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!