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EL Asia Pacific: The virtues of Vietnam

Vietnam pic Ho Chi Minh traffic Courtesy M. M

Phil Keegan explains how teaching in Vietnam might not make you rich, but it can offer you a fantastic standard of living in a fascinating country

Teaching English in Vietnam has become increasingly attractive in the last ten years. Until quite recently the majority of EFL teachers in Vietnam were backpackers looking to earn a bit of pocket money while passing through. They had few or no qualifications to teach and usually weren’t particularly interested in teaching as a profession.

However, the situation is now much more professional. For example, I recently took up a position as head of learning experience for Apollo English Vietnam. We currently employ over 300 teachers and have 25 centres throughout Vietnam. All of our teachers have degrees and a teaching certificate. We welcome teachers from all backgrounds and provide solid academic support and many  professional development opportunities.

The Vietnamese understand the importance of learning English in the 21st century and many parents are keen to invest in their children’s future by sending them on English courses from a young age. Apollo aims to do more than teach English. We also promote the idea of global citizenship, the belief that people need not only confidence in communicating effectively in English but also to understand and respect other cultures and peoples and care for the environment.

Teaching Vietnamese students can be very rewarding. Teachers have high status here, and students tend to be respectful and hardworking.

For someone new to Asia, living and working in Vietnam can take a bit of getting used to. The traffic, for example, is quite a challenge. The main mode of transport is the motorbike, mostly small 100–150cc scooter-type bikes. There are millions of them in a constant stream of what first appears to be chaotic competition with each other. No one pays much attention to road rules and crossing the road is initially quite terrifying. But there is a trick to it – you have to walk out into the stream of bikes and taxis, which magically flow around you (as long as you keep a steady pace and don’t stop or turn back). Although it is difficult to see at first, there is a sort of system at work on the roads, and in the weeks I have been here miraculously I have not witnessed a single accident or seen a single incident of road rage.

There is a great food culture here (although there are often items on the menu that are a bit shocking to Western eyes – I won’t elaborate), and in the cities you can get any kind of Western food and drink. For those who are really into nightlife, Saigon is probably the place to be. Hanoi is more sedate but has more of an art and culture feel to it.

As a rule, no one gets rich from teaching, and in some places being a teacher is extremely poorly paid. Trying to live on an EFL salary in London for example is miserable. I looked at job websites to compare the salaries on offer in various places around the world and converted everything to US dollars for convenience sake. In Germany and France salaries seem to be $1,900–2,100 per month, in Poland around $750 and in Italy $1,300–1,500 (net – Ed), which is similar to initial gross salaries in Vietnam, which has a roughly 12 per cent tax rate. In Italy teachers normally make a contribution from their salary for health care, while in Vietnam our teachers are covered for inpatient hospital treatment and can take out their own insurance for outpatient cover.

But how does the quality of life compare on such a salary? I used the cost of living comparison site Numbeo to compare Hanoi and Rome. Consumer prices generally are 43 per cent lower in Hanoi, rent is 55 per cent lower, restaurant prices are 72 per cent lower, groceries 40 per cent lower and taxi fares 90 per cent lower. For wine lovers, not surprisingly, Italy wins easily, with wine costing twice as much in Hanoi as in Rome, and Italians have longer paid holidays than the 26 days a year, including eleven public holidays, that our teachers enjoy.

Apart from that, a salary of around $1,500 per month in Hanoi goes a lot further than it does in Rome and indeed most other European or North American cities, which means teachers can have a good standard of living in Vietnam and save money, as well as getting excellent teaching experience in a fascinating country and culture.

I am grateful to my colleague Sabrina Devitt at Apollo English Vietnam for her suggestions and insights in the writing of this article.

Phil Keegan is head of learning experience at Apollo English Vietnam. He has previously worked as a teacher, teacher trainer and academic manager in the UK, the US, Germany, France, Austria, Turkey, Slovenia and Malaysia. He is a Celta and online Delta tutor and he has published over twenty articles in various teaching journals around the world. He is the author of In My Opinion (2009) which was published by Prolingua Associates in the USA

Pic courtesy: M. M