Vietnam Travelers Consider Teaching English in Vietnam

by Dwight

Op-Ed: Time in The Jungle:

Teaching English in Vietnam

Note:  Many people who travel to Vietnam express an interest in staying or returning to Vietnam as an English teacher.  Here’s the view of a recent college graduate who took a teaching position in DaLat sight unseen.

by Theodore Reuter

March 11, 2011

Teach English in Vietnam & Visit HaLong Bay

Hey guys, it’s Theo, coming to you from Vietnam. I graduated from Oberlin last year as a Geology major and now I’m teaching English in Vietnam. Say what?! Yup, Vietnam. I’m teaching English majors at Da Lat University in the central highlands. This an open letter to seniors freaking out about graduation to tell you about a cool job opportunity.

Why Vietnam? I found this job on Oberlin’s Career Services website and it caught my attention as a place where I could teach and experience a radically different culture. I got the job through a small non-profit called Teachers For Vietnam ( that has relationships with some universities in the southern part of Vietnam. TfV currently has five teachers employed in Vietnam. They are low on applicants this year, so apply, and apply soon! This is late to hear about it, but the applications are due on April 1st (though if you email them ASAP and indicate interest, that date may be fungible). So what’s it like here? First, Vietnam. It’s a freaking trip. The longer I’m here, the more I realize how different it is. The red tape is ridiculous, and getting a straight answer can be very difficult. At times you may want to pull your hair out after the directness of America and Americans, but it’s all part of the adventure. I did not find out when I started teaching class this semester until three days before my first class, and got the textbook from another teacher 5 days before class. You may wonder how a university can even function like this, but it does. You will also see crowds of Vietnamese businessmen getting trashed (loudly) during lunch. The all-department get-togethers we have seem like excuses for drinking.

Everything is absurdly cheap compared to America. I can get a very filling lunch or dinner for $1. I also got a leather jacket for $15. Travel is cheap here and I have lots of free time to explore Vietnam.

As a people, the Vietnamese can be wonderful. I have been adopted by a Vietnamese family that owns a store near my home. The mom and dad actually refer to me as “son.” They have helped me with everything from food to travel to learning Vietnamese, and they invite me over for dinner and special occasions. They are my window into everyday Vietnamese culture and life. I would have never thought that I could be so close with people who speak almost no English.

There are also little things that make Vietnam charming. Most restaurants are these tiny affairs about as big as a quad at Oberlin, with miniscule plastic chairs that are a foot high. You can tell how expensive a restaurant is by how nice the chairs are. The Vietnamese are friendly and will want to hang out with you, get coffee and will be quite curious about you. This curiosity can be annoying since it is often expressed by blatant staring. They lack subtlety, and for the first few months here people stared at me everywhere I went. Another quirk of the Vietnamese is that they may call you five times in five minutes if you miss the call, determined to reach you.

What about the students and teaching? There are ups and downs. There are some students who really try. I have seen them improve their English by leaps and bounds, setting themselves up to be able to get any job they want in Vietnam. Then there are students who never come to class, don’t do the homework, even skip the midterm and then ask why their grade is so low. This is what it is to be a teacher — some excellent students, some bad students. They really need foreign speakers because many of the Vietnamese English teachers have so-so English with bad pronunciation, producing students and English majors with sub-par English that can be hard to understand even though they have had five or six years of English. Teaching such an important skill, you can set up students to make four or five times as much money as their parents do.

I am currently teaching three classes of English majors. Last semester I focused on conversation and pronunciation, and this semester I am focusing on public speaking with an emphasis on confidence building and how to construct an argument, which are skills that my students lack. Many of the students have a lot of trouble speaking with confidence and it’s a real detriment to their English education, being so afraid to speak up in class or practice English.

Overall, there are upsides and downsides with teaching in Vietnam but I’m pretty sure that’s called life. It’s a really great way to spend a year, make a difference and see a different country and people. I’ve got a lot of free time for travel and it’s super cheap to travel anywhere in Vietnam. I hope this interests some people. I’d love to see some of you in Vietnam next year; it’s a job that Obies are well suited for. If you want to contact me with any questions, or if you just want more information please tell me! I am very happy to share my experience with anyone and have many more stories to tell.

Contact Theodore here:  LINK DOES NOT EXIST!!




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