Vietnam: Three weeks in

Hanoi

I cannot believe it’s already been three weeks since we finally arrived in Hanoi. Orientation was a bit of a blur to be honest. We arrived at the hotel the Monday evening when we finally got here, dropped our bags off and went straight out to the welcome dinner, followed by a visit to beer street which ended up with us staying out till about 3am that night. Tuesday through Thursday were a combination of weird hotel food, intense practical sessions in the mornings and Vietnamese lessons in the afternoons, interspersed with lots of coffee, trips to the Vinmart (local 7eleven type shop just down the road which sells snacks, basics, water and beer), getting new sim cards organised and buying airtime and data so as not to have to rely on the WiFi at the hotel and various coffee shops.

Friday morning was our final session which was do’s and don’ts, what to expect specifically in Hai Phong as well as a bit of Vietnamese culture. The expectations for the hotel we were to be staying in was played down significantly (although in hindsight, probably still not enough) and warnings of rats, cockroaches and various other creepy crawlies were put out there. We then had a free afternoon for the first time since arriving which I spent re-packing my suitcase, the contents of which had managed to find their way pretty much to every corner of the room, and to have a bit of quiet time. Having been on planes and in each other’s pockets for almost a full week, sharing a room in Hanoi and spending days on top of each other, it was a welcome relief to actually have  an afternoon of nothing. I had the TV on, playing old movies in the background (something with Owen Wilson and a bunch of kids, the title of which was the name of Wilson’s character but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called) and grabbed a tin of Pringles and a Coke from the Vinmart for a taste of familiarity.

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The wall outside the coffee shop
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The place that became our regular for the week 
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chocolate and caramel iced coffee
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The view from our room on the 5th floor

Farewell Karaoke

Friday night was our farewell to orientation week which saw us across the road from the hotel with Karaoke Microphones, Bia Hoi (a kind of home brew that is way cheaper than anything else, and also a bit lighter) and 130 odd people singing, dancing and going a little crazy. The knowledge that we had to check out on the be on the bus to Hai Phong before 8am on Saturday did little (nothing) to dampen our spirits. When the Karaoke place essentially closed around 11.30 plans were made to purchase excess and take it back to the hotel to carry on with the party. Which we did. I think I made it another 3am-ish night and was up and finalising packing at about 6.30am to head down to check out and get breakfast before leaving. Which only happened after 9 in the end (something which we could have predicted had we really thought much about it). The bus that arrived to fetch us wasn’t big enough for everyone let along everyone and their luggage and so another had to be organised before we could leave.

 

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In the beginning

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Closer to the end
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The view much earlier in the morning on the day we left

Hai Phong

The drive to Hai Phong wasn’t long and after the first half hour or so I think most people drifted off to sleep. I have to say the noise cancelling headphones Rhys sent over from the UK have really been a life saver. From the plane, to a noisy hotel and sharing rooms, it really makes sleep easier when you can’t actually hear anyone else, including on the bus when I had a little nap. We got to the hotel and got our room allocations (more sharing for the weekend) and then lunch was delivered. Banh Mi. I couldn’t eat mine. I’m not sure if it was a combination of a week’s worth of drinking or if there was something in it that didn’t agree with me but I had about two bites. Apparently it was from the best Banh Mi place in Vietnam. I’ll have to try something different there and actually check it out.

We went for a wonder around the hotel coz we had a couple of hour before we needed to be at the language centre for our first Hai Phong orientation session. We got a coffee and had a quick look around. Walked a bit and discovered the dusty, dirty streets. Even though I’ve been to Vietnam before, I’d never been to Hai Phong. It’s not exactly your ultimate tourist destination…

We spent the weekend at the language centre, breaking for meals and a bit of exploration. For dinner on Saturday night we went to Texas BBQ which is about the most western restaurant there is around. I got a burger and chips which was really good after a week of unusual food, a lot of tofu, pork and fish sauce in everything. It was also good to pick something up with my hands on purpose instead of because I’d dropped it out of my chopsticks! Sunday morning saw us teaching practice lessons to our peers which was about the most nerve wracking thing I’ve had to do in a really long time. We then had a culture workshop, schedule allocation and handout of materials (chalk, dusters, magnets, flashcards and so on), ready for the first classes on Monday. I got allocated Monday off so I guess it was an easy start. Also, I woke up sick on Sunday morning with a cough and a sore throat and a nose that needed blowing every few minutes so it was a bit of a relief that I didn’t have to go an teach first thing on Monday.

 

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On our way to Hai Phong
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Apparently the best Banh Mi place in Vietnam
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phê sữa đá – Iced Condensed milk coffee 
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The coffee shop near the language centre
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An interesting version of a Banh Mi – pretty damn tasty
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Morning Glory. Yes, I’m serious. And just a touch of garlic.
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The view from my room…
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Fishing around the corner
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Pizza and beer – you can’t really go wrong

Teaching

And so it began. With a grand total of about 3 days of practical sessions and a 120 hour online theory course, off we went to class to go and teach English as a Second Language to a bunch of people. The girls were mostly allocated to primary schools, meaning we would be teaching children between the ages of 6 and 12, or secondary which is 12 – 15 years, while the guys were allocated to high schools, teaching the older kids more advanced English. Not sure why it was done this way. It just seems to be the way it goes here. The little kids are super cute, except for when then they tell me “Teacher, you so fat”. The Vietnamese people are generally a pretty small nation, height and weight wise so that’s a fun part of my day, mainly with the grade ones.

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At break time the kids all line up and do some exercise type stuff before they get to play
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For a second I really thought my taxi driver was drinking beer. It’s Red Bull
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Authentic Kids H&M?
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Memory Coffee Shop – so pretty
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Really good cup of coffee
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There’s a temple just down the road from us
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One of the guys bought Hai Phong decorated cake 
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Bunny Rabbit chilling under the warm stove while we had dinner
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Beef fried rice. One of my best meals here so far.
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White wine is expensive and there’s not a lot of variety. Sad Face.
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This cucumber comes in some kind of pickle/vinegary sauce – so good.
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Unknown broth. Totally delish
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When we were told that the drivers don’t care about what’s behind them I didn’t believe them. I do now. 

TEFL Internship costs you didn’t think about

So when I started planning this properly, I obviously made a budget taking into account the key factors:

  • The cost of the internship program (which covers your orientation week activities, food and accommodation, placing you at a school, as well as all the admin that they do in the run up to start of the program)
  • Flights
  • Spending money for the first month before you get your first pay check
  • New goodies for the adventure (camera tech, a laptop, suitable clothing for the weather etc)

There have however been a number of costs that I didn’t originally factor into my budget which have resulted in some of my less vital items on the list above falling by the wayside. These include:

  • Vaccinations – there are a variety of things they recommend, some of which are obviously a definite requirement and some of which are up to you. Considering that I’m going to Vietnam and that even though I’ve been there before I’m uncertain of the quality of the medical facilities but am fairly certain they’re not first world so my philosophy on the vaccination front was very much better safe than sorry. This means that (because I already had a yellow fever vaccination which is valid till 2023) I had the following vaccinations:
    • Hepatitis B (even though I had this before I went to Nigeria in 2013, I completely forgot to go back three months later for the booster shot which should have given me lifetime immunity, so we had to start from scratch)
    • Rabies (because the recommendation I heard from someone else’s doc that you should avoid rabid dogs and if you do get bitten by one you must catch it, kill it and take it with you to the nearest clinic really did not appeal in the slightest)
    • Meningitis (because who wants a potentially fatal brain inflammation situation when you’re half way across the world)
    • and Typhoid (because, again, death)
    • I couldn’t get the Hepatitis A Vaccination because apparently there is a world wide shortage of it and the doc isn’t expecting to get any here in SA before April 2018. His recommendation – be very very careful.
      This little lot cost not only severely saw arms for several days but also an unexpected hit to my budget. You can check this awesome website that doctor at the travel clinic gave me to see recommendations and travel health advice for just about anywhere in the world: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx
  • Legalisation of any and all certificates that were issued in the UK. In my case this included my TEFL certificate itself. This has to go through three different entities before it is finalised and can be quite time consuming to do even if you live in the UK, apparently, but felt overwhelming to try and achieve from South Africa. The placement company recommended the Hague Apostille, who provided a discount to us people who did their courses through specific companies so that it would only cost GBP 120. Plus a GBP 50 cost if you need it couriered internationally. (Luckily my brother lives in the UK and came to the rescue on the courier front.) If you convert that lot though it’s another healthy chunk out of the budget. (I only sent my order form through 2 days ago so will try and update with the user friendliness of this service when I’ve received my actual certificate and it’s ready to go.)
  • Clothes that are appropriate for teaching. While you’ve definitely thought about the weather, how hot and cold it gets and how flipping humid it’s going to be year round, and considered which clothes you can take that aren’t going to show up how humid YOU are, you may not have thought about the fact that you have to dress modestly in Vietnam and especially as a teacher. Shoulders and knees must be covered which obviously means no strappy tops and no shorts. No jeans or slip slops allowed so smart-ish trousers, long skirts and smart sandals or closed shoes. This also requires a good re-think of what’s going into that suitcase in the very small amount of space there is to cover yourself for 4 – 6 months. It’s a tricksy one.

So far those are the three things that, rightly or wrongly, I hadn’t factored in to my original budget or really thought through properly. Hopefully this helps you in your budget planning!

The countdown

In just 6 weeks today I’ll be climbing onto that plane to head across to Vietnam to start a new adventure as a teacher. No, I haven’t actually booked a spot on “that” plane that I’ll be climbing onto yet. I should really get on that shouldn’t I?

6 weeks and I still have most of my to do list un- crossed out. And not only that but it’s grown a whole hell of a lot longer too. Having found out about extra things that are required in order for visas to be approved, dress codes that are still uncertain (and might require a serious re-look at my wardrobe), vaccinations that had to be done and paid for and weren’t in my original budget (and were not cheap) and so on, it’s been an interesting week.

I’m a little stressed but now that I’ve started listing things I’ve realized how much I need to get done in a very short space of time. I think it’s time I start panicking!

Getting there. Slowly.

So, I had to wait till November before I could pay for my internship because I was aware of a serious discount that was coming up. I did start getting a little anxious around mid-October, I won’t lie, because that didn’t leave with all that much time to get everything organised.

Anyway, I booked and paid in the first week of November only to discover that it wasn’t actually a done deal and that I had to provide all sorts of documents to another company before I would be officially accepted onto the program. Which obviously makes perfect sense – they put stipulations, like you have to a Bachelor’s degree, in place for a reason. They aren’t just going to take your word for it. So I had to send them a copy of my degree certificate. And a head shot to prove that I don’t have tattoos all over my face, my TEFL certificate to prove that I had actually completed it, and a copy of my passport. All very reasonable. I didn’t hear back from them for a week so that also stressed me out a tad. But anyway, I got my acceptance letter on Saturday so at least that’s sorted.

Now I find out I have to get my TEFL certificate legalised in the UK which is either going to cost someone I know over there a lot of time and effort, or me over 100 pounds. Plus I then have to get it couriered to me here in South Africa which is another 50 pounds.  Which is quite a big additional expense that I hadn’t factored in. So that just means I can’t buy the noise cancelling head phones that were on my wish list. Tough lucks. (Unless I can find someone who’s coming over from there for Christmas and convince them to bring it for me.)

I’m waiting till Friday to book my flight because Black Friday. Am hoping that might save me a couple of grand to make up for the certificate legalisation cost. And maybe those headphones will be on special too.

My police clearance is with SAPS still and should really be done by the end of this week as they say 2 – 3 weeks and it went to them on the 6th of November so we’ll see. I’m not holding my breath.

And I’ve started clearing out my place. Mainly just clothes at this stage but I’ve chucked a whole bunch of clothes from the shelf side of the cupboard into tubs for donating. Now to go through the hanging stuff, shoes, drawers, ottoman and so on. So I guess on that front I’m really not very far at all. Plus I still need to get the toiled fixed, put a fresh coat of paint on the place and do something about the blinds before anyone’s going to want to rent it out! It’s going to be a busy 7 weeks. Yup, 7 weeks. In 7 weeks I’ll be in Hanoi.

Crap!

 

Hurry Up and Wait

So after having a mild panic a couple of weeks ago about how little time I had left before my internship begins I finally got my butt into gear to get sorted with my application. When I jumped onto the site to check that everything was still in order and that there were spots available on the internship I noticed that the special deal that was on in September has ended.  Sad face. So I popped an email off to the consultant who I’ve been communicating with, on and off, since February 2016. Honestly. I’m sure the guy had lost any hope of me actually signing up. Anyway, he gave me a call back from their London based offices and let me in on a little secret that they’ll be having another special on the package in November so if I’m prepared to wait till then, it’ll cost me a whole bunch less. I also discovered in that call, when I worried about how long visas would take, as well as all the other things I need to do, that visa assistance is included in the price paid for the internship. All I’ll need to do is fill out a form apparently, which is a bit of a weight off my mind, I’m not going to lie.

So I guess I probably should have gotten moving last month so that I had a bit of extra time to wrap my head around everything once I’m registered and signed on, however, I’m happy to wait if it means saving a couple of grand.

I should probably keep an eye on flight prices, considering that’s going to be my next biggest expense. I’m thinking I should probably get an open return ticket as the internship ends on the 31st of May and I’m really keen to do some travelling from there – preferably Europe in June, but if not Europe, then there’s a plethora options near Vietnam that are also on my ever-extending bucket list. I assume I need to go through a travel agent in order to do that as I’ve never seen that option on any online booking sites, not that I’ve ever looked particularly hard. I’ll find out about that though and keep you posted.

Flight bookings, here I come!