If you want to teach English in Vietnam in public schools, you’ll most likely do it through a company called E-Connect. E-Connect has five branches all in northern Vietnam, they’re in Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Nam Dinh, Hai Phong and Hai Duong.
I teach at the Nam Dinh branch, so I can only talk about my experiences there, I’ll focus this post on the company and working conditions, not really on the area too much. I’ve also made a video about the pros and cons of teaching in Vietnam.
Getting the job
I saw a job posting on Facebook and applied with my CV. I was in Da Nang at the time so I didn’t need to worry about booking any international flights if I got the job. The interview was a straight forward process, I did it via Skype with the interviewer in a coffee shop. The interview mainly consisted of me asking them questions. At the end of the interview she said I had the job and when could I start? We arranged a time for me to go to the Hai Phong branch which is where I was originally meant to be teaching.
Hai Phong branch
Hai Phong is a port town and is decent in size. There’s basically anything you want to do there and it has a bit of an expat community. After 2 weeks in Hai Phong (waiting for the term to start – I got there early) I accidentally volunteered to go to the Nam Dinh branch because they needed extra teachers. Instead of putting up a fight I decided to go to the new branch, I thought I’d let fate decide where I taught.
Nam Dinh branch
Nam Dinh is a small town about 80km south of Hanoi, it’s a peaceful place surrounded by nature. Just a 40 minute drive from Nam Dinh is Ninh Binh which has beautiful countryside, it’s where they filmed King Kong.
Nam Dinh doesn’t have a tourist industry, and there isn’t an expat community here, apart from the small smattering of teachers and a handful of other foreigners who work here (of which I’ve seen two). It’s small town life, it has a cinema, some great lakes to sit by, a stadium and other things you’d expect from a regular Vietnamese town. It is well suited to me, as I like the smallness and quietness of it. I’ve been living in major cities my entire adult life, so this was a welcome change.
Good and reliable pay check
E-Connect pays the best rates of any teaching job I’ve seen in Vietnam. I get $25 per hour and my contract is 80 hours per week guaranteed (so I still get paid for 80 even if I only work 70). I have a signed contract, a business visa and a work permit so all the money I make is legal. The importance of having a work permit is that you can send your money home, without a work permit a bank won’t transfer any money for you. E-Connect sponsored my visa and organised my work permit, the only expense to me was $500 for the permit and a return flight out of the country so I could enter on the proper visa. Over the course of my time here (currently at 9 months) I’ve made that money back quite easily.
I get paid in cash every month, and this I deposit into my bank account that the company help me set up. The pay has never been late for any of the teachers, so it’s reliable money.
Free bike, food and accommodation
Yep you heard me right, this place gives free accommodation and free food during week days, so during the weekend you need to get your own food.
The accommodation is fine, the teachers live in the E-Connect building. The building has a garage, common room and kitchen on the ground floor, a single open plan office for the Vietnamese teachers with some teacher computers and empty bedrooms on the first floor, floors 2 & 3 are where the teachers rooms are, and the roof has outdoor tables and laundry. Each floor has 3 toilets and 3 showers which are cleaned everyday, each floor has about 5 teachers living on it.
The building itself sits right next to a lake, so the views from the rooms aren’t that bad. The travel time between the building and schools is also fine, the quickest school takes about 5 minutes, the longest about 15 minutes.
The food is fine but after a while it has become a bit monotonous, as there’s not much variety. An example is Friday lunch is Pho day, that’s a great meal! It’s always rice with every meal, veggies, some sort of meat but I’m vegetarian, and maybe salad, mashed potato or chips. It’s tasty and there is as much as you want to eat, but variety would be nice after 9 months.
You also get a free bike to use while you’re here, you have to buy your own fuel but that’s super cheap so it’s basically free. The bikes are mostly semi automatic and in ok condition.
The Vietnamese staff here are extremely friendly and will usually go out of their way to help you, whether it’s booking a private bus to Hanoi or somewhere else, helping with phone credit, suggesting nice places to eat or places to go. They all speak good English and they’re fun to hang out with on the rare occasions we all hang out outside of teaching hours. The staff here are the management and the TA’s (teachers assistants) who also help you in the classroom.
I think asian kids are the cutest, no offence to my friends who have little babies or kids (including my brother who just had his first child). They have the cutest faces and eyes and when they smile it’s enough to really pick your spirits up no matter what mood you’re in.
Despite working with such massive classes you do get to know a lot of the kids, some you might even remember their name. They are both a joy and a pain but trust me when I say you’ll never experience anything else like it. I remember the rush I had after finishing my first ever class, I was gob smacked and kept thinking with a smile on my face ‘what the f**k just happened?’ You get used to it though. I’ve made a video about a day in the life of an English teacher. That’ll give you a good honest opinion of what it’s like working in the classroom.
Teaching can sometimes be challenging and we can learn a lot about ourselves. Some of the things we learn we might want to change, or improve. If you do want to become a better teacher or just a better person in general, look at my self development page.
The workload here sucks. Eighty hours per month might not sound like much, that’s only 20 hours a week, or 4 hours a day, but it is so much more. You need to lesson plan, and while we do shared lesson planning, where one teacher will do all the plans for grade 1 and another teacher for grade 2 and so on, you still need to print worksheets, perhaps adapt the plan to a slightly lower or higher level class, or you might have a class that no one is planning for so you need to plan it yourself. All this work is outside your contracted hours, so it’s about 2-3 hours per week of working for free.
The day is broken up into morning and afternoon classes. On an 80 hour contract you’ll usually get 3 classes in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. An individual class will run from 40-45 minutes. That’s about 30 classes a week, every week. Your classes might start as early as 7.15am and finish at 4.30pm, you’ll have small breaks in the day, but never long enough to go off and do anything. Essentially during the week you’re stuck in Nam Dinh, and after class and dinner and lesson planning (if you have any) that’s then your free time. So Netflix or gaming it is for me, or maybe hanging out with the other teachers.
If you’re planning on doing any additional work outside of teaching, like an online course, you’ll end up an exhausted zombie in no time. I’ve seen it happen to people and it happened to me.
I know I said I wouldn’t really mention the area but this is worth mentioning. Winter here is cold, grey and drizzly/misty. You can literally go weeks and weeks with only a grey sky – no sun, no shadows, just a cold grey outside. Now this is perfect weather for watching movies or hanging out in the nice warm of indoors, but when you have to get up at 6am for a 7.15am class, and drive to the school freezing cold in the rain, week after week… well lets just say it can get your mood and health down. It regularly gets to about 10-13 degrees celsius during the day, add riding a bike to that and yeah, it’s cold.
I hated winter here, I had no idea Vietnam could be so cold and miserable. I got sick for quite an extended period of time which I talk about in my post being a knackered and overworked English teacher. The policy here is really ‘if you’re sick you have to get to class, no work – no pay’. Never having any time off to recover prolongs your sickness.
Changes happening without being consulted
This is something I’ve come across in all of Vietnam, so it isn’t unique to E-Connect, but it’s just as annoying. It doesn’t happen all the time but most of the time either something will change with your timetable or be added to it and you won’t be given any advanced warning except maybe the weekend. You might be given a make up or cover class without being told in advance, it’ll still be on your time table, but where you’d planned to go to the bank to transfer money home in your 1 hour break between classes, well now you can’t so you have to wait until next week to do it. And you have very little say in the matter.
As part of the contract it says ‘5 hours per month can be used for training, unpaid’. Well this does include training, but mainly it’s attending school events at ridiculously early hours. One minute you’re thinking ‘ah great I can have a mini sleep-in on Monday morning’, the next minute you’re at some crappy school event where you’re hosting a game for the kids when you’re still half asleep. Sometimes I did say I couldn’t go for legitimate reasons, and they did take me off the roster for it, but if they’d thought to ask in the first place a lot of time and hassle could have been avoided.
E-Connect isn’t a bad place to work, if you want to come to Vietnam, work hard and earn lots of cash then this is the place for you. If you’d prefer a bit more flexibility and free time with your job then this isn’t the place for you, you should make your own schedule at different ESL centres.
I made a commitment to myself to ‘stick this place out’, and only a few times I nearly thought about leaving. Many teachers did come a go, they either got fired for being unprofessional (turning up drunk), or they realised this type of work wasn’t for them.
It’s a tough workload but you do get used to it, and once you’re in the swing of it the workload does ease. Helping the kids is really rewarding and they can really make you laugh, they also give you a chance to be silly if you wish as you are a bit of a performer in the classroom.
I don’t think I would work here again, but that’s mainly because if I do teach English again I’d like to do it in another country so I can learn more about that and experience different things.
My friend Ross Symonds from the blog Ross the Explorer wrote an interesting article about teaching in Vietnam, and has some different perspectives. You can read his post here.