Teach English in Vietnam – Paige’s Story

After taking a leap from the comfort of home in Scotland – Paige began her teach abroad journey in Vietnam with TravelBud in February of 2020. Since completing our In-Class TESOL Course + Job Placement Program in Vietnam, Paige has navigated her teach abroad experience with grace and confidence over the past year and a half. Paige has already positively impacted so many of her students and her journey has only just begun. I had a chat with her about why she chose TravelBud, what her teach abroad experience has taught her so far, how she has grown, and much more.

Aubrey: How old are you and where are you originally from?

Paige: I am 25 years old and I am originally from Dunfermline in Scotland! I turned 24 just three days before I came to Vietnam in February 2020.

Paige keeping the energy high in her Kindergarten class

Aubrey: What were you doing before you left to teach abroad in Vietnam?

Paige: I graduated with my Masters’s Degree at Edinburgh University, I then had moved home and was working full-time in a restaurant for six months to save money to go to Vietnam. Before Vietnam, I had been working in the food and retail industry since I was 15 years old, alongside school and university.

Aubrey: What was the catalyst for you to decide you wanted to take the leap?

Paige: I have always wanted to move abroad and experience a new culture first-hand. I went through a break-up and I was ready to do something big for myself and finally achieve my dreams. Recognizing how much of myself I had lost over the previous years was vital for me to push myself to go on this journey of independence.

Paige celebrating Mid Autumn Festival / ” Happy Time” with her little ones

Aubrey: What was the most helpful thing you gained from TravelBud either pre-departure or while in Vietnam? Did the support help you adapt the life in Vietnam initially?

Paige: I did some research and came across the TravelBud website. I knew nothing about companies like TravelBud and I was very scared at first. However, the website was very professional, informative, and inviting. After sending an inquiry I was contacted by the lovely Saskia (TravelBud Support Team Director), who was very reassuring and equally as excited about my new adventure as I was.

Aubrey: Why did you ultimately choose TravelBud?

Paige: Saskia was incredibly helpful and encouraging. She really gave me the confidence to reserve my spot on the teaching course and go through with everything I was strongly considering. Her excitement for my experience removed any doubts or worries I was having. I’m very grateful to her and TravelBud for making my dreams a reality.

Aubrey: Was it easy to make new friends and form a support network in Vietnam?

Paige: Upon arriving in Vietnam I immediately made some friends for life on my TESOL course! (Including you Aubrey, who I am super lucky to say I met and have an incredible bond with, despite being in different countries and time zones now!) I have extremely close bonds with people who are still in Vietnam, as well.

I still occasionally have dinner or lunch with one of our teachers from our TESOL course who everyone fell in love with. She’s from the North of Vietnam but has been living in Saigon for years now!
There’s also a huge ex-pat community out here in Vietnam, so it’s very easy to make friends. The best part is that most of the people who move here to live are of the same mindset as you. We just want to explore the world and experience and appreciate new cultures!

Aubrey: Can you paint us a picture of what your work week looks like at the moment in Vietnam?

Paige: At the moment I am choosing to work a lot more than is actually necessary to sustain myself in Vietnam. The cost of living is very low, for example, you can get a bowl of pho or THE BEST chicken, rice, and vegetables for 25.000vnd (less than £1). I work Monday through Saturday with three different jobs by choice. I’m working on getting my Saturday classes into my weekday schedule so I can have my weekends back to spend traveling. 

Monday-Friday I try to wake up at around 6:00 am (I’m am NOT an early bird). I leave my apartment at 7:00 am and drive my motorbike to work through the organized chaos that is the roads of Saigon. Having a motorbike is one of the most freeing and amazing experiences. I don’t eat breakfast so I usually pick up a cam ép and a sinh tố (orange juice and a smoothie) for 25.000vnd on my ride to work.

Paige wearing a traditional Vietnamese dress called an áo dài on Teacher’s Day at her school. This dress is typically worn to celebrate special occasions!

My full-time job is at a bilingual kindergarten, so I teach children from 16-months to 5 years old. The schedule is: arrive to the screamed greetings of ‘TEACHER TEACHER!’, office hours 7:30-8:30 am and then teaching from 8:30-10:30 am. The Vietnamese nap from 12:00-2:00 pm so I usually join them after eating the school lunch with the children. Sometimes I help to put my 3yr olds to sleep and nap in their classroom with them. If I’m not feeling like napping I’ll go to a restaurant nearby and get some Vietnamese food and a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese coffee and milk) to keep me going for the rest of the day.

Seriously, cà phê sữa đá is like rocket fuel, sometimes I have half in the morning and the rest in the afternoon!

Bringing themes into your classroom is an amazing way to keep students excited and engaged – here Paige and two sweet students are dressed up for “Prince and Princess Day” !

Afternoon classes are 2:00- 4:30pm. The classes at this kindergarten mostly consist of playing games, doing experiments, making art, and cuddles! We have a different theme each month and once a month we have Happy Time, where I and the Vietnamese teachers will make decorations and playing stations that fit the theme. The whole day is spent having fun outdoors with the kids and doing fun challenges. 

 At 5:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I drive to my second job at the language center and teach for 1.5hours. The kids are 10-13 years old and they are HILARIOUS. I love teaching this age because they are able to hold a conversation and they come out with the funniest things. Their humor is heavily influenced by Youtube gaming tutorials and memes.

I have an amazing bond with all my kids but there is something extra special about teaching this age group. When I get to work they all come running and want to ask me a million questions and tell me all about the new toys they bought or something crazy that happened at school. I get home around 8:00 pm and I’ll often pick up some Vietnamese street food on my drive home. 

Paige and her wonderful fellow teacher showing off their stunning áo dài‘s !

At 5:30 am on Saturdays I drive into the city center and teach English Literature at a local university. I love the drive to the university, driving beneath the trees of District 3 when the roads are clear and people are just starting to set up their street food stalls. The classes at the university are 2.5 hours and I have four of them in one day. The hours are supposed to be divided between two days during the week but because of my full-time schedule, I have to teach on Saturday. Working so much on a Saturday is not ideal but I love lecturing at the university. I’m so passionate about literature as it was my major at university and I never thought I would be able to teach at this level without my Ph.D.

This description has all been very work-related but I still have plenty of free time to explore Saigon, go for drinks with friends and eat as many delicious Vietnamese (or top-quality international foods) as I can.

Aubrey: How have you learned to help support your students if they are struggling?

Paige: For me, the most important part of teaching is creating a deep and meaningful connection with my students. If your students trust you and feel safe and loved by you, everything is easier. I know my students will come to me if they are struggling with something – be that classwork or something outside of school. I listen and take the time to explain things to them. I’ll sit with them one-on-one and give examples and create fun activities to practice.

Taking the time to teach your students one-on-one is an amazing way to establish trust and create a bond that fosters a safe and positive learning environment

Aubrey: What was something you were worried about before departing that you ended up overcoming?

Paige: I was worried that I was going to be incredibly homesick. I have a very close relationship with my parents and I have never lived further than 30 minutes away from them. Surprisingly, I haven’t had any culture shock and I only felt homesick once when I had a stomach virus. I never thought I could live this far away from my friends and family at home and still be so content and happy!

Aubrey: What is one story of a memorable/kind/helpful/ funny interaction you had with a student?

Paige: Wow, this is hard because every day with my kids is memorable and funny. I guess one day that sticks out to me would be the day one of my 11yr olds came to me and said he was being bullied at school. I felt so sad for him because he is such a funny, awesome, and super intelligent boy. I told him that this is why other students might be mean to him, because he is so intelligent and great, sometimes other children get a little jealous. I explained that sometimes children who do that are going through something themselves and that it has nothing to do with him or anything he is doing wrong. I listened to him, gave him advice, told him how amazing he is, made him laugh and he gave me the longest hug. We played computer games together after class.

I also love when my language center kids have tests, I always reward them with milk tea and Tom & Jerry. They pull up their chairs as close to the TV as possible and yell things in Vietnamese through mouthfuls of tapioca pearls. Picture 101 Dalmations when the family is all watching Thunderbolt…and you have me and my students.

During your TESOL Course and Cultural Orientation in Vietnam, you will learn cultural etiquette tips to prepare you for your teaching experience – for example, did you know teachers and students may remove their shoes in the classroom?

Aubrey: What opportunities do you feel you’ve had by teaching in Vietnam that you would not have had if you stayed home instead?

Paige: Teaching at the university! Being a lecturer of literature is one of my dreams and without another 4-6 years doing a PhD, I wouldn’t be able to do that in the UK. The literature department at the university was super excited to find a native English speaker with a Master’s Degree in Literature to teach at their university. It’s an incredible experience and my students work so hard. They are the kindest, most appreciative students I have ever come across.

Teacher Paige has grown so much and even chosen to branch out and take on an additional role teaching a uni-level course in Literature proving that there are so many amazing ways to use your Degree! Our teachers are always amazing at finding success outside of life’s usual grooves.

Aubrey: Last, but arguably most important – what is the biggest change or growth you’ve seen in yourself since you embarked on your teach abroad journey?

Paige: So much. I feel like I have matured in so many ways since moving to Vietnam. I’m so much more independent and sure of my own abilities, interests, and views. I feel like I am finding out who I am as a person and identifying the things that are important to me. I think moving away from home at some point in your life is hugely important for personal growth and understanding. I have a much deeper understanding of myself and other people. Moving across the world alone has proved to me that I am capable of doing whatever I have the courage to try. Lockdown has proved that I can learn new skills if I just TRY. You might not like something that you decide to undertake, but you will never know what could happen without exploring those possibilities.

Teaching abroad has been the best decision I have ever made. 

Are you ready to get one step closer to making your teach abroad dreams come true in 2022? If you are inspired by Paige’s story and would like to join our network of incredible teachers please click here to submit your inquiry now.

About Aubrey Van Allen

Filed under  Vietnam • Teacher Diaries 

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