Three Things I Learned About Myself from Living and Teaching in Vietnam – Mary Conning

Hi there, I’m Mary and I’m from England. I moved to Vietnam in March and I now teach in Ha Long City. I’ve learned a few things about myself since being here but here are, what I think are the three most important things:

1. I am so, so lucky to come from England.

I have felt lucky before, I mean I am a TEFL teacher so being from an English speaking country was my ticket to Vietnam, but never had I really thought about all of the little things that we take for granted in the UK. For example, the NHS has been on our minds recently and I am not going to get all political on you, but we are lucky to have had that in our lives!

Drinking water from the tap is a luxury I had never fully comprehended! It hardly ever occurred to me that it would be an issue until you move somewhere where it is not clean and people have to pay for their water.

Working 6 days a week came as quite a shock to me but Vietnamese people constantly work 6 days a week and as far as I can see this is without a lot of holiday. They spend their lives at work to pay their bills, whereas at home I can enjoy two days off each week to see my friends and family. And talking of work, having recently injured myself and going back to work the very next day with a broken ankle made me realise the work ethic of Vietnamese people. There is simply no rest for those that are sick or injured, you must work to earn money, you earn money to survive. In fact, my colleague Ngoc works a 50 hour week.

There is no such thing as health and safety in the workplace and certainly no sick pay here.  I am so privileged to come from a place where life is so much easier and perhaps I can learn to moan a little less about the little things when I return home. It is not the end of the world if the supermarket doesn’t have my favourite wine, some people don’t have water. It is not the end of the world if my electricity bill has to be raised, people have power cuts once a week, sometimes for an entire day. It is not the end of the world if my flat is small, some people live in one room with their families.... and you know what, these people are some of the happiest, most friendly and helpful people I have met in the world.

2. I can go with the flow and have become more resilient to change.

I like routine, I like having a schedule and a plan and maybe even a back-up plan. At home I was an administrator which means being organised and prepared. I have never worked in a less organised environment than I do currently and it has made me more relaxed, perhaps even a little laid back. I have a new saying ‘This is Vietnam’, this saying works for me in a number of situations for example; my bus is 35 minutes late ‘this is Vietnam’, the kids for my nursery class are 20 minutes late for their lesson ‘this is Vietnam’, you have to teach a new class of 3-4 year olds tomorrow morning from a certain page with no time to prepare ‘hey, this is Vietnam’. I have had a leak in my bedroom ceiling for 4 months, in fact, I now have stalactites (or is it stalagmites?) getting gradually larger from my ceiling and I have been told that they can not fix the problem until it is dry! ‘This is Vietnam’. I can pop downstairs to get something to eat and end up testing a bunch of new students to place them in a grade.

What I have come to realise is that I can take a breath and get on with it, I mean what is the worst that can happen, I am lucky enough to be in a beautiful country with great people, doing something I enjoy; at times, things are frustrating but it is not, as I mentioned earlier, ‘the end of the world’.

3. I prefer teaching teenagers and adults.

This has greatly surprised me as I had always thought that I wanted to teach little kids, perhaps it is different because I am in a different country but teenagers are so much more interesting. The teenagers I teach though often loud and messing about, often want to talk about my life experience or share information about Vietnam, it has been most interesting/useful when a national holiday is approaching so I can ask then about the traditions. They have given me lots of tips about places to visit in Vietnam, most advise me to go to Sapa for the mountain and Danang for the food and the beaches. My adult students invite me for dinner and this is lovely as we get to know more about each other and they have the opportunity to practice their English. I think having discussions and having an opportunity to talk about real life helps them feel more confident with their English speaking and more comfortable with making mistakes and being corrected, which means they can improve faster. I also find that these age groups are easier to teach as they really want to learn and I feel a real sense of achievement when working with them.

Also, I have a real thirst for knowledge and I want to find out as much as I can about the culture, traditions and what life is like from the Vietnamese/Chinese point of view. I like being able to share information about me, my country and my experience. I enjoy the ability to share with older kids and adults and have discussions on topics that they find interesting. I have an Education degree and for me this is potentially a huge discovery for my future!

I have learned a lot about myself, things that are helping me adapt to this new way of life and things that I hope will help me be a better and more fulfilled person in the future. Some of these things I could not have discovered without moving to a developing country. This adventure that I am having is wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone.

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