I worked at TH School, an immersive English speaking school in Hanoi. My experience was that it was much easier to work in than many international schools, where the culture is ‘work you hard, pay you well’. That’s Ok to make a quick buck but it will shorten your life! I think a lot of schools don’t have that balance yet of treating their staff well to get the best out of them, enabling them to provide quality learning experiences for the students. TH School was brand new at the time of me working there and the culture may well have changed since then as leadership has changed.
You’ll find the children are well behaved and there is a culture of valuing teachers. Female teachers are given gifts on Women’s Day. I found many parents didn’t have English but the school always had interpreters available as the admin staff were bilingual. The school reports were always in both languages. My school was owned by a woman known as ‘Madam Chairwoman’ who didn’t have English but treated us very well. Women were often in positions of power – perhaps this is because it’s a communist nation where there’s more workplace equality. The weather is nice, although often humid, just a bit colder in the winter. Pollution can be an issue and there were times when the pollution was so high, the children couldn’t go outside.
Hanoi and Vietnam in General
It’s a very easy place to live, in many ways. There are no clothing or religious restrictions that you would find in the Middle East. The country is very relaxed and accepting of different people. Having said that, they’re not that used to foreigners and they will stop a westerner in the street and want to take a photo with you! Many don’t have English so they don’t ask you, you just have a camera pointed at you and members of the group will jump in the photo holding up two fingers in a peace sign. Yes this happened to me the first day I arrived when I left the apartment and also in the supermarket in the washing powder aisle!
Which brings me onto the next point about the lack of English spoken. Because they don’t have a British colonial history, English is not widely spoken, unlike other nearby Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore. This was something I found hard, like if your debit card is declined in the shop or if you put your bag in a locker in a shop and then the key is lost (yes both of these happened to me) it’s very hard to make yourself understood. Many of my colleagues weren’t bothered at all about the language barrier, they just use gestures and Google Translate.
Hanoi is a nice city with some interesting things to do and some nice scenery. The Old Quarter which is essentially the city centre with many roads of shops with lots of interesting local items and fresh foods. You’ll find the main roads in Hanoi extremely hard to cross! The traffic (mainly motorbikes as they are ridden by everyone) is constant. Many people just walk out into the road and keep going, and the cars and bikes go round them! The roads are so congested, many motorbike riders go up on the pavement. If everyone does it, it becomes the new normal.
Hoa Lo Prison – locally known as The Hanoi Hilton. This prison is now a museum and doesn’t shy away from showing the appalling conditions that these prisoners were kept in.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – you can visit the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh, their most notable historic leader.
The food in Vietnam is amazing! There are many excellent restaurants in the city. Blue Butterfly is a great restaurant serving local food and the not-so-local pizza chain 4P’s is the best pizza I’ve ever had! Notable dishes in Vietnam are the famous pho (pronounced ‘fuh’), which is a noodle soup and the amazing bun cha, a pork noodle dish. I never thought I liked beer, but the Hanoi Beer and Saigon Beer are both *chef’s kiss*.
Places to visit:
Ha Long Bay – Beautiful scenery on the coast where you can take boat trips on the lake, swim and hike.
Ninh Binh – Again, beautiful scenery, you can visit the temple and caves.
Ho Chi Minh City – It’s a flight from Hanoi as it’s in the south of the country. I thought there was more to do and more open to westerners in HCMC. A must-see is the war museum in the city centre, the best museum I’ve ever been to! You can go on a day trip to the Mekong River and to the Cu Chi tunnels (these are quite far out of the city). These are a network of tunnels used to escape from the Americans during the war. I crawled through a 50 metre tunnel, it was quite scary, not helped by the fact I had bare knees.
Da Nang – is on the central-eastern coast and is a port. The skyline is stunning! You can see The Dragon Bridge and explore the Marble Mountains.
To conclude, I would recommend Vietnam as a teaching destination. The lack of English generally spoken was the only thing that I found difficult but there’s amazing travel opportunities inside and outside of Vietnam. The international schools have a lot of money and are able to provide teachers with a generous package and lifestyle. Teachers are valued so I’d definitely recommend this country and South East Asia as good alternatives to the Middle East.