The decision to complete your TEFL in Vietnam at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City rather than going with a training provider in your home country has been made. Within a matter of weeks, you’ll be boarding a flight and heading off to Vietnam to complete your TEFL training at AVSE and then work as an English language teacher. How lucky are you? Very lucky indeed! Here’s a bit of background information that might be useful with planning your trip.
History and Geography
Archaeological artifacts indicate that humans were living in northern Vietnam 500,000 years ago, but primitive agriculture didn’t arrive until around 7,000 BC. It took a further 6,600 years for the sophisticated Bronze Age ‘Dong Son’ culture, famed for its drums, to make an appearance.
The Chinese played a huge role in early Vietnamese history and it could be argued that in one way or another, they’ve continued to do so to this very day. The history books tell us that Vietnam has had more than its fair share of uprisings, rebellion and occupation. From 1861 through to 1957 (apart from a relatively short period of Japanese occupation), Vietnam as we know it today was occupied by the French.
Shortly after the French decided that they’d had enough, Vietnam was split into two separate countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. War erupted between the north and the south and tragically millions of people died, including a large number of civilians. The war in Vietnam came to an end on 30 April 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army overwhelmed the South with a massive offensive, peace was finally achieved and the country started on the path to reunification.
Quick tip: If history is your thing, there’s a good chance you’ll be impressed with the War Remnants (Vietnam War) Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s best to check the hours that it’s open on the day you intend to visit, rather than just turning up.
Vietnam’s total land area is 331,211 square kilometres. The country has land borders with Cambodia, Laos and China.
Crudely, Vietnam can be divided into 3 distinct segments: 1. the highlands and Red River Delta in the north; 2. the central mountains and costal lowlands in the middle; and 3. the Mekong Delta in the south. Interestingly, more than 10,000 square kilometres of the Mekong Delta is dedicated to rice farming, making the area one of the top rice-growing regions in the world.
Quick tip: You’d be well-advised to take plenty of insect repellant on a trip to the Mekong Delta. There’s no doubt in my mind that the nastiest mosquitos in the whole world live down that way.
Population and Religion
At the end of 2019 the population of Vietnam was estimated to be 96.9 million people, making it the 15th most populous country in the world. By a huge margin, ‘Kinh’ is the largest ethnic group in Vietnam – 85% (plus) of the total population, with the remaining 15% consisting of people from some 53 distinct communities.
With every year that goes by we are seeing more and more Vietnamese migrate from rural areas to larger cities, especially to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, for a range of reasons including employment opportunities, access to services and quality of life. Presently, around 40% of the population lives in urban areas, more than 9% in Ho Chi Minh City alone.
Quick tip: With 96.9 million people living on a relatively small tract of land – in a developing country – it’s no surprise that traffic congestion is a huge problem in Vietnam, especially in the larger cities. When you need to travel somewhere while completing your TEFL in Vietnam, perhaps to a teaching practice class at a school in the next suburb, make sure you allow plenty of time to get to where you need to be.
As a hard-line Communist State, Vietnam is officially atheist, but the reality is that religion plays a part in the lives of many Vietnamese people. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are the three most prominent religions in Vietnam. It’s not uncommon for the three religions to be grouped together as one religion named ‘Tam giao’ (in Vietnamese) or ‘the three teachings’.
Interestingly, around 7% of the total population of Vietnam is Catholic. There are more than 2,200 Catholic parishes the length and breadth of Vietnam that are collectively serviced by 2,600 (plus) ordained priests. The French designed Notre Dame Cathedral in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City is the largest and most impressive Catholic Church in the whole of Vietnam.
Quick tip: Given that Vietnam is: 1. a hard-line Communist State; and 2. officially atheist, you’d be well-advised, especially given you’re a visitor, to avoid any discussion about religion.
Vietnam’s climate varies from north to south, with the north having the conventional four seasons and the south having only two seasons – wet and dry.
It is hot and wet in the northern part of the country including Hanoi during the summer months and cold and dry in the winter months. High humidity and sunlight are weather characteristics in the north of Vietnam regardless of the time of year. Although the north of the country is either very wet or very dry, the transitions months provide for the conventional four seasons.
The weather in the south of Vietnam including Ho Chi Minh City is oppressively hot and humid 12 months of the year. During the wet season you can almost set your clock by the daily downpour of rain. The rain typically lasts for only an hour or so, but long enough to cause localised flooding in many areas. Usually the flood water disappears within 30 minutes or so after the rain stops. During the dry season, as the term suggests, it’s highly likely you won’t see a drop of rain in the south of Vietnam. No rain means lots of dust and poor air quality so you may find yourself joining the throng of locals who wear surgical masks when they venture outside.
Quick tip: If it happens that you’re doing your TEFL in Vietnam during the wet season, or teaching in Vietnam during the wet season, don’t wear your work (teaching) shoes when you’re out and about. Wear sandals or similar and carry your work shoes in a day pack. Why? There’s a high chance you’ll have to wade through water to get from point A to point B.
Putting aside some of the more exotic ‘food items’ that many Vietnamese people swear by, you’d have to say that Vietnamese cuisine is right up there with the healthiest on offer anywhere in the world due to the reliance on ‘farm-fresh’ ingredients and lots of vegetables, herbs and spices. Most Vietnamese dishes are testament that ‘cheap’ can also taste good and you’ll have ample opportunity while completing your TEFL in Vietnam at AVSE to make up your own mind. Here’s a random selection of everyday food items in Vietnam that you should try at least once:
Pho: a soup-like dish with rice-noodles, meat of one kind or another, bean sprouts, a sprinkling of various herbs and spices and a splash of lemon. Most Vietnamese will add soya sauce and chilies to a bowl of Pho in quantities that would leave the average westerner aghast.
Bo Kho: a braised beef and vegetable stew with lots of lemongrass and spices. The stew is typically left to simmer for at least a couple of hours. Make sure you’ve got a French baguette to scrape the bowl clean.
Bun Cha: is a pork meatball (looks like a rissole) dish that’s typically eaten with salad and bread. It’s a popular ‘street food’ in Hanoi and elsewhere in the north of Vietnam. Young children love Bun Cha.
Banh Mi: is basically a French baguette that’s stuffed with meat and vegetables of your choosing. Interestingly, the iconic Travel Book, Rough Guides, ranked Banh Mi right up there with the World’s best street foods.
Quick tip: Occupiers rarely add value to a country but give credit where it’s due. The French baguettes that are found the length and breadth of Vietnam are simply divine. Throw in a bit of salad, meat of some sort and a drop of soya sauce and you’ve got a perfect Banh Mi for breakfast or lunch.
Visa and Currency
To enter Vietnam, you will need a passport that has at least 6 months remaining and a valid visa. These days most people who are travel to Vietnam opt for a Tourist Visa on arrival, which can be finalised online from the comfort of your own living room in less than 10 minutes. You will find information about the Tourist Visa on arrival option here.
If you plan to: 1. complete your TEFL in Vietnam at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City; and then 2. Work as an English teacher, you’d be well-advised to opt for a 3-month Tourist Visa on arrival. Why? It will cover you for the period of the TEFL course, the transition to employment and the transition to an employer sponsored visa.
Quick tip: If you go with the Visa on Arrival option, make sure you’ve got the Approval Letter with you when you arrive in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s official currency is the Vietnam Dong (vnd). Prices are typically quoted and advertised in Vietnam Dong. ATM machines only dispense Vietnam Dong.
Quick tip: If you plan on teaching in Vietnam after your TEFL course at AVSE, your employer (a school) will almost certainly pay you once a month with a wad of Vietnam Dong notes. It’s best to open a bank account at the earliest opportunity and deposit any spare funds, rather than keeping your money under your bed or somewhere else where it can be easily stolen.
TEFL in Vietnam
The TEFL programme at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect springboard to a new career path teaching English in Vietnam. What AVSE offers is unmatched by other TESOL/TEFL providers, certification that’s accredited by the Australian Government, accommodation for the entirety of the 4-week study programme and a guaranteed teaching job at the end of the course. So, what are you waiting for, enroll today.
Quick tip: TEFL classes at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City fill quickly. It’s wise to book 2 or 3 months in advance to avoid missing out on your chosen course. You will find specific dates for the TEFL course at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City here.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. Peter has lived and worked outside of his native Australia for approaching two decades in total. If you’d like to know more about the AVSE pathway to teaching English in Vietnam, feel free to email Peter directly: email@example.com