I’ve been considering doing this one for a while.
I, like many other teachers in Saigon, completed my TESOL course at the Australia-Vietnam School of English in Gò Vấp district (aka ‘the Ninja Teacher course’). I didn’t go through Ninja Teacher, who are a company who hook you up with this course, but lots of my friends did. Before I arrived I tried to find as many reviews of AVSE as I could and I noticed- as did many other people I’ve met since then- that the reviews were suspiciously positive. Every single person was hailing AVSE as the gold standard of TESOL providers and thanking them for the experience of a lifetime. It seemed… odd.
Usually, even the best products and companies get negative reviews and often it isn’t even their own fault. Nothing in life is ever perfect and there is always at least one disgruntled and overly sensitive keyboard warrior ready to slam something, or someone, online. So AVSE’s perfect five star record on sites like teflcoursereview.com isn’t an accident. I’ve since discovered that Peter Goudge, the founder and director of AVSE, encourages students to give good reviews in exchange for a glowing reference and has found a way to remove the negative ones. I would not go as far as to call this a scam or a lie, but what this process does do is prevent reviewers from giving each other helpful advice and a realistic idea of what to expect.
I’m not here to criticise AVSE. I’m glad I went with them and have a lot of good things to say. However, I think it might be helpful to provide an honest, rather than sycophantic, view of the course and provide information that I wish I’d known before I started.
There are a few TESOL instructors at AVSE now that it’s grown so much, so what I’m saying may not apply to all of them. I was taught by David Chalker, and he was great. He has a lot of teaching experience in various fields and has been in Vietnam for a long time, so he really knew his stuff. He was able to answer all of the hundreds of questions we asked him every day (and some people in my class did not know when to stop) and gave us so much useful information, as well as setting our expectations for post-AVSE life in Vietnam.
As you’d hope, the course teaches you a lot about teaching. You must complete seven teaching practices: one hour of teaching your peers, one hour of teaching real students and then five more two-hour lessons, some of which take place in AVSE and some at other schools nearby (AVSE arrange and pay for your transport to these schools). You also have to complete a 1500-word essay on the subject of motivation, one simple course design and provide your formal lesson plans for your seven teaching practices. It’s a fair bit of work, especially in the last week when everyone’s scrambling to finish it, but there is still plenty of time for socialising.
AVSE/Ninja Teacher promise you ‘western-standard accommodation’ for the during of the course. What even is ‘western-standard’ accommodation? Is that a standard that even exists? (Answer: no.)
The course accommodation is divided into several houses and hotels; some are better than others, but none are luxury and all are liveable. If you really hate where you’re staying, then you can ask to move. Most of them are Vietnamese-style buildings (tall and narrow) and the furniture in my hotel was quite old. The beds are hard Vietnamese beds, not the soft, springy ones preferred in the west.
Getting Settled In
AVSE are great for helping you get settled in Vietnam and setting your expectations for post-course life. They offer guidance on seemingly small things, such as how to cross the road (actually quite terrifying when you first get here), how to get a sim card and how not to get scammed by a taxi. David explained lots of things that seemed baffling about Vietnam, such as the law that every hotel has to keep your passport, why it’s rude to touch someone on the head and why spitting is so socially acceptable here. AVSE really helped me to settle in and start to understand the culture here, for which I am very grateful.
AVSE also create your teaching CV for you and help you to make it as effective as possible and set up interviews with schools. The job guarantee is a little bit fishy, which I’ll get to later, but they do give you some help.
AVSE offers a lot of extras, such as airport pick-up, Vietnamese lessons and bicycle or motorbike hire. The airport pick-up is $25, which I was happy to pay as it saved some hassle, but you could easily sort a taxi or an Uber to the school and probably save a few dollars if you wanted. I wouldn’t recommend hiring a bicycle in Gò Vấp district because the traffic there is the worst in the city, but that’s a matter of personal choice. As for a motorbike, the fee $100 for a month. It would be cheaper, but perhaps less convenient, to organise your own hire from a local company; $50-70/month, depending on the bike. I paid for the Vietnamese lessons and regretted it, partly because they were usually scheduled on weekends, when I either had teaching practices or wanted to go and do fun things with my new friends. I also discovered that the Vietnamese lessons you can find through Facebook are a lot better value for money and that many of the bigger language centres offer free ones.
The Guaranteed Job
One of AVSE and Ninja Teacher’s biggest selling points is the guaranteed job. They’re not lying to you- if speak English, you WILL find a job out here. What they DON’T tell you is that the guaranteed job within two weeks accounts for $500 of what you’re paying for the course. (I know this because one of my friends requested a fee breakdown from Peter Goudge and showed me.) This is the same fee as an agency providing the same service would charge. They also don’t tell you that unless you badger them, they’re not THAT fussed about getting you a job. I had to remind the office via email a few times, which wasn’t the end of the world, but after I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for, they weren’t that proactive in finding me a second interview. Sure, I could have pestered them some more, but I decided it would be more effective just to look by myself, and I found employment fairly quickly.
Employment is very easy to come by for English teachers out here, so don’t choose AVSE for the job guarantee alone. They do set most people up with at least one interview and might help you change jobs later down the line; a friend of mine emailed them a few months later asking them to find her a second job and they came through. I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, but I also think they should be a little more transparent about what people are paying for; had I known that $500 of my hard-earned money was going towards a guaranteed job within fourteen days, I certainly would have hounded them a little more.
Gò Vấp district is not a central district in Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, it takes around 40 mins to get from the AVSE campus into district one. It’s a poor and grimy district with terrible traffic and constant noise. It’s not pretty. However, it’s cheap and there are some fun things to do there; mainly the 3000 dong beer bar. There is some great local street food and a few lovely coffee shops dotted about. There’s also a great spa called La Spa, which is a short ride from the school, where you can enjoy a two-hour massage for $14. It’s an overwhelming part of an overwhelming city, but in the end it grew on me and although I wouldn’t move back there now, I’m quite glad that that’s where I started out.
So that’s my honest review of the AVSE/Ninja Teacher TESOL course. What are your thoughts? I’d be interested to hear from others who have completed the course, and welcome questions for those considering doing so!