Dream Scholarship: Janine’s TEFL diary of Hanoi
Posted on 24-08-2017 by Joseph Francis
Our Dream Scholarship winner, Janine, might have dusted off her scholarship in Vietnam and returned home to Manila, but she’s got plenty of TEFL tales to share with us now she’s back. We asked her to keep a photo journal of 10 days of life on the teaching trail in bustling Hanoi. Working there looks darn good if you ask us…(Warning: Photos of Pho might cause unstoppable watering of the mouth).
Day 1 – Job apps and Bun Cha
I have sent out applications through websites and carried on emailing prospective employers – something I started even before I flew to Hanoi. This has proven to be a slow process because I need to personalize each application, but nevertheless I persist.
Meanwhile, I start walking around and familiarizing myself with the community and neighborhood. The architecture in the city is amazing; still reminiscent of the French Colonial era. The city can get crazy during rush hour, though!
I eat at the popular bun cha place (the one where Anthony Bourdain went with President Obama!). It blows me away! I think I might be having bun cha and nem often…
Day 2 – Fine art and job offers
I start the day pretty easy. I have time to go to the Museum of Fine Arts – one of the must-sees in Hanoi.
Then I meet a local teacher and…She offers me an adult phonics teaching job! I am so excited! We meet in one of the most popular coffee chains in Nam: The Cong Ca Phe. This coconut shake coffee was an instant favorite…
I go out for dinner and find a popular place to have bun bo nam bo (beef noodle salad). Vietnamese food is so fresh! I am starting to love it!
Day 3 – More outreach…by moped
I go to drop off my CV in some centers in Tay Ho district. It is a district with a lot of English centers. It is about 20 minutes away from the old quarter. I take my first grab bike to get there! I would never ride a bike in Manila but it’s all about motorbikes here.
I walk around and spend the day looking for more work hours to fill my schedule. I discover West Lake, which looks simply amazing at sunset.
Some of the must tries in Hanoi are the banh buon (rolled rice cakes), cha com (grilled pork noodles), and cha que (baked cinnamon pate). I find this place in the Old Quarter that serves all those mouthwatering dishes, and devour them for dinner after a tiring day. I will surely come back for more!
Day 4 – Ha Long Bay checked off
Work won’t start for another two days, so I decide to go on a day trip to Ha Long Bay. The islets look great. There is a reason that Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO Heritage Site!
An interesting cave was part of the tour…
I got back to the city late at night and found myself by the Hoan Kiem Lake. It looks great in the morning but it stunning (and romantic!) at night.
Day 5 – Frothy coffees, lesson planning, and night markets
I still have a day before work starts. My friend has sent the lesson plan through for my first class, so I decide to get an egg coffee while prepping. I’ve heard that the best coffee place is about 10 minutes away from where I’m staying. It’s called Giang Café. It’s quite a challenge to find, as the doorway is very easy to miss.
Getting a little lost is worth it though, because their egg coffee is just perfect!
And later on…Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are night market days!
Day 6 – First day in work
My first day of work! I am teaching 18-22-year olds.
I reward myself after work with some Jollibee (it’s a popular fast food chain from home)! It proves interesting because their version is quite different from the ones we have in Manila.
I go out for a walk around the Old Quarter at night and see some street shows. It’s great because they are showcasing traditional acts, and people (both locals and tourists) are actually watching and appreciating it.
Day 7 – Sundays in Hanoi
It’s Sunday so I go to church. I don’t attend mass because it’s delivered in Vietnamese. St. Joseph Cathedral is a marvel to behold though.
Day 8 – Certs and more interviews
My TEFL certificate finally arrived! Even though I knew it was coming, this was always going to be a special moment.
Later, I go to Times City for an interview with a Kindergarten school.
I am staying in a hostel, so making friends and meeting people is proving pretty easy. I have a group dinner with some of them and it’s really fun! We had banh mi, a traditional French baguette sandwich. It was so good!
Day 9 – Getting lost in Tay Ho
I go to Tay Ho again for an interview for a private tutoring job. I get a bit lost in the place because it’s a residential area with crazy narrow alleyways that all look the same, not to mention the added problem of not being able to read street signs (they were all in Vietnamese) or ask directions from people I pass on the road.
It turns out okay though because I believe that people really do not get lost, they just find different ways of getting where they are supposed to go! It’s an adventure to learn how to find my way in a foreign place, and I really appreciate having the courage to take risks like this in life.
I get there somehow and it was so worth it too…I got the job!
After my successful interview, I go out to watch a water puppet show and have some authentic pho broth – another Hanoi must!
Day 10 – Lotus Ponds with new pals
Trying out weird food is easy when you are with other people who are also willing to try it out. I got this weird herbal chicken soup. It looked weird but it was tasty!
I reflect on my stay in Vietnam’s capital. I have met the most amazing people in my hostel. It was so wonderful to meet people I never would have met if I didn’t win the scholarship and fly to Hanoi. It was great to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures, and I have learned so much from them. They are all special. Since most of us don’t have work today, we decide to visit the Lotus Pond in Tay Ho. It’s a fitting end to a top 10 days.
After it all, we asked Janine to give use her thoughts on the life of a Filipino TEFL teacher visiting Vietnam. We asked her what problems she faced, and what sort of adventure you can expect when jumping across to this corner of Asia…
Having teaching experience back at home made me feel like I had at least an idea about what I could be doing when I got in Vietnam. Finding a job in Manila was never an issue. I thought that things wouldn’t be that different, since Vietnam is also an Asian country learning English as a foreign language. I had a degree, and my TEFL certificate, so was well prepared.
To be honest though, it was totally different. I had received good and realistic advice and prepping from the TEFL team before I flew out, so I felt a bit more grounded than expected. I did not set any expectations, but simply wanted to make sure that I get experience and the most out of my trip.
Finding jobs for Filipinos didn’t prove too difficult. The problem, however, was that the pay could get pretty low, especially for part-time jobs. I had had job offers even before I flew out but the problem was they were offering about half, or even lower, than what they would pay westerners. It wasn’t fair. The challenge for me was finding a job that offers a fair salary with reasonable work conditions.
Teaching Vietnamese students can be more challenging than teaching back home but it can be a lot more rewarding, too. I taught adult phonics classes and basic conversational English. The lessons were very simple and basic; like the lessons taught to elementary students in the Philippines. However, the language barrier is really an ordeal because sometimes they have absolutely no idea about what you’re saying. That is where your creativity and resourcefulness should come in. I had to keep in mind that they are basic learners, so talking slower, using a lot of gestures, having variety of aids (visual and auditory mostly for adults), and being patient was the key.
For Filipinos who are looking for employment in Vietnam, my advice would be to equip yourself well, do your research, and set your expectations accordingly. When I was job hunting, I was rejected most of the time because they are looking for full-time and long-term workers. Despite that, I have always been honest with my situation with prospective employers, so it was easy for me to deal with being turned away. Never sign contracts if you do not completely know what you are signing up for, know your rights, and never settle for getting paid less.
I guess one of the reasons that most of us have for going abroad is to earn more, so know your worth and always aim for what you deserve. Foreigners teaching in Vietnam get paid at least $15 an hour, and we deserve just the same despite being native Asians. If Filipinos keep on settling for jobs that pay less, we are setting the standards for the rest of us as well. Our market value could get lower and lower.
Be prepared to work really hard and to learn aspects of the local culture. I was riding motor bikes to go around, and I had to familiarize myself with a lot of places. I had to learn basic Vietnamese and learn how to say names of places and read addresses. I was juggling two jobs while trying to have time to go around and enjoy myself. It was nothing like my full-time 7-4 job back home but it was an adventure. I have also met a lot of people from everywhere, all from different backgrounds and cultures, so keeping an open mind is important too.
Something very important to do is to always make sure that your papers are legal and that you are not violating local laws. It is your responsibility for yourself to know and make sure that you are not doing anything illegal or something that can put you to danger and the like.
Vietnam is an amazing country with so much promise. There are so many job opportunities for us there, and if you decide that you want to try your luck, all you need is the confidence to start. Prepare yourself, get a TEFL certificate, get ready to commit to your goals, take risks, and have courage – not to mention fun!
We teamed up with the 2 Monkeys Travel Group to offer the Dream Scholarship to budding teachers from the Philippines back in 2016. After finding Janine the perfect candidate, we flew her out to Hanoi for two months of TEFL adventure. If you’d like to do something similar, be sure to check out our offering of courses.