Learning to Teach English in Hanoi

CELTA Training

I chose a CELTA accreditation for teaching English as a second language (ESL) because it is the highest level of its kind and is accepted all over the world. It is moderated by Cambridge University. You have to apply and have a skype interview, they only accept you if they think you can succeed. In my research I learned that it is a very challenging course that will take every ounce of your energy for the full month that it tIMG_3698akes to complete it. Those reviews were true. You start teaching on the very first day and the work load is intense. It’s also a lot of fun.  My class-mates were from all over the world and our students were eager, young locals that pay a deposit that is fully reimbursed, only if they complete the class.


I chose to do it in Hanoi, because wherever you do your training you can end up with some local connections and Vietnam was where I’d decided to start. That turned out to be a good strategy as I was able to land a job in Danang just 2 weeks after earning my CELTA. I took the training with, and later worked for, Apollo English. http://teachatapollo.com/IMG_3700

The days were full of lecture, tests, practice teaching and weekly papers due. Lunch break was fun, going out and finding new or favorite lunch spots. There was the tofu lady on the street, chicken at a very busy upstairs place and my favorite spring rolls, bahn mi and pho. You have to try hard to spend more than $2 on lunch in Vietnam.

After class, I would walk home via a bakery that had some delicious treats. My favorite were these perfect, tiny, just made eclairs. I’d have one and save a couple as reward for after homework was completed. I frequently had to work until I could not keep my eyes open any more to finish assignments and teaching plans. For the whole month I really only had about 1/2 of Sundays that I could just relax. Any more than a month would have been impossible, however it was rewarding time well spent.

The Students

One of the best things about teaching in Vietnam was the students. Young people are very respectful of adults, and teachers in particular. Vietnamese teachers are very strict so we foreigners with our games and songs could have a lot of fun with such attentive, well-behaved students. Kids go to scIMG_5428hool or tutoring all day, usually 6 days a week. I fell in love with our training students and in the pursuing months of teaching I had very few challenging students. It was so fun to get a group of teenagers to act out scenarios and practice their respective dialog in a way that most American teens would have refused to do. And all the kids love to sing!



If you are interested in teaching English as a second language I suggest you do a lot of research and self-education to find what might work for you. Are you already a teacher? Is this a career path or a shorter term life-experience? Do you need to get paid? What cultures do you want to explore? etc. I would suggest starting at Dave’s ESL Cafe http://www.eslcafe.com. It is full of forums, job listings, lesson ideas as well as living abroad information.

As a final note, I would say if you have the idea to try something like this, Do It! It won’t all be easy, but it will be worth it. Living and working abroad is not for the faint of heart. However, if you’ve got and adventurous spirit, an open mind and dash of tenacity, it will change your life for the better.


Running Away From Home

At the age of 48 I ran away from home. The great recession of 2008 hit me hard.  I lost my business and would eventually lose my home. Everything I had worked so hard for fell flat and then I had to work really hard to take it all apart. I was so stressed I thought might head might explode. It may have been possible to save my house with 3 jobs, but there were no 3 jobs to be had, and that kind of futility is just not my style.

It turns out myIMG_1247 style is to take what little money and credit I had left and buy a ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. I had asked a knowledgeable friend where one should go if they were about to die of stress.  He suggested the island of Koh Phanang on the eastern coast of the Thai peninsula.  I had traveled a fair bit in the past, but never to Asia, so I was game.

 Traveling On My Own

I ended up spending 4 months traveling open ended, overland through southern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and back around through northern Thailand.  It saved my life! I had amazing adventures and a number of life-changing experiences.

One of the life-changing experiences was to do some volunteer teaching in Mae Sot Thailand on the Burmese border. I joined a Canadian friend I’d met in Laos,, who had started the gig and needed some help. We spent about a month teaIMG_2863ching English to refugee kids in the morning and exiled monks in the afternoon.  It was fun, heart wrenching and enlightening. There is a lot more to this story that I look forward to sharing in a future post.

Letting Go

I returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico my home for nearly 30 years.  My house had been rented out and it covered the mortgage, but I had a huge home equity line of credit that was going to come due and no way that I could see out of that. I put the house on the market, but like nearly everyone else, it was under water. It was complicated.

I spent the next 6 months selling a lot of my personal belongings and doing odd jobs. This wasn’t as bad as it may sound as I kept my favorite things and I was truly ready for some downsizing and simplification. One side effect of traveling is that you become acutely aware of how little we really need and how we Americans are drowning in our stuff. I had some nice things to let go of, so I made a little chunk of money.

I also worked on the children’s book I had started while traveling called Elephants Cry and So do I. (I will be self-publishing soon and it will have a blog and web site of its own. Yippe! (update: starquestpress.com)) I was keen to get back to Asia, but would have to figure out how to work while there.

 What about Vietnam, you ask?

After exhaustive research on how to teach English in a foreign country and where one can make enough money to live and travel, I settled on taking a CELTA course (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages) in Hanoi Vietnam.

Update: I started this blog with the title My Year in Vietnam. After writing a few posts I realized that I wanted it to be more generalized about travel. So, that’s why I started the story in Vietnam, even though it’s not where my SE Asia travels began.