Hi guys! My name is Adrienne, and I am a January 2018 graduate of the TLH TEFL program in Prague. I absolutely loved my time in Prague, and there are definitely days when I wonder how I could’ve left such a beautiful place. However, after finishing up my certification, I made the move to Hanoi, Vietnam, and despite how difficult aspects of the transition were, I adore my new home and have been having a great time settling in.
Vietnam was never really on my radar until about two years ago. I had just graduated with my Master’s degree and most of my colleagues had taught abroad, many in Southeast Asia and even more in Vietnam specifically. I applied for a job in the United States that had offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; therefore, I spent about 8 months of the year in Nebraska, and the rest of the time in Vietnam. I was particularly in love with Hanoi, and when I decided to move on from that job, I decided I was interested in trying to go back to the city.
I was offered a job teaching in the English department at Hanoi University (HANU), but – as is often the case in Vietnam – there were some unexpected complications with my work permit upon arriving. This was the first and most important lesson I learned about living in Vietnam: flexibility is key. Before this, I was essentially “flexible as long as everything was exactly the way I wanted it,” so this was new and difficult and eye opening for me, but it’s honestly been one of the most important experiences I’ve gone through. Sometimes things are a disaster and no one knows what’s going on and your paperwork is a mess and you aren’t technically employed – have no fear, it will eventually work out!
That being said, I had to find a second job while the university sorted things out, because as it turns out, I don’t love being unemployed and it stresses me out to the maximum to not have an income. I’m now working pretty consistent hours at Doan Thi Diem secondary school, and really enjoying it despite the experience being new to me entirely (most of my experience in the past was with high school students and older). Balancing the secondary school and university hours is tricky, but incredibly worthwhile, and the people I’ve met, both Vietnamese and otherwise, have been caring, supportive, and willing to make my experience memorable and homey. My fellow teachers also always have good snacks and like to teach me new words in Vietnamese, so, all in all, it’s a good deal.
No one has taken down the lights from Tet, but it adds such a nice pop of color to the city!As for the nitty-gritty details: job hunting. Just like anywhere else, there will be periods where you can’t find anything that even remotely resembles real employment, and then there will be periods where you accidentally said yes to four jobs and now you’re working sixty hours a week. Try to find a good balance. As you’re job hunting, there are a couple of resources to keep in mind: The New Hanoian is an online forum that provides a lot of reputable jobs, reviews, recommendations, etc. It’s been around for years and has been really helpful for me! There are also Facebook groups that are extremely popular for job hunting – Hanoi Massive and Hanoi English Teaching Jobs are two of the biggest groups and will provide lots of job listings as well as job seeker profiles. However, these are generally for language centers – if you’re interested in public and private schools (or international schools), definitely apply directly.
The visa situation
The visa and hiring processes are a little different for everyone. Usually hiring in public and private schools consists of a formal interview and a demo lesson, done on two separate days. Language centers are often far less rigid, and many times the interview will be a quick chat about your availability. There are hundreds of language centers around Hanoi, but some are more reputable than others – in general, if you’re working in one of these centers, your hours will be evenings and weekends entirely, whereas a public/private school offers more of a 8-4 pm kind of schedule.
Visas are complicated no matter where you’re from, but they’re definitely manageable and there is good support online (Facebook groups are huge here!). Generally speaking, for language centers and public/private schools, you will need to have your TEFL certificate, degree, police check, and health check notarized and legalized by the US and Vietnamese governments. Sometimes this can be done in-country, but it’s often far more expensive – better to do it before you arrive. Your employer should have guidance about this process as well. If you are working for a university or sometimes an international school, the process is a bit more complex – you will also need to provide notarized letters of reference from all previous employers for the past five years. Again, your employer should be able to help with all of this!
Pay and making ends meet
Once you’re all set up and working, you’ll find that your standard of living is quite nice. The cost of living here is incredibly cheap, and on average, teachers are making between $20-25/hour depending on experience. Street food, local food, local beer, and many Vietnamese products are readily available and extremely affordable. If you’re eating Western food every night and buying a lot of imported goods, your budget might look a little different. It can be difficult to find things that you need here, but luckily at least a thousand people have probably asked the same question on one of the many Facebook groups, so you can usually find what you need (though it’s not always cheap). Depending on your lifestyle, living in Hanoi is definitely manageable and can even be an opportunity to save some money.
Despite how much I love it here, it is worth noting a couple of health things: the air pollution is pretty intense. Hanoi consistently ranks on the “top ten most polluted cities in the world” list, and while it doesn’t necessarily have to stop you from living your everyday life, if you have serious respiratory issues, it is something to consider. Many people are careful by using masks and air purifiers, and that can often help ease the situation. In general, if your health is ok to begin with, you’ll probably find that you don’t notice the pollution until you leave and come back – it’s just a part of living here, although not necessarily a great one.
Everything I love about Vietnam!
The view from Truc Bach lakeFor me, Hanoi was my first experience in Asia. I had travelled pretty extensively in Europe and North America, but never really anywhere else. The first time I explored the city, I was unabashed in the acknowledgement of my own culture shock. It can be a really overwhelming place, especially with the traffic. But I love the tradition of Hanoi, the cultural and historical influences that permeate every aspect of life. I love the food, and the kindness I’ve been offered while I’ve lived here. The language is fascinating, and the community can be really supportive when you find the right people. Every day something new and ridiculous happens, and as with any country, there are highs and lows. But in general, I believe very firmly that Hanoi will give back what you offer – if you are there for the right reasons, the city will be a great experience (and you’ll always be well fed!).