A Week in the Life of an English Teacher in Vietnam

No two weeks in Saigon are ever the same, but they do tend to follow a rough pattern. Last week, I kept a brief diary to give you an insight into what a ‘typical’ week in the life of an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City might look like.

Monday, 7 May

I wake up at about 11 and, very surprisingly given it’s a Monday, I am not hungover. However, any happiness that stems from this is immediately quashed by a glimpse outside my window; it’s bucketing it down. Given that last night I got stuck at work for an extra forty minutes due to rain, I am not exactly feeling charitable towards the wet season today.

My journey to work is somewhat wet but I don’t arrive looking totally like a drowned rat, so that’s something. I have two classes tonight: a kindergarten and a primary school aged class, so I’m at work for a total of four hours today: quite a hefty amount for a weekday! My classes go well and I’m home by ten past nine. I meet my landladies to pay them this month’s rent, video chat with my mum and then spend the rest of the evening completing some online training for the summer camp I’ll be working at when I arrive home in the summer. All in all: a wild day.

Tuesday, 8 May 

I wake up at about 10.30 and head to the Fabric Market in district 5 with some friends. We’re planning to have some clothes made. First, you have to buy your fabric, then you take it to a tailor (along with a picture of the item you’d like made) and get measured. After it’s made, you try it on and have any necessary adjustments made and then voila! you have a unique garment fitted perfectly to you. (For a more in-depth guide to getting clothes made in Ho Chi Minh City, click here.)

Typically, it starts to rain as soon as we leave. However, it only seems to be raining in district 2, and it’s actually pretty sunny by the time we reach the market. There is so much material everywhere; the possibilities are endless. At the top of the street, fabric is between 50-60 thousand dong per metre (around $2.20-$2.65/£1.62-£1.95). It gets a little more expensive as you move further down, as it’s more ‘special occasion’ material- think sparkles and sequins.

We get poké for lunch because, well, poké, and then go our separate ways. I have my first ever online tutoring session with Palfish (a review to follow in the coming weeks) and it’s pretty nice; just half an hour of chatting with a girl called Shirley, who is interesting to talk to and has excellent English. My friends and I had agreed to reconvene at the tailor’s at four but a storm puts paid to those plans. I take a nap instead.

 

I have work at 6 tonight. It’s one of my favourite classes: an IELTS prep class, consisting of older teens and young adults. We get on well and they make me laugh; they’ve even started to mock my British accent.

After I finish work at 9, I go to Lush ladies’ night. Free alcohol for girls until midnight? Um, YES PLEASE. There are a lot of ladies’ nights in Saigon and Lush’s is one of the most well-known. Once I arrive, the reason behind it’s popularity is clear. A lot of places limit their menu to a few cocktails but Lush serves pretty much everything, from beer to Bailey’s to wine. There’s a chilled-out bar area in the back, a main club room with thumping music and a VIP-style (though anyone can go up there) balcony over the dance floor. The other girls head on to Bui Vien after midnight, but I’m saving myself for a Deadmau5 concert the next day, so I order a Grab bike home and, thanks to the free wine, am asleep within minutes.

Wednesday 9 May 

I wake up and work out, then wend my way to my friend’s apartment to get ready for the Deadmau5 concert tonight. Hardly anyone ever comes to play in Vietnam, so the expat community is excited. We drink wine and spend a few hours making ourselves beautiful- a big job, trust me. Once ready, we go for pre-drinks at our head teacher’s apartment along with some other teachers from our campus.

The concert is AWESOME. I’ve never been to an EDM one before and wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy it, but it’s incredible and I have the best time. Afterwards, we go on to a few other venues and I call it a night at around 3.30-4am. The others party on, but unlike me they’re not idiots and didn’t agree to work the next day…

Thursday 10 May

Needless to say, today is not a productive one. I start a new class that evening and I’m not sure I make the best impression, but fortunately they’re friendly young adults, not unruly kindergarteners. After work, I go to see ‘Death Wish’ at the cinema with my friends, Lee and Lauren. It’s so cheap at just ₫90,000 (£3/$4) per ticket that I wonder why I don’t go more often. Then it’s home to bed; I’m exhausted.

Friday 11 May 

My friend Jackie’s sister is in town, so we go for a girly spa day at a Korean Spa We spend a few hours there enjoying the different rooms and such, then go to Poké Saigon for lunch because, again, poké.

I have an adult class in the evening and they’re horrible. Well, three of the students nestled in the corner are at least. They roll their eyes at every activity I try to introduce and at the end think they’re being subtle when they ask if I’m going to be teaching them next week too. I tell them yes and after they give an unenthusiastic “ok”, I’m sorely tempted to tell them “trust me, I don’t want to see you again either.” Instead, I give them a fake smile and dismiss them early, keeping my “good riddance” inside my head. I get home at about 10 and head straight to bed, since my class tomorrow starts at 7.40. Joy.

Saturday 12 May

I’m up bright and early- or perhaps just early. I hit snooze about four times before I actually get up. Nonetheless, I manage to arrive at work before the bell rings- a real challenge for me on the weekends! I have two classes, during which I struggle to keep my eyes open. I’m not properly recovered from Deadmau5 yet, and I don’t tend to really feel properly awake much before 10 on the weekends anyway. I have a break after lunch, so I go home to chill and then have another class again at 4.45. It’s these kids’ first time in an English-speaking classroom, so even getting them to open their books or pick up their crayons takes a lot of miming and patience. I finish two hours’ later and get to go home for the night. For the past few months, I’ve been working until 9.30 on Saturdays with another early start on Sundays, so I really appreciate having the evening to unwind before bed.

Sunday 13 May

I’m back at it again with the 7.40 class. A teachers’ meeting prevents me from getting my break-time banh mi and by lunch time I’m not in the best of moods. “Maybe I’m just done with teaching…” I think, until I remember that I haven’t eaten today and my lack of patience is mere hanger. I finish for the day at 12.10, as I haven’t got many classes on Sunday at the moment. I’d like more, but today I’m grateful to be able to go and satisfy myself with a pizza. Worth. It.

Sunday night is Friday night in the ESL world, since the majority of teaching hours are over the weekends, whilst the weeks are much less intense. Most classes are finished by seven, so Sunday is pretty much the only night all teachers are guaranteed a free evening. Sunday night, therefore, is family night, so in the evening I go for a street food dinner at Oc Phat in district 4 with my favourite dysfunctional bunch (minus the recently departed Barney- waaaah.) The meal includes fish eyes and frogs legs, and it is gooooood. The planned one-or-two beers turns into five-or-six, and we all leave feeling full, happy and ever-so-slightly tipsy.

All in all, it was a pretty good week. I think it’s important to bear in mind that, while living here is tremendous fun, not every day is going to be exciting- and that’s totally okay! 

 

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