by Nathan Beyerlein
If you’ve ever searched on TEFL job boards for your next teaching job, the prospect of working in Vietnam has no doubt crossed your mind. You’ve probably wondered, what would it be like to live in such an exotic location? If you’re like me, before I moved here three years ago, the nation’s capital is no doubt shrouded with a certain amount of mystery and intrigue. Beyond the conical hats, busy streets filled with motorbikes and palm trees; Hanoi is an unknown quantity for most English teachers. Let me try and shed some light on this great TEFL location.
Are You Ready for a Life in Hanoi?
One of the most attractive features about Hanoi as an EFL professional is the low cost of living and the relatively high salaries. You can drink beer with the locals at a Bia Hoi and enjoy a beautiful spread with a group of friends having only spent ten to twenty dollars for the whole group. You can have a delicious bowl of pho for lunch or breakfast for a dollar. You can have an hour-long massage for ten dollars or under. You can rent a three-story house with an attractive rooftop overlooking the city for under six hundred dollars a month (imagine how cheap that would be to share with friends or colleagues…). Not saving money in Hanoi is a difficult thing to do.
Anyone who has watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations special about Vietnam knows how attractive the cuisine can be to the foodie in us all. There’s something special about the freshness and creativity of the food in Hanoi that never bores me. My personal favorite is Bun Cha, a sweet rich soup full of grilled pork and ground pork patties that is served with fresh herbs and a mound of thin rice noodles that you dip into the broth. Delicious.
There are a number of things that many find difficult about life in Hanoi and are worth considering. Possibly the most troubling, at least at the onset, is transportation. The easiest way to navigate the fast-paced city is by motorbike. It took me a while before I was ready to get on top of one, but when I did, it became one of the most fun parts of living in Hanoi. You can easily get from one end of the city to the other in thirty minutes.
There are, thankfully, other options. Getting around by bicycle is a good alternative or even hiring a motorbike taxi (xe om) to bring you to your destination. Normal taxis are relatively cheap, but probably not a long-term option. There is also a working bus system, but it does have its drawbacks.
Another daunting aspect of moving to Vietnam is the language. Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language with six different tones! In the early days, you may find yourself asking for a can of something and being delivered a plate of pork if you’re not careful. In general, though it’s a very interesting language to become familiar with. Language tutors are cheap, most people you meet are thrilled when you try and use any Vietnamese and pointing/miming will get you through most of your day to day conveyances.
Getting a Job in Hanoi
The main market in Hanoi is for Young Learners. That’s not to say that adult teaching gigs aren’t available, but very few teachers are not teaching young learners at least part of the time. This is by no means a bad thing, but if you’re a new teacher it does mean that paying a bit extra for a young learner extension to your TEFL course will pay off.
The basic wage is between $20-30 per hour depending on your experience. Generally, there are two options: teaching in the state/private schools of Hanoi or teaching in a language center. Both have their good points and bad points, so make sure that you ask a lot of questions during your job interviews so that you have a clear picture of what the actual teaching will be like. Key questions to ask are about class size, available resources, minimum and maximum hours per week, professional development opportunities and job support.
I’ve included a list of some TEFL employers and job hunting tips in the resource guide below. It often pays to contact the HR department of language institution directly, so I’d recommend taking a look. You can download it for free by clicking on the link below.
The Expat Community: You’re Not Alone
There are thousands of expats that are living and working in Hanoi, so don’t fear to feel isolated. A large portion of expats are teachers like yourself, but more and more varied professionals and NGO workers are coming to Hanoi to work. If you go to a western style cafe, bar or club, you’re sure to meet new friends.
Due to a large number of foreigners in Hanoi, your options are extremely varied. You can eat local for cheap or affordably eat at an upscale restaurant from nearly every nationality. Your nightlife could consist of a few beers with a romantic interest on a bamboo mat overlooking West Lake, sushi and then a rock concert.
There are loads of different social groups, clubs and activities that are run by the expat community and if it doesn’t already exist, getting a group started is usually a fairly simple endeavor. To check out more about what’s happening in Hanoi’s expat community, I encourage you to download the free pdf below full of links to sites and Facebook groups that will get you started.
Hanoi is a City of Many Faces
Hanoi is a great place to live for a few years; it’s large, youthful and growing. There are so many smiling faces out and about every day. So many people living there lives in public so close to one another. If one sits down to have a cup of coffee, one will see a dozen stories pass before their eyes before the cup is finished. Hanoi will definitely expand your mind.
For more information about Hanoi, check out Jimmy Tran’s Hanoi city guide (https://medium.com/on-vietnam-and-being-vietnamese/the-hanoi-city-guide-2014-41f7e044dd95).
Also, I encourage you to click on the link below for a one page PDF with links to useful websites as well as TEFL employers.