Inside Teaching with VIPkid(My Work)

I want to explain exactly what I have been doing/where I have been for the past month. I arrived back in Da Nang in central Vietnam on November 13 (before that, I was back in Chiang Mai for a few weeks so that I could pick up some luggage I had left there for the time that I was country hopping). Since then, I have mostly been just trying to live the “Southeast Asian lifestyle” that I pictured before I left the States. I had read so many blogs which said that you can save a ton of money while teaching English in Southeast Asia, especially countries like Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. I realized this is actually slightly harder than you’d think. Yes, rent is much cheaper (I’ve rented out a room in a house through Airbnb for a little over a month, and paid around $300, for example). And of course, Vietnamese food is cheap (averaging about $1 per meal). But if, for instance, you need to visit the doctor or feel like having Western food one day, you’ll find yourself spending about the same as what you might spend in the Stats (although of course, going to the doctor even without healthcare is cheap as hell, compared to our standards).

That is the situation I found myself in, just as I stopped running around from country to country (or, as my travel friend and I called it: “rolling around Southeast Asia”… this describes our random travel decisions really well, like going from VIetnam to Bali. No regrets!). Now, I’m not here to say that I regret/didn’t enjoy spending the money that I spent. Definitely did not regret all the amazing healthy food that can be found in Bali (it can be hard to find vegetables in Southeast Asia, in my experience). Definitely did not regret the massages every other week, either (I wouldn’t dream of getting a massage ever back home). And of course, I’d never regret paying for more meaningful experiences, like living in the house of a Hmong family in the mountains of northern Vietnam for a few days and experiencing their culture and lifestyle. But, it definitely made me anxious to see how low my funds had gotten, and I knew It was time to spend the remainder of my time in Southeast Asia working. Finally! I had originally planned to be working essentially the entire time I was here, but think of the adventures I would have missed! Plus, things rarely go as planned.

I interviewed for a few companies to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) online. Surprisingly, I was having some trouble because of the fact that I have an Acer Chromebook, and not a laptop. I LOVE my chromebook. It has all the capabilities that I need, it’s light, and everything is saved on Google Drive. For instance, whenever I need to write a document, I open Google Docs through my apps, and start writing. That’s it. I don’t have to worry about it not saving (as long as I have internet connection, it’s saved automatically). It’s super light and durable as well. However, many online teaching companies have their own platforms, which are not supported by chromebooks. I lost out on a couple of job opportunities this way, but luckily one of the best online teaching platforms (if not the best, or at least the most well known) hired me. This company is called VIPkid, which allows ESL teachers to teach Chinese children English.

The way that VIPkid works is that once you are hired, you become an independent contractor who teaches using their materials and their platform. I teach one child at a time, over video chat within the VIPkid site. To teach with VIPkid, they ask that you have a Bachelor degree of some kind, a TEFL or other similar certification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language, the program I was part of late July-August in Chiang Mai, Thailand), and some teaching experience. This sounds easy, but I’d say it’s not as easy as some might imagine. To explain a different language using as little words as possible to a child who may or may not have any other experience with English other than when you teach them is no simple thing. If you have never taught the child before, you have about two minutes to talk to them and assess their skill level before going on to effectively teach them a 30 minute lesson. During those two minutes, you must determine just how little “extra language” (language that is not the “target language”, or the language that the child is meant to learn during that lesson) can be used, and how much “TPR” (“Total Physical Response”, or specific hand gestures- like putting a hand to your ear when you want a child to repeat you) must be used.

In a lot of ways, it is a dream job. Not having to handle the difficulties of reprimanding a child in a physical classroom is a relief for me. The child has little distractions, as the lesson is only 25-30 minutes, and they are looking at a screen. There are no other classmates to distract them (although, this means there are no other classmates to help them learn by example, either). But of course, the entire internet is at their fingers, and as I am teaching older children, they do easily become distracted by it at times. After each lesson, the teacher must write a note to the parents explaining how the lesson went, and the parent can rate the teacher afterwards as well. Each lesson is preplanned; so, not much lesson planning on the teacher’s end is needed. Of course, you need to prepare props to make the lesson more interesting and provide more learning opportunities, so it is necessary to do some preparation, but not nearly as much as the average school teacher must endure. Also, you can’t beat the fact that I can roll out of bed and just put on a nice top and sweatpants (they can’t see below my waist!) and I’m ready to teach.

I’m enjoying working remotely more than I imagined I would, too. I needed this time to really buckle down and work, which I am able to do as most days my lessons are very spread out, not leaving much time for me to do things (or spend money!) outside of work time. I surprisingly gained attention from parents really quickly, which doesn’t generally seem to be the case with VIPkid, according to some other teachers’ blogs and YouTube channels. I’m lucky, but I am also just one hour behind the kids’ timezone. Because of that, I was able to open up my availability slots from 9 am to 8:30 pm and just wait for parents to book whichever times. Sometimes this is bothersome, as I have random one hour breaks at random times, where I will have to run out and get food (thankfully, the house where I’m living has tons of Vietnamese mom n’ pop restaurants very close to it). Now that I’ve been teaching for about a month, I could set more regular hours for myself, but while I’m still here I just want to work as much as I can, so I continue to keep entire 11-12 hour swaths of time available to be booked. What I mean by “booked” is that I select times that I would like to work, at least a week in advance, and parents choose me as the teacher for their child during that time. In that, my work is very flexible, but also unpredictable. I normally work somewhere between 25-30 hours a week though, and because I normally try to really watch how much money I am spending (I will post a picture of my daily budgeting in a future post!), I have been able to save a lot during this month’s time in this way, and I’m hoping to continue supporting myself with this job even upon moving to Seattle. It is very freeing to be able to do my work anywhere, anytime!

So in case of TL;DR (too long;didn’t read), I want to break it down. I am teaching children English essentially using video calling through a program called VIPkid. I am not teaching in a physical classroom at this time, although when I was in Thailand taking the TEFL course we had teaching practices in live classrooms. Although I am in Vietnam, the children I am teaching live in China. China has one of the biggest ESL markets in all of Asia. They are also able to pay pretty well! If I were to hit 40 hours a week, I would be making more doing this than I did at my job in an office (of course, I don’t get benefits like health insurance etc. with this job).

I hope this helped paint a clearer of where I am (Da Nang, Vietnam) and what I’ve been up to!

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How I Started (and How I Stayed For So Long) pt. 1

I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in May 2017. For a while after that, it really felt like I’d never break into the professional world. This is a scary time in the life of a young adult: making the transition from “if I don’t get out of school right now, I am going to die” to having the proverbial cold water thrown in your face with the shocking realization of “what my life has been for the past almost 20 years being in school has completely changed, and now all I have to focus on is this impossible task of finding a career that I don’t hate and won’t make me broke”. Yeah…

That’s hard to do. I worked part-time jobs my whole life, starting at around 15 or 16 with a job lifeguarding at my local pool. Over the years and out of desperation, I’ve worked a total of I think around 15 jobs (in less than 10 years… I stayed at some longer than I stayed at others, ha ha). I have worked in many restaurants and schools, I have babysat and nannied, I have worked in a call center (where I thankfully broke into the professional world and learned a lot!), and believe it or not I’ve even worked as a security guard at a concert venue. The perception of desperation does funny things to you, and you always end up learning something from it along the way.

Immediately after graduation, I worked at a local Mexican restaurant. This was my attempt at making money at a job where I could get a lot of hours (around 60 a week or so…), and where I could keep speaking Spanish (actually, I’d say that I learned more and used Spanish more often here than I did at my university or when I studied and travelled in Peru for 4 months). I sincerely got a look into the local latino community, which at first glance you might not think even existed knowing where I am from (Mechanicsville, Virginia. Yes, that’s a real place). There was a lot food and drinks to be had. I got to go to the Mexican clubs, which I also did not know existed in Richmond (the major city near Mechanicsville). I was living at home with my dad after going through a big breakup (and some other interesting life things), and moving out of the apartment (thank you Dad… I don’t think I can sufficiently express how thankful I am for this). My life seemed a little unstable at this time to be quite honest, but I learned a lot about myself and other people. I got a better idea of who I wanted to be.

From here, I found a job at a call center. Or I should say, a recruiter found my resume on careerbuilder.com, and contacted me. I interviewed, and a class action law firm hired me to work in a bilingual position in their communications center. I was and still am very thankful for this job and the experience it gave me. I felt I did well there, but I still don’t know if this kind of job is right for me. When a friend asked if I wanted to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand to take a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification course, I grabbed at the chance. It might have been rash, but it felt right. I had gotten some professional experience, but still had very recently graduated. I had just paid off all of my student loans. I didn’t have an apartment, a car, I don’t have kids, and I’m not married (although I had recently started a long distance relationship… luckily, he is VERY supportive! I sometimes still can’t believe it). It seemed like a perfect time in my life, and I had to take it.

With this, I took a huge risk. This risk is not one that everybody will jump at the chance to take, but I knew it would change my life. I’m not going to say to say that the decision was EASY. It was terrifying. I was giving up a steady income and more job experience. But, travel has taught me so much before, and I knew I wanted to see what else I could find in Southeast Asia, somewhere I hadn’t really traveled before and seemed like a mystical land (even still does, sometimes). At the beginning, I had no idea how long I would stay. I had around $10,000 saved (again, thank you Dad for letting me live rent free for a while so that I could do this!), and the TEFL course only lasted one month. The plan was to stay 6 months at the longest (I have a cat back home that a family, to whom I am EXTREMELY grateful, has taken care of while I’ve been gone), but potentially just for a month. I honestly had no idea, and part of me loved the uncertainty, as scared as I was.

What I’m Talking About

Hi! I am a 24 year old from the United States, and I’m currently living in Da Nang, Vietnam. I started travelling in Southeast Asia back at the end of July 2018. I saw the opportunity to travel that might not come around again, so I quit my full-time job and never looked back. My next move is to finally go live in the city of my dreams, Seattle, WA (I know… during winter?!).

Maybe this will be a way for my friends and family to keep up with me, what I’m doing, and where I’ve run off to now (hi, Mom!).

Maybe you are a fellow traveler reading this, and you know all about this life. Hi! Welcome. You know its ups and downs, you know it’s easier than some may think to finally make the move abroad. Maybe you’re here to commiserate, laugh at some of my missteps along the way (let’s admit, they’re funny AFTER the fact), check along with my stories and see what I missed,see the things we’ve both experienced in our own way and the places this might inspire you to visit.

Or maybe you are someone, also in their early 20’s (or any age, really) thinking, “how the hell is this possible??” You’re either still in school or graduated. You’re working a part-time or full-time job where you feel unappreciated, but feel like that’s the only thing you can do right now to earn a living. You have all these student loans still piled on top of you, and you’re wondering if college was even worth it (I’m at that phase now…). You’re looking at people on social media like, “how can they afford to be in Bali and I can hardly afford rent?” I GET IT. I’m not here to sugar coat the fact that just up and moving somewhere else, even to a different country, is HARD. It’s not a risk everyone wants to take, and that’s perfectly fine. But if you want to know how I’m doing it, stick around and hear me out. It’s definitely not all glamorous, but it is all real.

 

(Sometimes it is pretty damn glamorous, though!)