More and more English-speaking expatriates are coming to Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City, to make a living by teaching English. Some see English teaching as a long-term career while others simply teach to earn money for travel to other countries. In this first part of our series, Tuoitrenews reporters interviewed many expat teachers to find out why they chose Vietnam.
Most interviewees said that they came to the Southeast Asian nation thinking that it would be easy to find a well-paid job, as English-speaking teachers are in demand here.
They disclosed that teaching English can generate US$800-2,500 a month, depending on the number of teaching hours, while city residents are able to earn a mere $300 in average monthly income.
Michael Tatarski, who is from the U.S., said it took him around 3 weeks to secure a teaching position at a language center after he arrived in the city in 2010.
Tatarski made up to $1,400 a month during his almost two years of teaching English at several centers, he said, noting that he recently quit the job since he wanted “to do something else.”
“I have never seen teaching as a long-term career,” the American explained, adding that he “will leave Vietnam in June or July and would like to try South Korea or the Czech Republic next.”
Another American teacher at a major language center in the city said that she “did not put a lot of effort into finding a job” because “it’s very easy to do in Vietnam.”
The teacher, who requested anonymity, said she is making about $1,700 a month from teaching at the center and tutoring two other students.
“Vietnam is a better place for expat communities compared to neighboring countries like Cambodia or Thailand,” she remarked.
Andrea Berg, also an American teacher who spent two years teaching English in South Korea, concurred with her compatriot, saying she “has a better life here” as “schools in Vietnam consider us as persons,” whereas “language school owners in South Korea consider English teachers as robots. They want teachers to work very hard and many hours a week.”
Unlike Tatarski, Berg said she regarded teaching as her long-term career and would travel back to the U.S. someday to earn a master’s degree in English teaching.
Easy to save money
Another reason why many expats decided to come to Vietnam and teach English for a living is this country provides a haven for saving money thanks to low living costs.
Rusty Massie, an American teacher, packed his luggage to fly to Vietnam in 2009, after six years in the Czech Republic, where he pocketed about $1,400 a month as an English teacher.
Massie is now employed by a reputable language center in the southern city that supplies him with a monthly income of $1,500-2,000.
“You can make more money in China or South Korea but the cost of living here is cheaper,” Massie said. “It’s a good standard of living here against how much I earn now and the most amazing thing is the cheap phone bills, which cost me $5 to $10 a month, while I used to pay $100 a month for my mobile phone in Europe.”
He is planning to open his own foreign language school with savings from three years of teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City.
Philip G., a British teacher, said he is now happy with his life because he had researched everything, work and salaries to cost of living before arriving in the city.
“I earn a decent wage - certainly enough to live comfortably,” he said. “However, I don't work a lot of hours really so I could be earning a lot more, but I'm happy at the moment with my work/life balance.”
Teaching English also allowed Tatarski a comfortable living while saving $500-600 a month.
“As long as you don’t go out, drink a ton of beer, or go to nightclubs every night you’ll be able to save a fair bit,” he said.
Likewise, Australian teacher Nikki Bisenieks said her life is quite good thanks to “low working hours, slightly lower pay but extremely low living costs compared to back home.”
“The conditions are very attractive to foreigners [so] it is definitely realistic to work…save…and still live a relatively comfortable day to day lifestyle.”
An opportunity to travel
Many expat teachers told Tuoitrenews that they see coming to Vietnam as a chance to travel and explore a new culture.
Having taught English in HCMC for two years now, V. Phan, a Vietnamese-American, said she wanted to see the country her parents left almost 30 years ago.
Phan revealed that she was supposed to stay in Vietnam for just one year but, “by the time we leave, it’ll be three years as my husband and I really love it here.”
Tin Mai, another Vietnamese-American, said that moving to Vietnam was an opportunity to teach English and explore a different culture. And it is just the beginning of his journey.
“Vietnam is not the only stop for me so when I’m finished here, like other expat teachers, I might travel to find a new home, new culture, and new country,” Mai said.
Massie divulged that one of the reasons he chose to come here is the affordability of travel.
“I have been to Ha Long, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, among others,” he said. “Traveling to many places like this would probably be ten times more expensive in the U.S."
(To be continued)