Teaching English in Hanoi: 5 things to do on arrival

Article by: Peter Goudge, May 24, 2020

You’ve been planning this part of your life for years and the time has finally arrived. You’re heading off on an adventure, ‘uncharted waters’, teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam. Your first stop in Hanoi will be the Australian Government accredited TESOL course at AVSE. You’ve read more than 200 online reviews about AVSE, with the vast majority being top notch. Given your background, as solid as it is, bears no resemblance to teaching English in Hanoi, you figure that investing in some quality vocational training – teacher training – is a wise move. I think you’re right. Not only will the TESOL training at AVSE provide you with the knowledge, skills and quality certification you need to land that all-important first teaching job, it gives you 4 weeks to find your feet in a new country, surrounded by like-minded people who ooze ‘positive vibes’. 

Here’s the last bit of perspective. This article is focused on what to do immediately after you’ve arrived in Hanoi, taken a taxi to your accommodation, had a shower and a snooze. The tips that are provided are equally relevant if you’ve chosen to do a TESOL course with a provider other than AVSE, probably more so given AVSE’s supportive arrival process. Applying these tips should make your transition to a new lifestyle, initially as a TESOL student followed by teaching English in Hanoi, more straight-forward than it might otherwise be.  


Tip 1: Fix your phone

Walking around outside without a cell-phone that’s immediately accessible and useable, for many people, is akin to being ‘butt naked’ in the street. Rightly or wrongly, these days, cell-phones are an integral part of everyday life, especially when you’re located in unfamiliar surroundings. Google maps (via your cell-phone), may well end up being your best friend, at least for a few days until you know the backstreets and alleys that characterise Hanoi. Moreover, once you’ve fixed your phone, you’ll be able to reach out to family, friends and your TESOL provider. They’ll all be eager to hear that you arrived safely.

Getting your phone up and running might be a simple case of inserting a new (local) SIM card. Conversely, it might be a nightmare. If you’re a cell-phone guru, you’ll know what to do. If this doesn’t sound like you, making your way to a cell-phone shop close to your accommodation should be a priority. The good news is cell-phone shops in Hanoi are seemingly on every street corner. The receptionist in your hotel or guest house will surely point you in the right direction.

In the unlikely event you’ve travelled abroad without a cell-phone, you will need to get one. Jobs offers for teaching English in Hanoi are typically made by phone. If the employer can’t reach you by cell-phone, he (or she) will simply move onto the next candidate.

Note, fixing your cell-phone at the airport, will cost you substantially more than visiting a ‘mum and dad’ phone shop downtown.

Tip 2: Know the local neighbourhood

Now that your cell-phone is in working condition and you can tap your best mate ‘Google Maps’ on the shoulder, there is less chance you’ll get lost in Hanoi when you venture out. So, venture out. It’s time to get to know the neighbourhood where you’re staying, even if your current accommodation is only a short-term thing. Before venturing into the unknown, even though you have ‘Mr Google Maps’ in your pocket, take a business card from the place where you’re staying or write the address on a bit of paper and put it in your wallet as a back-up strategy to avoid getting lost. Worst case scenario, let’s assume you do get lost.  For sure, you will find the way back to your accommodation sooner or later, if only because downtown Hanoi isn’t that big. Anyway, it could be argued that getting lost in Hanoi is all part of the adventure.

Where is the grocery store, the pharmacy, the bus station, a great coffee shop, an area for passive recreation and most importantly for visitors to Hanoi who have done their research, the local ‘Bia Hoi’? What’s a Bia Hoi? Do a quick Google search and then make a point of visiting one when you’re in Hanoi.

Familiarising yourself with the neighbourhood extends toworking out how to get to the address where your TESOL course will take place. Again, Google Maps will come in handy, but something as simple as a ‘Mud Map’ with landmarks might be enough. Doing a ‘dry run’ from your accommodation to the training venue would be time well-spent.


Tip 3: Bond with your classmates, TESOL trainers and staff:

Assuming your TESOL course in Hanoi comes with high quality accreditation, like the Australian Government accredited programme at AVSE, you’ll be mixing with people – classmates, professional Vocational Trainers and TESOL support staff – who are on the very same journey as you, or are leading the way. You’ll be with like-minded souls. It’s within this kind of environment where life-long personal and professional relationships are formed.

When you’re in a foreign country, friends are more important than ever. Almost certainly you’ll need to reach out at some stage for guidance on visa matters, travelling around Vietnam, where to get a job teaching English in Hanoi, where not to work, employment or lease contracts and the list goes on. It makes sense to have a pool of decent people you can call on when they’re needed. Human nature dictates that people are usually happy to give a helping hand to someone they consider to be a friend. As always, people will be more likely to consider you as a friend, if you’re respectful and nice to them.

Tip 4: Take safety precautions

Statistics show that Hanoi is markedly safer than the capital cities of most developed countries. The Vietnamese Government and local people would like to keep it that way. While Hanoi is certainly safer than a lot of other cities, crime, especially petty crime, does occur and as a foreigner you’re a ‘stand-out’ target. If targeting does occur, more than anything else it’s down to the perception that foreign tourists have valuable possessions that can subsequently be exchanged for cash. Personally, I come from ‘sleepy’ Melbourne and for what it’s worth, I genuinely feel safer walking around Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.

While Hanoi (and elsewhere in Vietnam) has a well-deserved reputation for being safe, it’s always smart to take precautions including, but not limited to: store your money, passport and other valuables in a place that’s secure; know how to get into your accommodation after hours; be accompanied by friends when walking in the street at night; don’t use your cell-phone when standing or walking in the street; if you have to carry a bag in the street, make sure it has a long strap so you can place it across your body; and know who to call in case of an emergency. It’s common for folks who are teaching English in Hanoi to have evening classes that go to 8.30pm and even later. Travelling home (alone) after a late class requires extra vigilance. All of these precautions equally apply to any other city in the world.  

Tip 5: Always remember that you’re a visitor

I have been living and working in Vietnam for more than 14 years. Back in 2007, my old dad visited me in Vietnam. During this trip, he mentioned in passing ‘always remember you’re a visitor’ – and to this day, I’d like to think that I’ve heeded his astute advice.

Vietnamese people have every reason to be peeved with foreigners. For more than 3,000 years, foreigners have felt the need to turn up without an invitation and tell local people how to run their life. Despite what’s happened throughout history, almost certainly you will form a view that Hanoians and other Vietnamese folks are right up with the loveliest the world has to offer. Those who felt the need to trespass have long since been forgiven. These days, foreigners who are teaching English in Hanoi, are revered. Personally, I’d like to keep it that way.

You and I – and hundreds of thousands like us – are now welcome in Vietnam, but as my old dad said ‘always remember you’re a visitor’. Be polite. Go about your work teaching English in Hanoi in a professional manner. Respect local customs and traditions. Don’t get involved in discussions about politics and religion. If there are language problems, be mindful that in Vietnam people speak Vietnamese and if you’re having issues with understanding something or getting your point across – they’re your issues. To drive home the importance of ‘always remembering you’re a visitor’, here’s a succinct analogy: when visiting a friend or neighbour’s house, would you take it upon yourself to rearrange their furniture? I don’t think so.

In summary, I’ve provided 5 tips that should make it easier for you to transition from your former life to your new life as a TESOL student in the short-term and then teaching English in Hanoi. Fix your phone, know what’s available, network, take sensible steps to enhance your safety and be respectful towards locals. You’ve been brave enough to embark on this ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure, so it makes sense to grab the opportunity with both hands.  

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. AVSE-TESOL has been training aspiring educators for jobs teaching English in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other parts of Vietnam for more than a decade. Feel free to contact Peter via email: peter@avse.edu.vn

About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. AVSE-TESOL has been training aspiring educators for jobs teaching English in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other parts of Vietnam for more than a decade. Feel free to contact Peter via email: peter@avse.edu.vn

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