As the newest member of the TravelBud team, Aubrey Van Allen is a former English teacher in Vietnam. She’s recently returned from her adventure abroad and we sat down with her to hear a little about her life and experience in Vietnam.
Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Connecticut. I lived and went to college in New York City for 4 years and then lived in LA for the past 2.5 years.
What were you doing before you decided to teach in Vietnam?
Before I decided to teach in Vietnam I was living in Los Angeles and working in hospitality.
I worked in a hotel in Hollywood and then most recently was working as an operations manager of 23 Airbnb’s in LA.
Had you travelled much before you left to Vietnam?
Before I went to Vietnam I had traveled a bit. I studied abroad in college in Gold Coast, Australia and was lucky enough to see so much including camping and hiking through the Outback.
The year before I applied to teach English in Vietnam I had visited Thailand where my sister was studying abroad at the time.
While there we visited Vietnam together for the first time. I have also visited Dubai, Jamaica, Mexico and Turks and Caicos.
How much research did you do about teaching English abroad prior to deciding to teach?
I am the type of person who loves change. So once I have my mind set on needing a change I never ignore it. I truly did not know much about teaching abroad whatsoever.
I was sitting outside in LA one day and I wrote a note on my phone that said: “next year I will be paid to travel”. I wasn’t sure how it would happen but once I wrote that I could feel it becoming my reality.
I began researching yoga teacher certifications in south-east Asia and other random opportunities. Truly I can’t remember how I ended up searching to teach English abroad – but I know it wasn’t by accident.
Why did you choose TravelBud?
On a very surface level, I initially was drawn to the TravelBud website because it felt relatable, fresh and clear. It was easy to find the info I wanted and the wording sounded like it was written by someone with a very similar mindset as myself.
I felt a sense of community.
Once I sent my initial inquiry it became clear right away that I had found an amazing opportunity.
The level of comfort I received from the TravelBud team and the respectful, mindful, caring way they spoke to me meant so much.
What were you most nervous about before you left home?
I have a very broad comfort zone. I can honestly say that I wasn’t nervous to go to Vietnam.
I had asked the TravelBud team so many questions leading up to my move that I felt like there was no stone left unturned. Truly I felt so confident.
What was it like arriving in Vietnam?
Besides being so jet-lagged that I walked out of the airport without my luggage… I felt at home right away. And I don’t say that lightly.
I had never been to HCMC before but I felt like I had. I was so surprised to see palm trees and so much greenery. Like a jungle and a city all in one. Even though there were motorbikes whipping by and crowds of people around – I felt so calm.
What was your favourite story from your time in Vietnam?
One night some friends and I decided to explore the least “touristy” district we could find and reach outside of our comfort zone.
We spent hours walking around side streets and alleys watching glimpses of others’ lives. What struck me the most was how each person I locked eyes with, each front door I looked into felt like a full movie.
I walked by one home and inside was a baby sitting up on the living room floor. The baby was laughing and watching his puppy play with a live lobster on the floor.
Mom was cooking just beyond in the kitchen and she caught my eye. We both laughed and in that moment I felt like I was living in their world. And the minute I kept walking and moved past their home… the moment was over.
But little moments like that stick with you.
What did you find most difficult about the experience?
It was a bit difficult to talk to my friends and family at home.
The time difference was the exact opposite so whenever I was awake they were asleep. However – my close family and friends know me inside and out and understood that I was living extremely full days and processing so much every single minute. So I knew there was no pressure to call them non stop.
Also, it made speaking to them that much more thrilling when I did call.
How did you deal with the culture shock of a whole new culture?
I didn’t experience full-on culture shock in Vietnam. I like to think that I really appreciate and understand others’ ways of life and for that reason, it’s hard to feel shocked.
However, there were a few moments of course where I thought, “oh wow ….. I truly feel like I’m in another universe.” A sort of out of body experience.
What were some of the highlights of your in-class TESOL course in Ho Chi Minh?
The true highlights of my in-class experience were the deeply incredible bonds we all created with each other. Spending every day in class with our beloved Vietnamese instructor made us all feel like we truly had formed a family.
Activity wise – visiting the Vietnam War museum with people from all over the world and discussing what we saw was mind-expanding.
I also felt so happy during our Cooking class at the farm. I still remember all of the facts the chef taught us about using herbs to heal as he walked us through his entire farm.
Lastly – it was so amazing to learn basic Vietnamese in class. Ordering my smoothie or pho every day in all Vietnamese made me feel so proud.
What surprised you most about the experience in Vietnam?
I was most surprised to be reminded of how many good, kind people there are in the world.
In my day to day life, I sometimes get in the rut of feeling like there’s so much hate, fear and negativity out there. But when I was in Vietnam, people would stop in the street and help me order my breakfast or help me read my map or help me pick my suitcase up over the curb just because it was their natural instinct.
They would rush over to help and smile and walk away.
That gave me hope. That impacted me.
What kind of person would you recommend the program to?
I would recommend the Teach English in Vietnam program to someone who is looking to experience something outside of life’s usual grooves.
Someone who appreciates a place that feels authentic, raw and untouched.
Someone who admires the kindness in others and wants to express gratitude right back.
Overall – I would recommend this program to someone who is ready to grow in a profound way.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to teach abroad in Vietnam?
If the thought to embark on a journey like this has popped into your head – you’re already ready.
Don’t second guess yourself.
Let yourself be changed 🙂