From Journalist to Traveller, to Now ESL Teacher. The Reality of Teaching English in a Foreign Country. 

I’ve had a few followers on social media reach out to me asking about my lifestyle, what teaching English is really like in a foreign country, how I managed to get the job and the work-life balance. So here’s what it’s been like teaching English in a foreign country.

For nearly 6 months I’ve been living and working in the same city in Vietnam. Until this week I hadn’t really ventured out of the city other than going on a 2 day tour of Halong Bay… Although I don’t know if you could call that travelling.
But seeing as it has been around 6 months I’m no longer going to call myself a traveller. Instead, for the time being, let’s stick to the term ‘expat’. I’m a working girl so I think it’s about time I took the upgrade.

I’ve not written on this blog for a while and if you’ve been following me on social media you’ll know that until this week I’d taken a break from the backpacker lifestyle. A break from hopping around from country to country, constantly learning (and forgetting) how to say hello, thank you and goodbye in several languages, jumping from hostel to hostel, complaining about how heavy my backpack is 24/7 and having multiple currencies in my purse at one time, and being forever confused with exchange rates. Although on the plus side to the thing about exchange rates, I’ve become a little bit better with money, counting and all round basic maths.

Back to Hanoi… Although I’ve been stuck in one city, I haven’t stopping leaning about different cultures, stepping into the unknown, meeting new people, making new friends and discovering new places. But like everything good and new it’s been pretty full on!

Hanoi sunsets 😍

So I’ve got a job teaching English, I’ve settled into my second apartment in 3 months (we had a lot of insect / bug / creature problems with the previous place), I’ve learnt how to drive a motorbike, I’m learning how to cook, I’m back on the gym hype trying to get my bikini bod back into shape and best of all, I’ve made some amazing friends that have become more like family.

I’ve had a few followers on social media reach out to me asking about my lifestyle, what teaching English is really like in a foreign country, how I managed to get the job and the work-life balance. So this post is dedicated to all of that. If there’s anything on here you want to know more about, or if you’ve got any other questions please comment in the box at the bottom of the page.

How I got into teaching

When it’s break time they love a bit of Mr Bean

Before coming travelling I already thought about teaching English for a part of my backpacking adventure. The plan was to spend a few weeks to a month teaching English in one of the countries I visited, either paid or voluntary. I wasn’t sure where I would go to teach but I kept the idea in mind. So at the beginning of the year when I was in Thailand I spoke about this to a few people I’d met. They immediately said go to Vietnam. They told me how friendly and welcoming the locals were, how nice the country was as a whole and what sold it to me the most… how incredible the pay was! Just give it a Google if you want to find out about the average pay.
So when my phone got stolen from a bar in Krabi in Thailand, and I was waiting for my replacement to be sent out from England, I spent a week in a hostel banging out assignments for a TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Within 10 days I had completed the 120 hour online course (I’d already completed the bulk of the reading in England before travelling), and had received an email congratulating me on passing the course. It would have been easy for me to teach in Thailand, but I hadn’t come travelling to do that. I was itching to see the rest of SE Asia, so with my teaching English certificate in the bag I continued my travels and kept the idea of work in the back of my mind.
The initial 6 month travel plan was to be in Vietnam for April, so at the start of March I thought I’d contact potential schools & language centres looking for work. Within a few days I’d got interviews lined up and language centres offering me work. So with that I left Cambodia and headed to Vietnam. I wasn’t sure where to go in Vietnam but a friend was in Hanoi at the time and said I should come and check it out, so I did just that.

How to find work

If you’ve got a degree and a teaching certificate it’s really easy to find work out here. I’d say 80% easier than finding a decent paid job in England!

There are the usual job sites you can have a search through, upload your CV and cover letter onto for prospective employers to review. But there are also other ways to find work too. My last job was working as a journalist in television, so for me coming into the teaching profession I had no classroom experience. Fortunately there are several great Facebook pages such as Hanoi Massive Jobs and Hanoi English Teaching Jobs where you can post an ad about yourself looking for work.
It’s great because then employers can directly leave you a comment to get in touch with you to send over your CV, or you can receive private messages from employers with more details about any jobs which may be of interest to you. I landed my first teaching job through the Hanoi Massive Jobs page so I highly recommend using it to put yourself out there.

By 2020, the British Council predict that 2 billion people will be speaking or learning English. In Vietnam the Ministry of Education have launched the National Foreign Language Project 2020 which aims to have most graduates and school students leave with a minimum level of English by 2020. It’s part of a nationwide effort to develop the country’s economy.

What is teaching really like?

I’ll be honest with you, I initially only choose to teach in Vietnam for the great salary, but soon after starting the job I realised I didn’t want to leave. It’s not just the money that’s kept me here, it’s the children I teach, the warm kind and friendliness of the locals and the great friends I’d met along the way.

Like any job you’re going to have good and bad days. For me the good definitely outnumber the bad. I work for a language centre in the afternoon and evenings, from Tuesday to Sunday. It means I usually have the mornings off so I spend this time planning lessons, hanging out with friends or just having some relaxing ‘me’ time. I teach kindergarten levels, so my youngest students are 4 years old.
I’m not going to lie, the age group can be challenging because you’ve got to have so much enthusiasm to keep the students engaged and interested in what their learning. For many of them, it’s also their first time learning English, sitting in a classroom environment and even holding a pencil. So you’ve got to go at a pace which will make them feel comfortable in an environment that’s pretty alien to them.

As the students are so young I’ve got a teaching assistant to translate things they may not understand such as instructions.
Despite the challenges, the job is definitely worth it. When students come in not knowing the alphabet and leave your class being able to say, write and remember letters and words, it’s just the best feeling. Knowing you’ve had a helping hand to enhance their lives and giving the next Vietnamese generation skills that’ll help them succeed in life is incredibly rewarding.

A few of my students with lion masks they had made

The work-life balance

This has got to be the only job I’ve ever had where I’ve felt like I’ve had a work life balance. I only do around 25 hours a week, so that’s probably why but it’s such a nice feeling to have proper time for yourself. Not having to spend your whole weekend getting ‘life admin’ done is the best feeling! I do work weekends but I’ve got a lot of free time during the week that it soon makes up for it.

Afternoon swim before work with friends

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows out here as my Instagram posts probably suggest most of the time. Like anything in life, things go wrong. And for me they have. I’ve encountered many problems and setbacks, but I’ve learnt how to deal with these and curb that anxiety. With the help of my roomie Amanda. In my next blog post we’ll be keeping it real and talking about the problems you don’t see us sharing on social media… SO KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED 👀

Anyway that’s it for me on the teaching front. Like I said earlier, if you want to know anything else just leave me a comment below!

As always thanks for reading.


Current location: Blogging from the top deck of a bus from Sapa to Hanoi.



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