The Vietnamese government is encouraging young learners to learn English. Progress is being made. Nowadays, in small villages and large cities, you will be surrounded by armies of kids excitedly wanting to have basic conversations with you in English.
As the kids get older, they get divided into two categories. The ones who live in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Da Nang and the ones who live everywhere else. Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Da Nang attract a lot of foreign teachers. The kids in these cities have the opportunity to expand on their rudimentary knowledge of the subject. They can take the subject up to IELTS and Business English.
In the smaller, less well-known cities, the kids do not have the same opportunities to talk to foreigners, both in and out of school. Companies like Apax are trying to push foreign teachers into all corners of Vietnam. However, some smaller cities are not particularly appealing to foreigners.
RELATED POST: Teaching English in Vietnam
Finding Jobs in the Smaller Cities
Over the last 18 months, I have lived in Vinh and Vinh Phuc and spent brief periods in Than Hoa and Nam Dinh. It is easy to clump all the tier 2 cities into one group. However, some are undoubtedly bigger, more lively, cleaner, and more developed than others.
Finding jobs in these smaller cities is easy. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh teaching pages always have ads for jobs outside the two cities. These cities’ schools and language centers will give anyone a trial period regardless of experience or qualifications. More due diligence by the schools would save them and the teachers time. I taught at the high schools in Nam Dinh. I had no idea what I was doing. It was unfair on the kids.
Living in Vinh Phuc
After problems with MIC (Minh Quang International), getting blacklisted from the country, and failing a few probation periods, I ended up in Vinh Phuc with Apax. 60 km away from the capital of Vietnam but a world apart from Hanoi. It was a small city with merits, such as Tam Dao National Park and the quiet roads. In reality, the only reason you did not go mad in the city was its proximity to Hanoi and the other teachers.
There was virtually no expat community in Vinh Phuc before Apax rolled into town. The company alone took the community from two to 20 teachers. In the smaller cities, the teachers you live with are the ones you socialize and work with. You either become a close-knit community, or it feels a bit claustrophobic. The frustration is that no matter how much you research a city, it is impossible to know if you will have chemistry with the other teachers until you arrive.
RELATED POST: The best city to live in Vietnam
Living in Vinh
Vinh is bigger than Vinh Phuc. There is more to do daily regarding sports, leisure, and nights out. The significant disadvantage with Vinh and nearby cities is that they are not particularly close to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, or Da Nang.
An American who has lived in the city for five years and has a family here set up an English club. It allows young teenagers and university students to have everyday conversations with teachers, away from the confines of an ESL syllabus, which can sometimes be described as bizarre. Clubs like these bridge the gap between the Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Da Nang students and everyone else.
RELATED POST: How to get a Vietnam work permit
Racism in the Vietnam ESL Industry
Spend a few minutes on Hanoi Massive and the other teaching pages, and you will see a racist agenda by some companies. Some companies favor white skin over any meaningful qualifications or experience. Thankfully, at the head office level of Apax, the recruitment company has a progressive mindset. I know the recruitment team and have seen the diverse range of teachers they have trained.
Unfortunately, complications can arise in the individual branches. One of my BMs (branch managers) always wanted to put the blond-haired, white-skinned teachers on center stage at marketing events. It made no sense even from a timetable and experience point of view.
If you are on the receiving end of racism, really try not to be deterred from Vietnam or teaching. Leave your current job and go to another school or language center. You do not have racist cities and companies. You have racist BMs and racist vocal parents who force the BM’s hand.
The locals rarely see foreigners in the smaller cities away from the tourist circuit. Maybe the city has a few workers from South Korea, China, or Thailand, but on the whole, these small cities can be very mono-cultured. That inevitably causes some of this underhanded and blatant racism to thrive.
Pay in the Tier 2 Cities
When I was naive and inexperienced, I believed MIC’s claim that the pay is less in smaller cities. Please do not be naive and stupid like me. That was one of many red flags I did not notice, telling me that MIC was a company not to be trusted.
In the tier 2 cities, you should expect at least $18 an hour. To incentivize teachers to stay in Vinh Phuc longer, Apax gave a 56,000,000 VND bonus if they stayed for 12 months. If you only work 20 hours a week, supplement your income with some online teaching as well. The extra money just allows you to travel further during Christmas and TET Holidays (the Vietnamese equivalent of Chinese New Year).
Housing in Tier 2 Cities
Any job in a tier 2 city should have housing or a housing allowance. Finding your accommodation in these smaller cities can be challenging. Studio flats did not exist in Vinh Phuc, and 2-bed flats were 8 million a month. In Vinh, studio flats cost 6.5 million. Dealing with my Vietnamese landlord in Vinh Phuc was a nightmare. Conversations about rent, bills and a blown fuse using Google Translate were challenging.
When I worked for Ocean Edu in Than Hoa for two weeks, they made me pay 150,000 VND a night for an extremely average hotel room. If, in the tier 2 cities, the company is not giving you housing or an allowance, then it’s a clear sign to leave.
RELATED POST: How to find an apartment in Vietnam
When you arrive in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, test your feet in the area for a few days. Make your mind up for yourself. Are they wild party cities with ample work opportunities, socializing, making friends, and learning Vietnamese culture? Or are they noisy, polluted cesspits overrun by tourists and expats?
If you like Vietnam and hate the two big cities then research the smaller cities. Do a bit of Googling. Do they have gyms, swimming pools, nightclubs and cinemas? Is there a city-specific expat group on Facebook? How lively is the Facebook group? And finally, I wish you good luck on your new adventure!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I am Ross The Explorer. A travel, nature and war history enthusiast who has been on the road for the last 3 years.
After quitting my mind-numbing job I moved to Australia for a year. I camped in the Great Australian Bight, nearly died in Northern Territory and worked at a pub.
After Australia, I was making my way up to Beijing to find work and celebrate the Chinese New Year. Plans changed. I have now been teaching in Vietnam for over 18 months.
Photo Credit: All photos are owned by rosstheexplorer.com with permission to use unless stated.