Q&A Interview with Mary Conning for TEFL Heaven Vietnam

Interview with Mary Conning, Vietnam Q & A


What is your name, age and nationality?

Mary Conning, 34, English.

What is your education level and background?

I have a degree in Education Studies, but have spent most of my working life in Administration.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I have had the opportunity to travel a bit - I have travelled in Germany, Eastern Europe, Thailand and Australia.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

Travelling, meeting new people, experiencing different cultures and taking photo’s of beautiful places is one of my passions. And I had always dreamt of pursuing a teaching career but as life happens I didn’t get the chance in England. I decided that the best thing for me to do as I am in my mid 30’s was combine both my passion and my dream and head to Vietnam.

What did you want to personally achieve with this experience, and have you succeeded?

The first goal was my TESOL certificate, which I obtained in Ho Chi Minh city and gained some life long friends along the way.

Another goals was to meet Vietnamese people, get to know them and share some traditions with them, I moved away from Ho Chi Minh city with this in mind, though it was hard leaving all of the friends I had made on my TEFL course. I have succeeded, I have a couple of Vietnamese friends who are colleagues or were at one time my students and I have had the opportunity to cook and eat with Vietnamese families.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

I applied on my own, though many people at home said they wanted to come with me 😉

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

Yes, I have a friend who teaches English in Bangkok, Thailand and also a friend who went to Tokyo, Japan to teach, both friends are still living in these countries and enjoying themselves.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

My age was one of my concerns, being 34 I wondered if the other people on my course would be so much younger than me, but we were an eclectic bunch which was fun.

Also, the language barrier, but it is easy to get by with a few words and I pick some up from my students and friends.

Missing home was also a concern for me, I love my friends and my family and though I have lived away previously I have never been away from home for more than 4 months at one time, social media, skype and what’s app are amazing for keeping in touch though & often enough it doesn’t seem like I am too far away from home.


What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

My friend in Thailand mentioned TEFL and I googled, I had been told this was the certificate I needed and away I went. As I googled I came across TEFL Heaven and the course I wanted to do looked so tempting, the price was pretty good I felt and the accommodation was included for the month of study, I read some of the reviews which were very positive & I applied.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

I have tried courses on the internet before and although the content is useful for me nothing compares to face to face teaching. I also wanted to get the experience of being in Vietnam for that month before committing to a job, what if I didn’t like it? What if the food disagreed with me? What if I just missed home too much? I didn’t want to jump straight into a job with out some experience first and this was the best decision I made, I now already have friends out here, I already know some of the customs and I had an idea of the area in wanted to work in.

There were also two people on my course who had tried doing a course online and still felt that they needed the face to face teaching to back it all up.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I studied for my TEFL in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

The friends I made, getting to experience Ho Chi Minh city which I will go back to in my travels & gaining more knowledge about teaching English as a foreign language.

How prepared did you feel for your  teaching position?

I felt prepared enough to head for the North of Vietnam to get a job and start within one week of my course ending, I think the course provided us with good knowledge and the right kind of mentality for teaching.

How long have you been teaching in Vietnam and how long do you plan to stay?

I have been teaching in Vietnam for 4 months and I plan to stay to the end of the year.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

My job was secured through the staff at the course, the language school within which I carried out my training.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

I am contracted to 24 hours per week but currently we are run off of our feet with summer school so it is more like 30 hours. I get over time for the extra hours.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach a huge range of age groups from 3-4 year olds at the local nurseries to adult classes at the language centre.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

The smiling, friendly faces of my students, seeing them learn something and improve and finding out more about my students and the Vietnamese culture through having conversations.

How did you get your work visa?

I am currently in the process of getting a work permit which is required if you do not work in the main cities I believe.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?

My accommodation is included in my contract, I have a nice big room in the language centre and my own bathroom. They are still working on sorting out a kitchen, though there is a fridge/freezer and also a washing machine.


I have only been here for 4 months and stayed in two places so far so I cannot speak for the rest of the country only that I understand it to be extremely diverse in the people and some cultural difference and even the language is a bit different from the North to the South of the country but what I can tell you is....

The people are wonderful. The Vietnamese people I have met are helpful and friendly, many want to speak to you in English. I had an unfortunate incident with a very drunk friend and was helped to get her back to our hostel by two good samaritans.

The food is gooood! You have to be open to trying new things and never being completely sure what you have ordered but I have enjoyed experimenting. I highly recommend the street food both in Saigon and Ha Long. Though you may need some practice with the chopsticks.

Things are changing fast! Ho Chi Minh is a huge and built up city, but as I moved to Ha Long 3 months ago I was in awe with the beauty of the bay, however, Ha Long is due to get an airport in 2018 and for this reason building work in the city is intense. Everywhere you look, new homes and shops are being built and a new bridge to make airport access easier. Since I arrived the area around HaLong Park, the amusement park, has grown significantly with over 100 buildings being erected specifically for entertaining tourists. This will be great for the income of the people who live here but I wonder if it will eventually distract from the charm? It is still a wonderful place and taking a trip to one of the islands like Cat Ba the views are like nothing I have ever experienced.

Taxi’s are expensive. You can use Uber and Grab (the Vietnamese version) in the big cities but further out they just do not exist so taxi rides can be expensive. Getting the bus is easy enough but you need to know where you are going and where to hop off (sometimes literally hop, as they slow down but do not stop). You can also grab a Xeom (motorbike taxi) there are usually men on the side of the street offering to take you places.

Easy going nightlife. In HaLong, I have yet to meet many people around the area in which I live so sometimes I get the chance to hang out with other teachers and also with my adult students, there are plenty of places to go for something to eat or something to drink and the closer you get to HaLong Park the wider the choice of menu and you can eat the Vietnamese versions of European/American foods.

In Saigon however, there is an abundance of places to eat, drink and dance the night away. There is a busy and non-stop tourist strip where you can meet plenty of fellow teachers/tourists

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: N/A

Food: £80

Other bills: N/A

Social life: £70

Transportation: £30

Phone: £4

Other costs: £5

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

Oh yes, and save money for future travel plans.


What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Vietnam?

Do it! I needed that one person to say to me, apply and then see what happens. And what has happened for me has been amazing so far. Teaching abroad is great fun, you get to meet great people and, to be honest, the money is so good that you can save and have the time of your life while you are here. If, like me, you are a traveller at heart this is a great opportunity to meet people and really get to know a culture and at the end of my contract I have enough money to travel for another six months.

Teaching in Vietnam is fun! Vietnamese kids are super cute, they all want to say hello and ask how old you are and most of them really do want to learn. It is very rewarding to hear them using their new words with their parents after class. Also the adults will want to be your friends, I have spent some time getting to know my Chinese students and even been to a Vietnamese students home to make spring rolls and eat with her family, there aren’t many chances for this kind of interaction in our lives so I say jump in with both feet.

I do not know a single person on my course who regretted the decision to come here for their training, and finally, once you have a TEFL certificate you can work ANYWHERE in the world, the opportunities it gives you are endless.

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