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)?
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.