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Where in the world - Teaching in Vietnam

Following on from our Teaching Around the World interviews, our Where in the World? interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we will be speaking to past TESOL graduate about their experience of living and working abroad as an English teacher.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures.

Where in the World is Rob Marsh?

Rob is currently based in Vietnam.

When did you complete the TESOL course?

I completed the course during the first quarter of 2012.

How did you go about looking for your first teaching job?

The demand for native-speaking English teachers in Vietnam is almost overwhelming. When my wife, Janette, and I first moved to Ho Chi Minh City we lived in a furnished apartment. A Japanese resident in the same apartment block approached me and asked me to teach English to his daughter. In other words, my first teaching job came looking for me. After that, I approached some English language schools in Ho Chi Minh City and started ‘spreading the word’ through friends that I was a qualified English teacher looking for work. After a slow start the jobs started to pour in.

Where was your first overseas teaching job? 

This is another story. My wife and I left England many years ago. My first overseas job was teaching English in Zambia. After that, we moved to South Africa, where I again taught English (sometimes as a second language) for about seven years. I gave up English teaching in 1993 because I wanted to devote my time to writing full-time. When I arrived in Vietnam in 2012 I hadn’t taught English for about 18 years, though I had continued to work in the ‘education field – writing training and educational radio programmes, for example. I’d also worked for a number of educational publishing houses and some of my books had been selected as set works by various Provincial Departments of Education. In other words, I was quite ‘comfortable’ teaching English.

Where have you live and worked? How long were you there for?

I taught in England from 1973-76, in Zambia from 1976-1979 and South Africa from 1979-1993. I moved to Vietnam in May 2012. I’m still here and intend to stay for…well, until my wife and I decide to go somewhere else.

Why did you choose to go to Vietnam? 

Janette and I came to Vietnam on holiday in December 2011. Through a series of serendipitous circumstances she was offered a job. (Janette was a senior executive in the cosmetic industry). We wanted to leave South Africa and have an ‘adventure’ so we jumped at the chance of moving to Vietnam. Again, we didn’t so much choose the country as the country chose us!


Saigon Pearl: View of the city

What was it like to teach in Vietnam? 

I like Vietnam very much. The people are warm and friendly and there is virtually no violent crime so it’s very safe to travel around – day or night. Getting work as an English teacher has proved very easy. It has helped that I’m properly qualified and experienced, but being a native English speaker sometimes seems to be the most important qualification I possess. I understand that the average monthly salary for a Vietnamese living in a city is around $250-$300 per month. Average salaries are less in the country. I teach privately – I have an office in our apartment (a converted bedroom) where I teach, and I also go to my clients’ houses or businesses – and earn around $2 500 per month. (I charge $20 -$25 per hour, plus taxi fare when appropriate.) I shall be working for the British International School for three months, replacing a teacher who is going on maternity leave, where I shall earn just under $4 000 a month, plus some private work. You will not get rich as a teacher, but you will be able to eat! I’ve had no problems getting visas etc. because I have a Vietnamese friend who arranges everything for me. At the moment, for example, I have a two-year multi-entry visa. I have a motorbike to get around – like every Vietnamese! - but sometimes use taxis also. Taxis are cheap and convenient.

I also write for a Vietnamese English language magazine called Word. So far, I’ve written a 10-part crime series – one episode per month – and a trilogy of short stories about women who kill. Interestingly, I was published in Vietnam before I got my first teaching job here. At the moment I’m talking to the Editor/owner of Word about the magazine starting a children’s section. 


Rob and his beautiful wife Janette on their motorcycle

What school/organisation did you work for? What kinds of students did you have to teach? 

I have a wide variety of clients from a six-year-old boy to captains of industry. I also teach at the University of Transport in Ho Chi Minh City. At the moment I have to turn down clients because I don’t have any more teaching time. The students are eager and enthusiastic. In most cases, it’s a pleasure to teach them.


How did the TESOL course prepare you for your first job as a language teacher?

The TESOL course was very valuable. It ‘reintroduced’ me to the world of English language teaching and helped me identify the kind of materials I would need for this kind of teaching. I bought some Headway series – the elementary, intermediate and advanced courses – and brought them with me. They have proved to be a godsend!

What is it like to live in Vietnam? 

As I’ve already said, Vietnam is a wonderful country, but nowhere is perfect. The people are lovely, but the climate in Ho Chi Minh City can be testing because it’s so hot and humid all year round. There are many cultural differences, but nothing that causes any kind of problem. One just tries to fit in. You can pretty much get anything you want here, but you may have to search around. For example, getting a ‘proper’, certified crash helmet was difficult, but we got what we wanted in the end. The worst thing is that Janette and I don’t like Vietnamese food. Fortunately, we can get the food we like, though again, one has to find the places that sell what you want to buy. At first, this kind of ‘searching’ can be time-consuming.


View of Rob and Janette’s apartment

What did you love/hate about Vietnam?

What do we love? The people, the noise, the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.

What do we hate? Nothing. The pollution can be trying and the taxi drivers can be frustrating sometimes because they don’t know where they’re going. The Vietnamese have, what I describe as a kind of child-like innocence and joyfulness that is very refreshing. Occasionally, however, the same traits can make them ‘challenging’ to work with.

Can you tell us about a funny/embarrassing/interesting experience that you had in Vietnam?

As I mentioned, my wife and I don’t care for Vietnamese food. Our aversion was confirmed when we were invited to the ground-breaking ceremony for a wine farm on a property about four hours’ drive north of Ho Chi Minh City. We stayed at a Vietnamese hotel whose specialty was grilled sand lizard! That was a warning, I suspect. For dinner one evening the traditional large bowl of pho (pronounced ‘far’) was placed in the centre of the table. (Pho is a kind of watery soup usually containing noodles and an assortment of beef or chicken, plus various herbs.) When the pho was bubbling away, the waitress appeared with four small quail’s eggs which she cracked and opened so she could dump four fully-formed fledglings into the mix. I’ll stick to bread and water, thank you.

Would you recommend Vietnam to other EFL teachers?

Yes.


A floating market

What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of teaching in Vietnam? 

Come to Vietnam. You’ll get work, and probably lots of it, but you won’t make a fortune. Nevertheless, it will certainly be interesting.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment we don’t really have a plan. I am intending to write my next novel here. (My last novel, Beasts of Prey (Human & Rousseau) concerned the illegal trade in endangered species. My next book will be about the Vietnamese end of the trade - rhino horn poaching in particular. Other than that, ask me next year. Visit: www.africacrime-mystery.co.za 


The Reunification Palace – Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnam War officially ended
when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates on 4 April, 1975