Ho Chi Minh City, Halong Bay, floating markets, motorbikes, coffee, Pho; these are few of the things that make Vietnam a stunning country.
I’ve not been to Vietnam, but after meeting Mary, a Montessori and an English teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Instagram, I am convinced that moving to Vietnam wouldn’t be a bad idea!
Mary’s been working in Vietnam since February 2018. She left her 8-6 job to pursue her passion for teaching.
We had a compelling conversation about her life in Vietnam and her experience with racism and how she handles the matter. She also made great advise on how to keep yourself motivated.
It was also great to be reminded that being on Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW), is not something permanent, and that we have to manage our finances wisely.
Here’s our conversation:
Me: Before we get started could you please introduce yourself the way you like to be introduced
Mary: Mary is a 29ish girl from Manila who took a leap of faith and left her mundane 8-6 job to pursue her passion in teaching. She’s now a full time Montessori/English teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Me: How long have you been working In Vietnam po?
Mary: I’ve been teaching for almost three years. I arrived here February of 2018.
Me: Nice. What made you decide to work abroad, and why Vietnam?
Mary: Teaching English abroad is such an exciting opportunity. Once you are armed with your TESOL or TEFL Certificate, it is time to decide where you want to begin your ESL journey. After some extensive research , I decided to move to Hanoi. Vietnam is not only a great place to live and work, but it is also great for saving too! With high salaries for English teachers ( though it comes with horror stories too specially if you’re not a Native English Speaker!) and low cost of living, you will still have some monies left to save.
Me: That’s great to know. I got curious with the horror stories. What were they? Aren’t you afraid?
Mary: We Filipinos experience racism here too. Most often than not, schools and parents prefer “white” teachers over qualified non-native English speakers. Filipino teachers, even with proper documents, certifications and years of experiences would probably struggle to find a teaching job here in Vietnam, despite the fact there are tons of offers. If luckily, a non-native speaker gets to be invited in a demo-interview, they would also be offered less than a caucasian, blue-eyed native speaker. Native speakers are offered with 20-30 dollars an hour right away, while non-natives would have to start at 15 dollars, sometimes even as low as 12 dollars per hour.
Me: That’s insightful. How were you able to cope with racism?
Mary: Actually whether we like it or not, racism is imbedded everywhere. For most people of color, it becomes increasingly impossible to escape. The root of racism here is believing that children aren’t getting a quality education if the teacher isn’t “white”. So what do we do? We prove them wrong. My “kids” are the living proof that despite being a non-native speaker, we can still produce globally competitive students.
Me: Can I just say that I’m proud of you and thank you for proving them wrong. Out if curiosity, how different is the educational system in Vietnam from the Philippines?
Mary: Oh thank you so much!
Actually there’s not much of a difference but you know, according to a report that I’ve read before, Vietnam spends 5.7% of the total GDP on education while Philippines spends only about 2.7%. They give high importance to education here. I know some parents who would spend hundreds of thousand just so they could send their kids to the best English Centers.
In my school, my youngest student is a 12month baby girl. Her parents pay about 200 dollars in monthly tuition.
Me: That’s incredible. Vietnamese people really value education. By the way, how’s living in Vietnam like?
Mary: Moving to Vietnam is one of my best decisions so far. When I started traveling out of the country back in 2015, Vietnam was really not in my priority to visit. I was leaning more towards to Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.
The beauty of Vietnam is you can have any type of lifestyle you want. There is a sense of freedom for expats in Vietnam because of the affordability of everything. Living in Vietnam is cheaper than in the Philippines (this of course is based on my personal experience). You can rent a fully furnished one bedroom apartment for about 200 dollars. They come with cleaners too most of the time! I spend an average of 2-3 dollars on my motorbike’s gas which will last for about 2-3 days. Grab bikes are incredibly cheap and reliable, just be ready for the adrenaline rush as the bike zooms through to what seems like millions of cars and bikes.
Vietnam is also a coffee heaven!Did you know that Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee, next to Brazil? They have a wide range of coffee varieties! And you can literally find coffeeshops anywhere.
Is it safe in Vietnam? Yes. In my almost 3 years of living and travelling in Vietnam, I feel safe. My only experience of crime in Vietnam was when I had a misunderstanding with a taxi driver. This doesn’t mean of course that crime doesn’t exist in Vietnam. It’s always important to exercise caution just as you would in any country.
Me: What an insight. You speak highly of Vietnam, I’m considering moving there 😂. Has settling in Vietnam ever crossed your mind?
Mary: Yes! Give me my supplies of sinigang mix and pancit canton and I think I can move here for good. 😝
Me: I love sinigang! By the way, what’s your greatest achievement so far?
Mary: I think my greatest achievement so far are my kids. My kids and their remarkable progress. Wow, parang Ms. Universe pala yung sagot ko. But yes,I feel the most accomplished whenever my kids learn from me.
Me: Thank to candidate number 1 for that remarkable answer. Joke 😂. Well I’m happy you find fulfillment with what you do. By the way, what makes you motivated? Or how to you keep yourself motivated?
Mary: Whenever people ask what makes me motivated, I would always tell them “A Birkin of course!”
To be honest, recently I feel like Im losing my zest in life again. There are times when I would call in sick because I don’t feel like teaching.
And actually it’s okay that we feel unmotivated from time to time. That makes us human after all. If we feel like we’re lost, the best thing to do is to take a breather. Relax. Give yourself a “me time”. Do some things that really makes you happy. A coffee, mani pedi, or even a massage. A little retail therapy might also help. 😅
From there try to remember what drives us in the first place. Find the purpose that we truly believe in.
Me: That’s a beautiful advise. I 100% agree with hiving yourself a “me time”. So what’s next for Mary?
Mary: What’s next? Maybe start a family two years from now. I need to buy a house yet 😅
Me: Cool! I pray you’ll have a house soon 😊. Do you have any advise or tips to current and aspiring OFWs?
Mary: What I’m about to say maybe is an unpopular opinion but if you’re an OFW please make YOURSELF a TOP PRIORITY! I believe we should all be a bit more selfish. We should all prioritize our own needs. We should take care of ourselves before taking care of other people. You’re of no service to anyone if you’re tired, stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry, etc.
I know someone who’s been here for more than a year yet he’s failed to save because he would always give in to his family’s wants and needs. Know when you’ve had enough. Make your family aware that our OFW life is not forever, and the reason you are doing this is so you could also prepare for your own future.
Restrain your spending and manage your financials wisely.
Me: Wow! Love those advise. Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else you’d like to share to our readers?
Mary: Chase your dreams even if it scares you. There’s no such thing as “too late”- whether it’s a job, an education or even a reconciliation from an estranged friend. Cliche it may sound but life begins outside our comfort zones.