Last year, jaded with life in Sydney and wanting a bit of adventure I enrolled in an English teacher course in Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon as it’s still known. I bought a one-way-ticket to Vietnam and within weeks I had my TESOL certification and had found work as an English teacher in a private kindergarten. The gorgeous little kids couldn’t always answer correctly when I asked them, ‘how are you?’, but they did know how to clearly shout, ‘what the fuck?’ while we were playing games. (It wasn’t me that taught them that, I swear!).
The demand for English teachers here in Vietnam is huge and the pay compared to the cost of living makes it a pretty sweet gig. Since arriving in Vietnam I have had the opportunity to teach kindy kids, primary school kids and adults and many times, I too have wanted to shout, ‘what the fuck?’. I have felt completely out of my depth, had my grammar corrected by 11-year-olds and I’ve been asked by an (adult) student to explain the difference between, ‘sex’ and ‘fucking’. I’ve had to quickly learn grammar and I always need to make sure I have my phone close by to check words because I can’t spell for shit.
I have been an avid reader since I was a kid and I topped English at school but I have never been able to spell. I also mix up left and right and have a bit of a hard time working out which knob turns on which burner a stove top. My sister is exactly the same, so we must have inherited some kind of faulty brain wiring somewhere. I am sure people that can spell words like, ‘February’, ‘restaurant’ and ‘necessarily’ without spell-check must be using some kind of black-magic because I don’t know how else you could do that?
I completed my TESOL in my first few weeks in Saigon. Here I am with fellow students. No matter where I go, or what I do, I am utterly incapable of opening my eyes in photos.
For extra cash, I’ve taken on work covering English classes when the regular teacher is away. The first class I ever covered I walked into a room full of manic pre-schoolers, was handed a microphone and was told to, ‘go on, teach’. No guidance, no resources, no idea what to do. Teaching in Vietnam can be completely chaotic at times and there have been a few cover classes where the school doesn’t seem to have any curriculum or plan at all and they just tell me to just ‘teach anything’. When this happens, I talk with the kids or I’ll draw some deformed looking animals on the blackboard and we all practice saying their names.
Sometimes the kids have maths or science class taught in English here and one day I was asked to sub for a maths class. It was older primary and they were doing long division. I dead-set have not done long-division without a calculator since 1992. I had no idea. None. I asked for volunteers to come and show the working out on the board while I secretly used my phone to check that the answer was correct. Next in their books, was a grid with numbers that I was supposed to explain. I started at the page, blankly. The lovely Vietnamese teacher who was in the room with me explained it to me. I still didn’t understand. In the end, she explained to the kids in Vietnamese while I stood there and felt like a bit of a dill.
My feelings when they ask me to teach the children basic maths.
Once again, incapable of opening my eyes in photos.
ESL teaching can be a lot of fun though, and if you are thinking about teaching English in Vietnam, all I can say is come over and give it a go. Vietnam is booming. It is a land of opportunity right now and Saigon feels like a city where anything can happen. I enjoy teaching English here in Saigon, but what I really like is that I don’t have to work a lot of hours to cover my living costs – leaving me a lot of time to focus on my writing and volunteer with a children’s charity. Dollar for dollar, I earn a lot less than I did in Australia, but time is such a precious resource and Saigon is just so much fun, I’m happy to make the trade right now.
Daily life around my neighbourhood in District Three, Saigon.