Teaching English in Saigon: what it’s actually like

So far, I’ve written blog posts about settling in and studying, but not about actually teaching in Vietnam which is, after all, what I came here to do. I’ve been here nigh on three months now, and have been teaching for about a month, so I feel like I’m finally qualified to talk about life as a TEFL teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.

I work at a private language school on evenings and weekends. Currently, I’m working seven days a week, which I hope won’t go on for too much longer but, at present, I’m grateful for the money. What I have been struggling with a little is the impact it’s had on my social life; as a very social (read: needy) person, spending less time with friends than I’ve become accustomed to required a little adjustment. I’m realising now that I need to make the most of the daytime and arrange small meet ups, like coffee dates, so that I feel like less of a loner.

My school is newly built and very well equipped. Lessons are only forty minutes long and classes are small, so even longer days feel very manageable and seem to fly by! The kids in general are bright and keen to learn (or at least, play language games) which makes teaching very enjoyable. I’ve definitely noticed myself growing in confidence as a teacher over the past month and I certainly get a buzz out of it. Back home, I worked in a job that was stress-free and incredibly easy, but that I didn’t really care about. Teaching, on the other hand, makes me feel good. I love building a rapport with my students and watching them grow, and I experience moments of genuine pride when I see them improving (I use the word “superstar!” a lot).

The downside is that I live in the centre of Saigon and work on the outskirts, meaning a 45-minute commute on the back of a motorbike. The climate here means I usually either arrive to work sweaty or soaking wet (hurrah for rainy season!) and the inaccuracy of Google maps means that before I memorised the route (which took my poor, directionally-challenged self several weeks) I had a fair few instances of Uber drivers getting considerably lost. In fact, one guy got so lost that I was an hour late to work and a frustrated onlooker, having noticed our many laps around the same square mile, told me to ditch my driver and took me the rest of the way (thank goodness for Vietnamese generosity).

There’s also the downside that most schools expect you to put in more hours than you get paid for, be it unpaid training or “workshops”. When you’re being paid by the hour, this extra stuff can feel a little frustrating and I keep having to remind myself that it’s all part of being a grown-up (if I can really call myself that…)

All in all, however, teaching English in Saigon is a pretty good gig. It’s easy to get hired and you earn a high wage compared to the cost of living. There’s a definite upside to being a foreign teacher, too, as the kids immediately like you. Many of them are interested by aspects of the ‘western’ appearance: I’ve been asked several times about my nose piercing and my freckles (“teacher, why you have brown on your face?”). In fact, this isn’t specific to the children- a taxi driver once told me, in reference to my paleness “wow, you glow in the dark!” Teaching here is nothing if not an experience.


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