The Vietnamese government is encouraging all young learners, nationwide, to learn English. Progress is being made. Nowadays in small villages and large cities, you will get surrounded by armies of kids all excitedly wanting to have basic conversations with you in English.
As the kids get older they start getting divided into two categories though. The ones who live in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang and the ones who live everywhere else. Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang attract a lot of foreign teachers. The kids in these cities have the opportunity to expand on their rudimentary knowledge of the subject. They can take the subject all the way up to IELTS and Business English
In the smaller, less well-known cities the kids simply do not have the same opportunities to talk to foreigners. Both in school and out of school. I feel companies like Apax are really trying to push foreign teachers into all corners of Vietnam but some of the smaller cities are just not particularly appealing to foreigners.
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Finding Jobs in the Smaller Cities
Over the last 18 months, I have lived in Vinh and Vinh Phuc and spent brief periods of time in Than Hoa and Nam Dinh. It is easy to clump all the tier 2 cities into one group but some are undoubtedly bigger, more lively, cleaner and more developed than others.
Finding jobs in these smaller cities is easy. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh teaching pages, there are always ads for jobs outside the two cities. The schools and language centres in these cities will give anyone a trial period regardless of experience or qualifications. A bit more due diligence by the schools would save them and the teachers time. I taught at the high schools in Nam Dinh. I had no idea what I was doing. It was unfair on the kids.
Living in Vinh Phuc
After problems with MIC (Minh Quang International), getting blacklisted from the country and failing a few probation periods I ended up in Vinh Phuc with Apax. 60 kms away from the capital of Vietnam only but a world apart from Hanoi. It was a small city that had a few merits such as Tam Dao National Park and the quiet roads. In reality, though, the only reason you did not go mad in the city was because of its proximity to Hanoi and the other teachers.
There was virtually no expat community in Vinh Phuc before Apax rolled into town. The company alone took the community from 2 to 20 teachers. In the smaller cities, the teachers you live with are the ones you socialise and work with. You either become a close-knit community or it feels a bit claustrophobic. The frustration is no matter how much you research a city, it is impossible to know if you are going to have chemistry with the other teachers till you have arrived.
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Living in Vinh
Vinh is bigger than Vinh Phuc. There is more to do daily in terms of sports, leisure and night outs. The big disadvantage with Vinh and nearby cities is they are not particularly close to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh or Da Nang.
An American who has lived in the city for 5 years and has a family here, set up an English club. It gives young teenagers and university students an opportunity to have everyday conversations with teachers. Away from the confines of an ESL syllabus which can sometimes be described as bizarre. Clubs like these definitely bridge the gap between the Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Da Nang students and everyone else.
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Racism in the Vietnam ESL Industry
Spend a few minutes on Hanoi Massive and the other teaching pages and you will see a racist agenda by some companies. Some companies favour white skin over any meaningful qualifications or experience. Thankfully at the head office level of Apax, the recruitment company has a progressive mindset. I know the recruitment team and have seen the diverse range of teachers they have trained.
Unfortunately, complications can arise in the individual branches. One of my BMs (branch managers) always wanted to put the blond hair, white-skinned teachers, centre stage at marketing events. Even when from a timetable and experience point of view it made absolutely no sense.
If you are on the receiving end of racism, really try and not be deterred from Vietnam or teaching. Leave your current job and go up the road to another school or language centre. You do not have racist cities and companies. You just have racist BMs and racist vocal parents who force the BMs hand.
In the smaller cities away from the tourist circuit, the locals rarely see foreigners. Maybe the city has a few workers from South Korea, China or Thailand but on the whole, these small cities can be very mono-cultured. That inevitably causes some of this underhanded and blatant racism to thrive.
Pay in the Tier 2 Cities
When I was naive and inexperienced I believed MICs claim that in the smaller cities the pay is less. Please do not be naive and stupid like me. That was one of many red flags I did not notice, telling me that MIC was a company not to be trusted.
In the tier 2 cities, you should be expecting at least $18 an hour. To incentivise teachers to stay in Vinh Phuc for longer, Apax gave a 56,000,000VND bonus if they stayed for 12 months. If you only work 20 hours a week then definitely supplement your income with some online teaching as well. The extra money just allows you to travel further during Christmas and TET Holidays (the Vietnamese equivalent of Chinese New Year).
Housing in Tier 2 Cities
Any job in a tier 2 city should come with housing or a housing allowance. Finding your own accommodation in these smaller cities can be tough. In Vinh Phuc, studio flats did not exist and 2-bed flats were 8 million a month. In Vinh, studio flats cost 6.5 million. Dealing with my Vietnamese landlord in Vinh Phuc was a nightmare. Having conversations about rent, bills and a blown fuse using Google Translate was challenging.
When I worked for Ocean Edu in Than Hoa for 2 weeks they made me pay 150,000VND a night for an extremely average hotel room. If in the tier 2 cities the company is not giving you housing or an allowance then it’s a clear sign to leave.
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When you arrive in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, take a few days, test your feet in the area. Make your mind up for yourself. Are they wild party cities with ample opportunities for work, socialising, making friends and learning Vietnamese culture? Or are they noisy, polluted cesspits overrun by tourists and expats?
If you like Vietnam and hate the two big cities then research the smaller cities. Do a bit of Googling. Do they have gyms, swimming pools, nightclubs and cinemas? Is there a city-specific expat group on Facebook? How lively is the Facebook group? And finally, I wish you good luck on your new adventure!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I am Ross The Explorer. A travel, nature and war history enthusiast who has been on the road for the last 3 years.
After quitting my mind-numbing job I moved to Australia for a year. I camped in the Great Australian Bight, nearly died in Northern Territory and worked at a pub.
After Australia, I was making my way up to Beijing to find work and celebrate the Chinese New Year. Plans changed. I have now been teaching in Vietnam for over 18 months.
Photo Credit: All photos are owned by rosstheexplorer.com with permission to use unless stated.