The Pros and Cons of Teaching English in Vietnam

Teaching in Vietnam:

During my time in Vietnam I taught at solely two ESL (English as a Second Language) centers both in Ho Chi Minh City. My first being one of the most popular language center chains in Vietnam called ILA Vietnam, but the particular campus I worked at was in a much more local area called Tan Phu district. My second being one of the most prestigious in Vietnam in a much more modern area in District 7, where I lived, called AEG (American Educational Group) STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) English.

Teaching in Vietnam was actually one of the best experiences of my life. I was there for nearly a year and a half teaching Cambridge (British) English followed by STEAM English which is teaching English through project learning in topics such as science, technology, engineering, art, and math. I did everything from working on a Vietnamese TV show where foreigners tried bizarre local foods to competing in boxing at a local gym called Saigon Sports Club to studying the language enough to get a beginner’s grasp of the pitch-oriented language.

Below are a few of my favorite episodes where I was featured trying live coconut worm, durian, and goat penis and testicles. (Excuse my profane language)

Pro: Some of the great things about teaching in Vietnam are teaching assistants. They are there to help in situations where translation is needed such as with parents or struggling students, assign and grade homework, as well as help with classroom discipline. The responsibilities and quality of the TAs vary by the school and center but it was always a huge help to have them especially with classes exceeding twenty students. I would always try to make it a point to befriend my TAs and let them know we are on the same team and often used the we are like Batman and Robin comparison as a simile. It also helped that I was studying Vietnamese and could do small language exchanges but this wasn’t always the case as certain personalities just don’t mix. That being said, I had other TAs who I consider lifelong friends and still keep in touch with today.

Pro: Grading in Vietnam isn’t nearly as strict compared to more developed countries. When students are struggling or lacking effort their parents are notified, and, at worst, a tutor, normally a teaching assistant, is assigned to give them extra practice. Often times TA’s grade homework while teachers grades exams but will be given a pre-made answer key. Normally, tests will already be created, printed, and prepped by the TAs for the teachers which significantly minimizes prep and planning time.

Pro: A lot of centers will provide simple meals for the staff from full plates of pastries and fruits to just a simple stack of sandwich bread and peanut butter. This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first but when your six hours of teaching in with two more to go you’ll be unbelievably grateful for a peanut butter, banana sandwich.

Pro: Another great perk was never having to buy your own supplies. It was probably the most appreciated privilege I had to be able to give a list to my assistant who would get what I needed and I wouldn’t have to pay a cent.

Con: Probably one of the biggest issues I had with teaching in Vietnam was working with the administrations. My biggest strengths as well as pet peeves are communication, organization, and being pro-active. Often times, the lack of communication irked at me such as waiting for an email response for several days when it’s a time sensitive issue like salary or visas, seeing your manager or director once or twice a week at most, or having students show up with pink eye but you weren’t allowed to send them home because it wasn’t considered a serious illness in Vietnamese culture.

Con: Another equally big issue was the stress and pressure from marketing. Far too often I would have students trying out the school being thrown into the middle of class without any warning. This is not only irritating for the teacher but terrifying half the time for a student to be shoved into a class knowing nobody in a completely new environment. Schools in Vietnam heavily emphasis enrollment and marketing employees are paid almost solely on commission so making the sale was always seen as the main goal, not seeing if the student is a good fit for the program or if their level or age group is appropriate but how can we get their parents to sign their name on the dotted line and cash the check.

Con: A varying issue is bonuses in schools. Generally, typical bonuses should be inward flight and visa reimbursement at the completion of a contract, paid local holidays such as Tet (Vietnamese New Year), a six month completion bonus, and a contract renewal bonus with a potential negotiated raise if you sign up for another year. My latter school offered almost none of these despite having a very high pay for the number of hours worked and this became a significant factor in my deciding to leave them.

Con: Bereavement pay is a seldom thing to receive in Vietnam and in a lot of Asia in general. Typically, it must be an immediate family member so if an aunt, cousin, or grandparent, like in my case, passes away it does not qualify for you to see them. Even worse, is that if any family member is terminally ill it does not count as bereavement pay, they literally are required to be dead. This became a huge issue for me in both of my schools and indefinitely was a big deciding factor in leaving both. My first school I informed then my grandfather had had his second heart attack and was not likely to make it much longer, they literally told me it does not count as sick pay because you are not sick or as bereavement pay because he is still alive so I had to apply for regular personal leave and wait for it to be approved to see him. My second school told me, after he had passed, that I would get bereavement pay but then redacted it because he was not considered an immediate family member. Slaps in the face to say the least. I would typically respond, containing my rage, with how would you feel if the tables were turned and often was met with an avoidance of eye contact as a response.

Getting a job: There are loads of chain languages schools such as ILA Vietnam, Wall Street English, Apollo, VUS and many more. It’s easy to find a job in Vietnam in person or beforehand, which is my preference, the main thing is finding a good fit as far as location, schedule, and teaching style. Even Facebook groups have jobs like wildfire. Simply search “Teaching in Vietnam”, but I should warn you trolls and scams are rampant in almost all of the Vietnam Facebook groups. You’ll see….

Getting a working visa or temporary residence card as of 2018 requires:

  • A background check from your home country
  • A local Vietnamese police check if you’ve been in the country for more than six months
  • A local health check
  • Your original teaching certification
  • Your original degree
  • Then getting your degree and home country’s background check notarized by both your home country’s and Vietnam’s embassy

Your school should help you with all of this but you will pay for it upfront generally until the end of your contract where you will be reimbursed. These can vary slightly by school and the procedure changes a little bit every year but this is generally the basics of the process. Therefore, you will need to bring your original degree and teaching certification with you. It would also be a good idea to get your background check done at home as it’s a much easier process than getting it done abroad.

Salary and saving: I will admit I lived like a king in Vietnam making just under $2000USD before tax which is around 15%. I lived in a neighborhood called Phu My Hung in District Seven and paid $320 for a studio apartment with a bathroom, balcony, plasma TV, and shared washer. I also lived above a local Vietnamese restaurant so every other day I would order local foods from pho to spring rolls to be delivered to my room for a few dollars for a full meal. I ate out almost every meal and was easily able to afford buying bottles of whiskey at a bar every week and still save a few hundred USD every month to travel. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it at times but I felt I needed to move on and find a new adventure because I just wasn’t growing as a person or a teacher but living on a loop of the same shit just a different day.

Generally speaking, a teacher at a language center or public/private school should expect between $1350-$2000+ starting salary before taxes a month based on 20 teaching hours a week while a teacher at an international school should expect upwards of $2000-$4000+ starting salary before taxes as well as a housing allowance or accommodation provided by the school.

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