My Favorite Class on Sundays!

Our First Weeks as ESL Teachers

Before Breada and I ever left on this trip, we had a rough idea of how it was going to go. It was originally supposed to be a round the world trip and we budgeted for about a year, but within the first month that itinerary went up in smoke with our motorbike accident on Koh Lanta. From there it just deviated more and more, to the point where the planned and the reality looked nothing alike. For starters, we only planned on staying in Asia for about 3 months before moving on to India via Singapore Airlines Suites Class, something still very very high up on my travel bucket list. It’s already been nearly 5 months in Asia and we have no plans on leaving any time soon. We love it here, and frankly our money will take us further here than anywhere else in the world. It also gives us time to accomplish one of the many goals of the trip: teach English.

I’ve mentioned it before when talking about our experience working at the Flicks in Phnom Penh, but I’ll say it again: Workaway is an invaluable resource for any long term traveler. It’s how we found our job in Phnom Penh and it’s how we found our current job teaching English in Hanoi. It will also be how we find our next job when we go to Taiwan in a couple weeks, but i’ll save that for a future post.

Workaway

So far we’ve been teaching for just a couple weeks, and unfortunately only have a little less than 2 weeks left before our visa expires and we have to leave the country. We didn’t really know what to expect at first since neither of us have any real teaching experience, but so far we love it and it’s only amplified our desire to settle down in Hanoi and teach full time when we’re ready.

As I mentioned earlier, we got the gig via Workaway, which connects travelers with hosts for short term work in exchange for accommodation and food. Our particular host, Ms. Hay, was very highly rated so she was our first choice when it came time to find a job in Vietnam. Luckily she had an opening at one of her schools on the outskirts of Hanoi, which we gladly accepted.

After 2 months of motorbiking through Vietnam the time came for our Workaway. We met Ms. Hay at the other, more centrally located apartment, known as the VCV flat. The place serves 2 purposes: it’s the apartment for the majority of the Workaway volunteers and it is also the main school at which they teach. Almost immediately after our arrival we jumped into a conversation hour at a coffee shop nearby with some of the students. The students that go to the VCV are mostly in their 20’s. Many have college degrees and work professional jobs, but are still trying to improve on their conversation skills. It was interesting to me the questions they had. Many of the questions involved what Americans do for fun, certain slang, or pop culture, all of which I would certainly prefer to “teach”, rather than grammar and syntax. We had a lot of fun that first day and it was a good way to kick off our next month.

Truth or Dare at the VCV Flat
Truth or Dare at the VCV Flat

After the conversation hour we followed Ms. Hay to our new home on the outskirts of Hanoi. It’s about 12km outside of the city center, which may not sound like a lot but with the traffic in Hanoi it can sometimes take about an hour to get in. Unlike the VCV flat, which is just volunteers, we live with a host family in a local Vietnamese neighborhood. One of our hosts is an administrator at the school and another is a teacher. There’s also Binh, who is 3, and baby Moon who is 5 months old. And I can’t forget about grandma, who stays here now and again to help take care of the baby. She doesn’t speak a lick of English, but she is low key my favorite of the bunch.

Like I mentioned earlier, we spent 2 months traveling around by motorbike before arriving here, but this is a more authentic representation of Vietnam than anywhere else we’ve been. Despite seeing some amazing places, many of them were touristy areas. Here, we are the only westerners in the entire neighborhood. I would even take it a step further and say we are the only non-Vietnamese in the neighborhood. Since we’re so out of place, we’re like rock stars to the kids, both in class and in the neighborhood. I’ve given more high-fives in the last 2 weeks than I have in my entire life. Kids will run up to us out of nowhere and start showing off their English skills. “Hello! How are you!? How old are you!?”

The English School - Hanoi Outskirts
The English School – Hanoi Outskirts

We LOVE teaching. It really has been so much fun and I can’t wait till we finally settle down, get CELTA certified, and begin working full-time somewhere. It doesn’t even feel like work since we play a lot of games with the kids, and that’s the best way for them to learn. The age range we teach is as young as 3 and upwards of about 13, and at those ages you almost have to trick them into thinking they’re not learning by playing games for them to actually learn. The most popular games are Slap The Board and Hangman. With Slap The Board you write a bunch of words (or pictures for the little kids who really can’t read yet) all over the board and you have 2 teams line up single file. Two kids will go head to head and I’ll yell a word out and the first one to slap the word on the board that team gets the point. It gets pretty intense sometimes. I think some of them just like slapping the board as hard as they possibly can. I’m constantly having to rewrite the words since they smudge fast, but it’s all in good fun so I don’t mind. I personally like playing Hangman, since it’s much more quiet than Slap The Board, at least until they figure out what the word is then they’re all screaming at the top of their lungs. When the time comes that I have to leave to go to my next class I can’t walk out of the room without giving a dozen high-fives followed by “Goodbye teacher!” or “Goodbye Antony!”. They can’t pronounce the H so I just call myself Antony.

In the beginning we felt a little isolated. The VCV flat, despite not being far in distance, is about 30 minutes by motorbike so it’s not feasible to go to on a regular basis. That, and and our hosts only speak a little bit of English. We’re pretty much on our own out here, but after the first week or so we’ve come to embrace it. We have our own private room, as opposed to the dorms at the VCV flat. We have great classes that we love going to every day and we love our host family. Also, since we’re so far out we don’t really have much to spend our money on. On days that we’re working I usually spend about $2 a day, and no more than $4-5. Since our lunch and dinner is provided all I really buy is drinks, the occasional banh-mi (we’re regulars with a guy down the street), and some snacks. We’ve single handedly increased the sales of iced tea at this one lady’s store immensely, to the point where as soon as we pull up on the bike she’ll go and pull some out for us. It sucks that as soon as we feel like we’re becoming a part of the community we’re going to have to leave, but we knew that going in so I can’t complain now.

Our Local Banh-Mi Guy.
Our Local Banh-Mi Guy.

Overall I think teaching English is one of the most fun and rewarding things I have ever done in life. We still have many months of travel ahead of us before we settle down to teach full-time, but when the time comes I will be excited for it and can’t wait to see what adventures it will bring us. For now, we’ll just make the best of our last couple of days here on the outskirts and begin planning our next adventures : Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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    • Anna Forlizzi
    • August 22, 2016
    Reply

    Anthony,
    Your post made me smile. As I read it I was envisioning the kids screaming out the answers, laughing and having fun as they learned. I also pictured you smiling & laughing too at their enthusiasm. So rewarding. So much fun! Enjoy!
    Miss you, love you, be safe.
    Mom

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