Teaching English in Vietnam | It’s ‘PHO-nomenal’

From the very beginning of this short piece, I want to confess to an abject failing on my part during the 14+ years that I’ve spent teaching English in Vietnam and running my business, AVSE-TESOL. Here it is! I didn’t take to eating (or slurping) Pho until very recently. Putting together this article was the impetus for my change of heart. I suspect my dislike of Pho over the years has something to do with a medical condition called Misophonia. Folks with this condition have profound and negative reactions to the sound of other people eating. I can feel my blood-pressure rising at this moment just thinking about slurping, chewing and suchlike. While I’ve never been diagnosed with Misophonia, I am very familiar with the symptoms. The good news is that I found the perfect antidote, but more of that later.

Now that I’ve bared my soul to personal shortcomings when it comes to Pho consumption, let’s turn our mind to the purpose behind this article. The Story of Pho! What’s the origin of Pho? Why is Pho considered to be ‘PHO-nomenal’ by every Vietnamese person I’ve ever met, including people in my extended family and every foreigner I’ve met through my work teaching English in Vietnam? Where will Pho be in 2040 – how ‘Pho’ will it go (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)? We’ll finish off this piece with the ‘Ultimate Pho Recipe’ for you to try at home.

Origin of Pho

Prior to doing some background reading, I was under the impression that Pho dated back to the time when King Hung was a mere twinkle in his mother’s eye during the legendary Hong Bang period, centuries ago in Vietnamese history. No, this is not the case. Pho only dates back to the late 19th century. Gosh, what a surprise! In stark contrast, the famous Aussie Meat Pie dates back to 9500BC during the Neolithic Period. The Ancient Egyptians even ate a version of the Aussie Meat Pie according to archeologists.

Pho as we know it today gained popularity in the north of Vietnam in the mid-1880s. It brought together the key ingredients of Chinese and French cuisine at the time. Keep in mind that the Chinese have tried on a few occasions throughout history to occupy Vietnam. The French colonised pretty much the whole of Vietnam (and neighbouring Cambodia) for more than 100 years until the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 heralded the end of French occupation. The Chinese influence on Pho includes noodles, rice, vegetables and various spices. The French contribution came in the form of red meat.

Over time Pho made its way from the north of Vietnam to the country’s southernmost point in Ca Mau Province located in the Mekong Delta. On its north to south journey and with the passing of time, the original version of Pho has evolved into a contemporary ‘dish’ that’s available in restaurants of all sizes and traditional street food outlets the length and breadth of Vietnam. It’s served up to visiting Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and even the occasional dictator. There’s a terrific photo on the internet of Bill Clinton eating Pho at a restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City during an official visit. Certainly, it’s a staple food of most people that I’ve come across who are teaching English in Vietnam and of other expats.

Why is Pho considered to be ‘PHO-nomenal’?

From my observations over the past 14 years, Vietnamese people and foreigners I’ve met through my work teaching English in Vietnam enjoy a decent bowl of Pho for the same reasons: 1. it’s cheap; 2. it’s quick; and 3. it’s consistent with a balanced diet and healthy living.

There is no question – Pho is cheap. At a ‘half-decent’ inside restaurant a bowl of Pho in Ho Chi Minh City will ordinarily cost you no more than US $2.00 to US $3.00. If you’re happy to sit on a small plastic stool at a small plastic table (almost universally blue in colour for some reason) and eat your Pho with shared chop sticks in a shared plastic bowl then the price will be not much more than US $1.00. The good news is that the shared utensils and bowls are washed between customers or at least they should be. Vietnamese customers don’t seem to care. They simply take a napkin and give the utensils a quick wipe and then ‘hoe into’ their meal. Expats teaching English in Vietnam and the like tend to a bit more discerning. I’ve seen expats bring their own bowl and utensils to an outside Pho stall – to the delight of locals – or ask to rinse what’s provided with boiling water. It’s probably wise, but I can imagine that I’d be bothered going to so much trouble.

Anecdotally (with my Vietnamese wife as the source), it will take an average person no more than 5 minutes to pull together a bowl of Pho assuming the ingredients have been prepared beforehand, chopped, diced, boiled and suchlike. In a restaurant, it typically takes less than 5 minutes.

An average-sized bowl of Pho contains 350 to 400 calories, which equates to 20% of the recommended daily intake for an adult. Is Pho as healthy as people suggest? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’ in the sense that – if light on noodles and salt, heavy on vegetables and you opt for lean meat, it equates to a nutritious meal. ‘No’, if the bowl of Pho is dominated by noodles, subject to a ‘heavy hand’ with sodium and has other undesirable additives for colour or flavour. Truth be told, I have seen someone add sugar to their bowl of fully-prepared Pho, but I don’t think this practice is commonplace.

Where will Pho be in 2040?

When it comes to history and fast food, Pho clearly has a long way to go to match the ‘reverence’ of the Aussie Meat Pie, which as noted earlier dates back to pre-biblical times – and for that matter, even the love that French folks have for snails. Personally, I have always found it to be one of life’s ultimate contradictions that the French version of ‘fast food’ is the ‘snail’, but I digress.

While Pho has inroads to make, quite literally of biblical proportions or perhaps I should say ‘portions’ given the context, make no mistake, it has ‘rusted on’ support. These days, those who love a good-sized bowl of Pho go well-beyond local people, Vietnamese living abroad, tourists and expats teaching English in Vietnam. Business conglomerates – large multi-business and multi-national companies – are ‘gobbling’ up the ‘Pho Market’ in Vietnam and elsewhere. Pho 24 (Vietnamese owned) now has more than 50 Pho restaurants across Vietnam and abroad. Pho Hoa (2018 Top Global Franchise List – Entrepreneurs Magazine), 70+ locations, Pho Que (rather unfortunate name) Huong is another North American Pho Business with a sizable international footprint.

So, where will Pho be in 2040? I expect it will be every bit as popular as it is now, but increasingly it will be consumed in fast food chains rather than at small food stalls found on the street. Just as the proliferation of large shopping malls spelt the end of ‘mum and dad’ grocery shops, it looks to me that the Pho Fast Food Franchises spell the end of the small, blue plastic stools and tables and the shared utensils that I referred to earlier.

The Ultimate Pho Recipe

After an exhaustive search online, speaking with Pho connoisseurs, taking advice from my circle of friends most of whom are teaching English in Vietnam and trying various concoctions in my own kitchen (while wearing ear muffs – note my earlier comment about an antidote to Misophonia), I reached the conclusion that the ‘Ultimate Pho Recipe’ belongs to a quirky Vietnamese / Canadian chap named Quang Tran. While I have never met or spoken with Mr Quang, his version of Pho scores 10/10 from me, which shouldn’t be underestimated given my eating affliction, although ear muffs make a world of difference. More importantly, my extended Vietnamese family – all life-long Pho eaters – also gave Quang’s Pho recipe a perfect score. You will find Quang Tran’s Pho recipe on his YouTube channel found here.

Summary

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this piece – we’ve ventured near and ‘Pho’ (again, I couldn’t help myself). I’ve bared my soul in relation to the sound of chewing and slurping. We’ve looked at the origin of Pho and noted that it only goes back 120 years or so. Surprising for sure! We’ve turned our mind to where Pho will be in 20 years from now, concluding that the blue plastic chairs and tables (and shared utensils) are under threat from business conglomerates. It has been determined that the Ultimate Pho Recipe belongs to the engaging Mr Quang Tran. This occurred after an extensive research and consultation process including crawling the internet, reaching out to foreigners who are teaching English in Vietnam and pursuing other professions here. Arguably of most importance, it’s been determined that ear muffs allow folks like me to enjoy a good bowl of Pho.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Phnom Penh. For more than a decade, AVSE-TESOL has been providing aspiring ESL educators with the skills, knowledge and certification they need to land well-paid jobs teaching English in Vietnam. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn

Teaching English in Vietnam Blog – It’s about sharing the love

Gosh! The internet started almost 29 years ago, but it’s only this morning that I learnt the word ‘blog’ is a shortened version of the word ‘weblog’. I swear, I didn’t know this until earlier today, despite making a concerted effort over the past two or three years to keep my own blog, ‘teaching English in Vietnam blog’, (located on the AVSE-TESOL website) up to date.

‘Blog’ certainly has more of a ‘ring to it’ than ‘weblog’ in my humble opinion. It rolls off the tongue with less formality, which suits me fine.

This morning’s discovery of the word ‘weblog’ got me thinking about why I bother producing the occasional article – and posting on the AVSE-TESOL blog. Here I am, sharing ‘words of wisdom’ with people about teaching English in Vietnam and suchlike, but I didn’t even know that ‘blog’ is a contracted form of another word. Has the time finally arrived to pack up the keyboard? After beating up on myself for a bit and engaging in some meditation – something else I discovered late in life – I reached the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. Who cares? Life is a journey and we pick up things along the way and it just so happens that I learnt something this morning that ultimately will become a blog post in its own right, this short article. My wife tells me that I should be joyous. The fact that I’ve learnt something new today is a pretty good indication that I am: 1. open to learning new things despite being a crotchety old man – according to some people; and 2. alive. It’s also an indication that my brain still works ok, which is very good news indeed.

So, why do I write articles every now again for the ‘teaching English in Vietnam blog’ on the AVSE website? To be brutally honest, I’m almost certain it’s not for egalitarian reasons, although I do want the world to be a happier and fairer place. I suspect it has everything to do with relevance and looking out for a profession and the accompanying expat lifestyle – teaching English in Vietnam and Cambodia – that has been incredibly good both for me and to me. I try to write stuff that might capture someone’s imagination and who knows, it might just be the impetus they need to get off the couch and put one foot in front of the other when life doesn’t look so good. No matter how bleak things might appear, there are great options out there, waiting to be found and teaching English abroad is only one of them.

That great man, Winston Churchill, spoke about the ‘darkest hour’ and the ‘finest hour’ on different occasions in the 1940s. I can point to experiences at both ends of the ‘pleasure’ spectrum during my lifetime. It was a particularly bad period on a personal level in Australia around 2005 that encouraged me to look for something very different to do – a complete change of lifestyle. I found a new career path and a bunch of positive people in Vietnam. Like Churchill, it all worked out ok in the end and I’m very grateful.

You will see for yourself in the ‘teaching English in Vietnam blog’ – surprise, surprise – that there are quite a few articles on teaching English in Vietnam. There are also articles related to teaching English in Cambodia because my business, AVSE-TESOL, also has a teacher training school in Phnom Penh. What AVSE does in Phnom Penh, mirrors what we do in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. We deliver an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme for aspiring English language educators. You will also find articles in the ‘teaching English in Vietnam blog’ where I share my personal views on topics such as ‘living in Vietnam’ (from an expat perspective), Accreditation, Taxi services in Vietnam, Student debt in the USA, Gap Year ideas, Global Warming, Travel Insurance and more. The blog on the AVSE website is all about sharing the love.

This article has provided the opportunity for me to publicly fess up and acknowledge that until today, I didn’t know that ‘blog’ is a contracted version of the word ‘weblog’. I feel I’m a better person, certainly a more knowledgeable person, by stumbling across the word ‘weblog’ this morning.  Having said this, I will continue to use the contracted form of the word if for no other reason than it sounds less formal to me. We’ve looked at why I produce the occasional article for the blog on the AVSE-TESOL website and reflected if only for the brief moment, on the life of that great man, Winston Churchill. We concluded this piece by touching on some of the more prominent articles that have found their way to the AVSE blog in recent years.

When it’s all said and done, what’s my advice? Check out the ‘teaching English in Vietnam blog’ on the AVSE website and then, share the love.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE-TESOL delivers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme for aspiring English teachers in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. Feel free to contact Peter via email: peter@avse.edu.vn

‘Grey Nomads’ taking on English teaching Jobs in Vietnam

Over the past 12 months there has been a noticeable increase in the number of more mature folks (50+ years of age), predominantly from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, venturing to Southeast Asia to take on English teaching jobs in Vietnam and neighbouring countries. Vietnam is without doubt ‘English Teaching Central’ in Southeast Asia.  There are more teaching jobs available than TESOL certified people to fill them, many times over. When you add job opportunities to a low cost of living, we shouldn’t be surprised that more mature teachers – and newbies – are making their way to Vietnam in droves.

Grey Nomad’ is an endearing phrase that’s often used by local employers – privately owned English Language Centres and Government Schools – to describe people of more mature age from abroad who are pursuing English teaching jobs in Vietnam. It’s a title with jovial intent and is universally seen that way. It’s also a title that’s befitting because we’re talking about mature folks travelling around Asia just as Marco Polo – the most famous nomad of all time – did in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. History tells us that Marco Polo took full advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him and it seems to me that our modern day ‘Grey Nomads’ are doing pretty much the same. 

Let’s drill down a bit on these ‘Grey Nomads’. We know they’re 50+ years of age, but what else do they have in common? What pathway do they typically follow from their former life to teaching in Vietnam? Why is Vietnam a beacon for ‘Grey Nomads’? How are they received by employers (schools)?

Pathway

The pathway that leads to working as an English teacher in Vietnam for a good number of more mature teachers is remarkably similar. Most are single people, professionally-minded, with a solid work history. They’re seeking a positive experience with an element of adventure in retirement or following redundancy, divorce or some other defining moment in their life.

Almost to a person, ‘Grey Nomads’ that I’ve encountered in Vietnam are well-informed. They’ve done the necessary research. They know it’s not enough to be a native-English speaker who happens to be breathing, to call themselves an English language teacher. Most ‘Grey Nomads’ have invested in quality ESL teacher training that’s internationally recognised and government accredited, such as the TESOL programme offered by AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. More ‘mature heads’ know that quality training provides the skills, knowledge and certification to get a decent job in the first place and to do the job well. ‘Grey Nomads’ are attuned to the idea that job training – teacher training in this instance – is not an area where people can scrimp.

Why is Vietnam a beacon?  

While foreigners who are pursuing English teaching jobs in Vietnam typically earn a decent salary, from my observation, the vast majority of ‘Grey Nomads’ aren’t motivated by making money. On a list of motivating factors, my guess is that money would come in around number seven for most ‘Grey Nomads’. Not in any particular order – lifestyle, low cost of living, personal safety, ease of travel, diversity of experiences on offer and friendly local people – would all rate higher than making money. This is not to say that money is not important. Clearly it is. I think more than anything else, it’s a reflection of their ‘stage of life’. ‘Grey Nomads’ tend to be people with a long work history. Some will have worked like a ‘Trojan’, perhaps even held two jobs at the same time, scrimped and saved, bought and sold properties, raised children and suchlike. They’ve done the hard yards for the benefit of themselves – and for the benefit of others. Now it’s about ‘me-time’.  

How are they received by employers (schools)?

Earlier in this article I mentioned that the number of English teaching jobs in Vietnam is greater than the number of suitably qualified people to fill them – many times over.  This is very much the case now and it has been for the 14 years that I’ve been living and working in Vietnam. Pretty much from the time Vietnam opened up after the devastating war years, the country has experienced economic growth that’s envied around the world. This growth has led to an insatiable demand for English language skills – and qualified foreign English teachers.

In a ‘job-seekers market’, schools welcome anyone they can get their hands-on, including ‘Grey Nomads’, who are qualified to teach English. Consequently, ‘market forces 101,’ dictates that ‘Grey Nomads’ are well-received by schools – along with other qualified teachers. Having said this, if a School Principal can choose between Person A – wise head, even temperament, professionally-minded, stable work history, culturally sympathetic – and Person B – youngster, bit of an attitude, demanding, fussy, expects ‘top dollar’, I expect the decision making process will be quite short. I also expect it will be indicative of what I see regularly ‘on the ground’.

Almost certainly the influx of ‘Grey Nomads’ and others taking on teaching jobs in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere in this truly magnificent country will continue in parallel with ongoing economic growth.  Other ‘Grey Nomad’ teachers will follow a similar pathway to Vietnam. They’ll hold quality TESOL certification. They’ll travel to Vietnam for diverse reasons, but for most of them, money won’t be the key motivator. One thing is certain, however, they’ll be welcomed with open arms by schools because of their language skills, background and character.  

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the owner of AVSE-TESOL in Australia and Southeast Asia AVSE-TESOL offers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh – a great pathway for English teaching jobs in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Teaching ESL in Vietnam – Travel Insurance is Imperative

All the key indicators – job advertisements, pay rates, low cost of living – suggest that Vietnam is the hottest destination in Southeast Asia, arguably the world, for teaching English as a second language (ESL).  If you’re somebody who is planning to teach ESL in Vietnam, here’s some good news from an ‘old timer’.  It’s a positive experience like none other where you’ll see tangible results for your effort in a relatively short period of time. Vietnamese people, the length and breadth of the country, are right up there with friendliest folks you will find anywhere on planet earth. On top of job satisfaction and spending time with lovely people, you’ll earn a decent income and save money due to the relatively low cost of living, especially if you choose to teach in a regional or rural location.

While there is every reason to believe that your experience teaching ESL in Vietnam will be every bit as rosy as my own and tens of thousands of others over the past three decades, travelling anywhere abroad comes with risks. Heaven forbid you have a motorbike accident, pick up a horrible bug of some kind, be attacked by a rabid dog or meet some other misfortune. We might think we’re indestructible, but the reality is we’re not. The risk of an accident, illness or injury occurring is not a reason to cancel your plans to work in ESL in Vietnam. In the main, the same risks would apply if you stayed home.

The consequences or fallout of meeting misfortune while abroad, as distinct from on your home turf is where problems arise. Days, weeks or perhaps even months recuperating in a Vietnamese Public Hospital do not come cheap for foreigners. There are sad stories all over the internet of mums and dads in England, the US, Australia and elsewhere being lumbered with huge medical bills because their son or daughter had an accident, got sick or suffered an injury while abroad and they didn’t have insurance. What’s my advice? If you’re unable to meet the cost of basic medical insurance for the full period you’ll teach ESL in Vietnam, then it’s best to put your plans on hold. It’s that important.

Like you, I’m not thrilled about paying insurance premiums, but the idea that my old mum and dad (both in their 80s) would be forced to mortgage or sell their house to cover medical bills that I’ve clocked up abroad, fills me with horror.

Decent travel insurance with medical coverage is relatively easy to find with a simple Google search. ‘Compare, compare, compare’ is the key to getting a good deal. You may be surprised to learn that cost of insurance is less than you expected and the inclusions are more than you expected. Personally, I’m covered by World Nomads and I have been for all but one year of my time working in ESL in Vietnam, but you’ll make up your own mind about what insurance policy is best for your circumstances. Here are some of the key items that a decent travel insurance policy will cover:

Medical: This is not an area where you can scrimp. There’s zero ‘wriggle room’. Your insurance policy needs to cover all medical expenses in the event of an accident, sickness or injury while you’re teaching ESL in Vietnam. The language that’s typically used in a travel insurance policy is ‘Unlimited’, or words to that effect. You need ‘Unlimited’ medical coverage.

Baggage: Depending on the value of your worldly possessions, this might be an area where you can cut corners with your insurance coverage. It’s about the replacement cost of items that are lost, stolen or damaged while travelling to Vietnam in this instance, while you’re teaching ESL in Vietnam and travelling back home.

Trip cancellation: If it happens that you need to cancel your trip to Vietnam for whatever reason, you’ll be able to claim non-refundable fees. For example, you may have paid US $800.00 for an airfare from Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh City. You need to cancel your ticket. The airline charges you a US $250.00 fee. It’s possible that this fee will be covered by your insurance. This is also an area where you can be thrifty.

Death or disability: The cost of having mortal remains shipped from Vietnam to another country is astronomical, in the realm of someone having to mortgage their house. Without insurance, either a family member or friend will have to meet all expenses to get you home for burial, or you’ll be shelved in a Vietnamese mortuary as an unclaimed body. Both options are intolerable. The consequences of suffering some kind of permanent disability while you’re in Vietnam are equally dire without insurance. Scrimping with death or disability cover is not an option.

The message in this short article is straightforward. Teaching ESL in Vietnam is an experience like none other, but without travel insurance that includes medical coverage (as a minimum) it can easily turn sour if you have an accident, get sick or suffer a deliberating injury of some kind. If you’re unable to pay for insurance at this time, put your plans on hold until you can. Shop around until you find an insurance policy that’s affordable, comes with unlimited medical coverage and meets your personal needs. Enjoy your time in Vietnam – and stay safe.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE-TESOL offers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh – a brilliant pathway for people looking to teach ESL in Vietnam and elsewhere.

 

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE-TESOL offers an Australian Government accredited TESOL programme in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh – a brilliant pathway for people looking to teach ESL in Vietnam and elsewhere.

 

Minimise your carbon footprint while Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City

As someone who is about to head off for one or two years teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I’ve got it pegged that there’s a decent size egalitarian streak in your make up. There has to be, otherwise you wouldn’t ‘choof off’ to the third-world where it’s hot, dirty and local people eat funny things. Almost certainly you’ll be telling friends and family that your trip to Ho Chi Minh City is all about ‘adventure’. In part, that might be true, but egalitarianism overshadows ‘adventure’ in my humble opinion.

If my take on your persona is correct, I’m quietly confident that your desire to make the world a better place, a fairer place, a safer place, extends to being: 1. mindful of your personal carbon foorprint; and 2. open to suggestions directed at reducing your carbon footprint. Rightly or wrongly, foreigners who are teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City and in other cities and towns in Vietnam hold an esteemed position in the local community. If students and their parents see you taking deliberate action to reduce your carbon footprint, they will surely follow. Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City affords the opportunity to be a ‘trend setter’. Grab this opportunity. It’s imperative. Climate change is real. It’s also frightening. We can sit around for ‘ever and a day’ waiting for world ‘leaders’ to take decisive and meaningful action to save our planet or we can take matters into our own hands as concerned citizens and educators.

Here are some carbon footprint ‘friendly’ ideas for you to reflect upon in the lead up to travelling to Vietnam and after you arrive.

Pack light

Prior to grabbing hold of the opportunity to be a carbon footprint ‘trend setter’ when you get to Vietnam, you’ll be a ‘jet setter’, if only by virtue of taking a flight from your home country to Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. As a ‘jet setter’ who is thinking about carbon emissions, you’ll surely ‘pack light’. Why? The heavier the plane – structure, people, cargo, baggage – the more fossil fuel will be consumed getting from point A to point B. ‘Packing light’ isn’t a synonym for ‘going without’. It’s about being smart. Don’t pack what you can easily buy after you arrive in Vietnam, food, toiletry items, books, stationery and the list goes on. Do you really need those binoculars? Yes, I can see the link between packing a bulky projector and teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, but almost certainly the school where you’ll work already has one. If I’m wrong, buy a ‘cheapie’ downtown after you get settled.

Energy

Unless you fall madly in love with a local person and choose to live in Vietnam for the rest of your life – and take on citizenship – the reality is you will always be a visitor. It’s not your home country. Common courtesy dictates that when you’re a visitor, anywhere, but especially when you’re in a foreign country, you should be on your best behaviour. Amongst other things this includes respecting local ‘norms’, taking care of property that doesn’t belong to you and not abusing privileges. Energy is a privilege in Vietnam. There’s not enough to go around. Blackouts are commonplace.

Here are some really simple things that you can do when you get to Vietnam in the context of minimising your use of energy and thereby minimising your carbon footprint:

  • Turn off stand-by appliances
  • Install timer plugs
  • Use a fan rather than an air conditioner
  • Open your windows to allow fresh air in
  • Maximise the use of natural light
  • Fix leaking taps
  • Buy energy efficient appliances
  • Ensure all appliances are turned off before going out
  • Wash your clothes in cold water
  • ‘Hang dry’ your clothes
  • Take shorter showers
  • Travel to school with a colleague on a single motorbike
  • Walk rather than using ‘fossil fuel’ transport
  • Recycle ‘grey’ water
  • Share a bath with your partner

Paper

My last school Principal in Vinh Long Province, Vietnam back in 2007, Mr Minh, had a ‘Paper Mantra’ that went something like this: “reduce what you use in the first place, recycle what you can (keeping in mind that not all paper is recyclable) and proactively look for opportunities to reuse every paper product” – reduce, recycle, reuse. What Mr Minh used to drill into teachers back in 2007 is even more relevant today. Folks who are teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere in Vietnam tend to consume paper in huge quantities, churning out flash cards, ‘filler’ tasks, homework assignment and suchlike. Given prevailing circumstances it’s irresponsible and sets a poor example for students. So, what can you do in your work and everday life in Vietnam  that’s consistent with Mr Minh’s mantra? Here are some ideas:

  • Use a handkerchief to blow your nose rather than tissues
  • Use a ‘bum gun’ rather than toilet paper
  • Only print from your computer when absolutely necessary
  • Print on both sides of a page
  • Store flash cards for future use
  • Carry a cup with you, avoiding the use of paper cups
  • Be creative when you need to wrap something
  • Carry your own metal straw
  • Ask restaurants and the like to email a receipt rather than printing
  • Make your own paper
  • Say no to ‘junk mail’
  • Carry your own beer coaster
  • Makes notes on your phone rather than on paper
  • Carry a cloth napkin
  • Change your bills and bank statements to ‘paperless’

Plastic

Newspaper reports suggest that an average Vietnamese person generates 1.2 kilograms of ‘garbage type’ waste daily with 16% being plastic products. The current population of Ho Chi Minh City is estimated to be 8.6 million people. What does this mean? It means that Ho Chi Minh City has a huge ‘plastic waste’ problem that’s exacerbated by inefficient recycling regimes that result in less than 10% of used plastic products having a ‘second-life’. In recent times the Vietnamese Government and a number of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) have implemented initiatives across Vietnam to address the plastic waste issue, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Here are some really simple things you can do while teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City that will also make a positive difference:  

  • Carry a reusable drink bottle with you when you’re out
  • Carry a metal cup with you when you’re out
  • Take your own thermos when buying takeaway coffee
  • Stop using disposable razors
  • Refill your whiteboard markers
  • Refill ink cartridges
  • Make your own glue
  • Take your own cloth bag with you when shopping
  • Stop using plastic folders and plastic ‘paper wallets’
  • Store food in metal containers
  • Have an icecream in a cone rather than a plastic tub
  • Make your own bread
  • Clean with vinegar and water
  • Use natural rubber gloves
  • Use bar soap rather than liquid soap

Encourage others

Earlier in this article I pointed out that: 1. teaching is a highly respected profession Ho Chi Minh City and all over Vietnam; and 2. your esteemed position teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City affords the opportunity to be a ‘trend setter’ – a role model – when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and confronting climate change. Allow me to illuminate how you’ll be strategically placed to make a positive difference.

An average job teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City at a privately owned English Language Centre will involve an in-class time commitment of around 20 class hours a week, which is about 12 classes a week, with an average of 15 students in each class. This means that in an average week you’ll  come into contact with somewhere between 150 to 200 students taking into account that some students will attend more than once during the week. On top of the high number of eager students who’ll follow your every word and move, there are mums, dads, carers and others in the wider school community who will do the same because you hold such an esteemed position. This is genuinely a once in a lifetime chance – for you personally – to help make our world a better place. Here are some things you can do in your school community:

  • Organise a tree planting day where every person in the school community plants at least one tree
  • Bring school stakeholders together to start a climate conversation
  • Ensure that items sold in the school café are ‘climate friendly’
  • Encourage a ‘green commute’ to school
  • Cloud fund solar panels for your school
  • All school cleaning products, toilet paper, soap and suchlike to be climate friendly
  • Place recycle bins around the school building
  • Appoint an ‘Energy monitor’ to turn off appliances that are not being used
  • Refill ink cartridges and whiteboard markers
  • Foster a ‘zero plastic’ environment
  • Reward students who can show they’re reducing their carbon footprint (perhaps a certificate)
  • Include climate change related matters in the curriculum
  • If space permits, establish a community garden and grow food
  • Create a ‘sharing library’ for items students don’t use every day
  • Recycle Course books

You are a very lucky person indeed to be in a position where you can head off to teach English abroad. Being a professional educator comes with a raft of responsibilities and it could be argued that doing your bit for a sustainable future is pretty close to the top of the list, if it’s not at the top of the list. Packing light, for your trip to Vietnam will reduce carbon emissions. Minimising your use of fossil fuel driven energy, paper and plastic are all ‘climate friendly’ things you can do that don’t require much effort. In contrast, taking a whole school community with you on a ‘carbon footprint’ reduction journey will involve a lot of effort on your part, but I’m betting that egalitarian streak will shine through. Enjoy your time teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City.

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Phnom Penh. Peter has worked in the education sector in Vietnam and Cambodia for more than a decade. If you wish to reach out to Peter personally about this article, or any other matter, he can be contacted via email: peter@avse.edu.vn