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

Article by: Peter Goudge, May 28, 2020

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

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