach and work with so many intelligent, creative and driven people during my time here. I currently live with 30 fellow interns from all over England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, America, Australia and South Africa, each with a similar goal in mind: to teach, to travel, and to discover new experiences. We all live together in hotel accommodation organised by our employer, and over the past couple of months have become an extremely tight-knit group of friends. Of course, moving abroad alone has been tough at times, but it has also given me the opportunity to establish friendships with an incredible group of people – many of whom I’m confident will become lifelong friends. This is just one of the many reasons I’m thankful I began my TEFL journey by opting for an internship; it provided the safety net I needed by connecting me with other likeminded individuals, all while giving me the chance – and confidence – to travel independently.
As much as I enjoy teaching, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to my weekends. As an intern I am contracted to work 20 hours a week with at least two consecutive days off, meaning that I’ve had plenty of time to explore Hai Phong – a place I now consider home – and some of northern Vietnam’s most beautiful cities and villages. Places which have been on my bucket list for years are now just a bus ride away, and there hasn’t been a weekend so far where I haven’t ticked off something new. I’ve fallen in love with Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter, enjoyed junk boat trips through Ha Long Bay, ridden motorbikes through Cát Bà Island, swam in waterfalls in Mai Châu, cycled through rice paddies in Ninh Bình, and even flew to Phú Quốc during Lunar New Year for a week of cocktails by the beach. I’m fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to travel so far already, and I’m lucky that there are still so many places and experiences I have to look forward to.
Having been hit by the travel bug, I am also planning to explore more of South East Asia, including southern Vietnam, when my internship finishes next month. I am hoping to visit Bali, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand before flying home, with the intention of finding new places, meeting new people, and figuring out where I’d next like to secure a teaching job. I have loved living in Vietnam, and I am grateful for the many lessons that working abroad – in a culture vastly different to my own – has taught me. I have taken language lessons, participated in Vietnamese traditions, and have learnt to recognise and deal with the sometimes debilitating effects of culture shock. In the space of just 4 months I have become a more adaptable and open-minded person, and have allowed myself to embrace and enjoy new challenges each and every day. It is with this in mind that I look upon future adventures, both at home and away, with excitement rather than unease.
Keep up-to-date with Tyler’s adventures over on Instagram @tylerxhope