The last few years of our adventures have been marked by ending up in places we had never heard of before we found out that they were going to be our homes for at least the next year. First there was our little yellow melon town of Seongju, next was our island paradise of Ulleungdo, and now, since moving to Vietnam, we’re sitting in the industrial town of Phu Ly.
If you had asked me 3 years ago when we decided to get into TEFL if I would have expected this, I would have said no. We keep surprising ourselves with our choices and as exciting as that adventure is it can also get extremely stressful. So this post is a little check-in to the MC Adventure Blog crew, all the practicalities and experiences (good and bad) while everything is still fresh in our memories and not glossed over by the nostalgia of travel.
Choosing Vietnam and APAX English
One afternoon we were wandering along the sea walkway on Ulleungdo and we started talking about ‘what next’. Ulleungdo was the most beautiful place we had ever lived but we were finding the EPIK system of teaching was getting stifling. Forced to sit at school for 8 hours a day regardless of whether or not you’re teaching starts to feel like your years of hard study are being a little wasted in what amounts to daycare for teachers! So we knew we wanted to move but the next question was, where?
Since being in the TEFL industry we’ve heard countless horror stories about terrible teaching conditions, deportations for incorrect visas and general mistreatment of teachers. So much so that Monique put together this article on how to choose a TEFL job that suits you, with advice on what to look for and ways to potentially pick up on a scam. We weren’t just going to jump into the first opportunity that came our way.
We had been considering Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam for while. We personally had no experience with Vietnam but we had several friends there. When we found APAX English on Google it stood out as a very legitimate option. We did further research, checked out their site in detail, and hounded our friends for their experiences with the company. The teaching also sounded like it suited us perfectly, focusing on creative learning and holistic teaching. In the end APAX seemed to tick all the boxes so we submitted our applications.
The application process was extremely simple and much easier than it was to get into South Korea. We tried to apply towards the end of 2018 but we were asked to resubmit our applications in the new year, closer to the time we could start teaching so they would know what placements were available. Being us, we resubmitted on January 2nd! Having 2 years TEFL experience, and have previously taught in South Africa, our applications were accepted quickly and after a cursory interview it was confirmed that we would start teaching in Vietnam when our EPIK contracts ended.
Getting your documents ready
No reputable TEFL company will accept teachers without the appropriate documents. The APAX minimum standard requires a Bachelors degree and a TEFL certificate. Just having these documents is not enough and you will need to get them legalised in your home country before you leave. It is usually the same process as getting your documents apostilled but Vietnam is not part of the apostille accord so they must be legalised. If you are coming from South Africa you can read up on how to get the process done with this handy apostille and legalisation guide. You will also need a criminal background check but it can be done in Vietnam. We had gotten Korean background checks but they won’t be accepted in Vietnam so, with APAX’s help, we applied for Vietnamese background checks.
Make sure you do this well in advance of leaving. The process can take ages, especially if you use a third party to help you. Several new teachers at orientation were having a terrible time because their documents were meant to be shipped to Vietnam but were lost somewhere in the system.
Leaving South Korea
The next step in our journey of moving to Vietnam, after successfully applying to teach at APAX, was to actually leave South Korea. Normally this wouldn’t be too difficult but we had to factor in a 3 hour ferry ride to get off Ulleungdo! We had 2 weeks of leave left and we took those in the last 2 weeks of our contract with EPIK so we could spend a little time in South Africa visiting family before we would jet off to Vietnam.
We would love to be minimalist but at the end of the day we love to collect stuff too. Usually art from our travels and things to make life easier. After 2 years of living in Korea we had accumulated a fair amount of stuff so we had to start making tough decisions.
MC Adventure Blog meet Marie Kondo
Around the time we needed to get packing we discovered Marie Kondo and her method of cleaning away clutter. It couldn’t have come at a better time and we ended up donating several boxes of clothes and other useful items to charities around Korea. Luckily a lot of things like furniture we could leave for the next teachers taking over our apartment. We managed to get our entire lives into 3 travel bags and 3 backpacks. Again a true minimalist would laugh at us but we’re proud of how efficiently we ended up packing.
A sad farewell
The life of travel seems to be jumping between amazing greetings and sad farewells. We made some very good friends in Korea and it was very sad to leave them. We were sad to say goodbye to our beautiful island home and our life in Korea which was mostly amazing. After our short visit home we had to say goodbye to our parents again! It doesn’t seem to end but the experience of travel and discovering new places often makes up for any farewells.
On our holiday in South Africa we planned to do a little more adventuring and we managed to have some great dives at Aliwal shoal, went zip-lining in the Karkloof, and did lots of exploring in our old backyard. Back in Korea we got ourselves inked in Seoul to remember our time there, we visited an abandoned theme park, and spent the last few days with friends eating Korean fried chicken and trying not to think about leaving.
Moving to Vietnam – visas and work permits
Most travellers will need to get a visa on arrival for Vietnam. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean just arriving, you have to apply for a visa in advance and bring an official invitation letter. There are lots of companies who can help you out with this for a fee. Once you arrive at the airport you will go to the visa counter, hand over your passport with your invitation letter, and a 4cmx6cm passport photo of yourself. Then go and sit in the seating provided to wait for your visa to be processed. When your visa is ready your photo will be displayed on a large TV screen and you can collect your visa and pay the visa fee. A 3 month single entry visa cost us $25, a multi-entry visa would have cost $50.
Once you are in the country you can apply for your work permit and residence card. You will need all the correct, legalised documentation to apply for these. Thankfully APAX handles all our applications. We had to submit our background check applications at the justice department but we get that posted back to APAX who will finalise everything else. If you plan to work here with a different company, check what support they will give you to get the correct permits and visas as this can be incredibly difficult by yourself!
Moving to Vietnam – experiences
Vietnam was a bigger culture shock after living in Korea than it was to move from South Africa to Korea. If I had to describe my first impression of Vietnam in one word it would be ‘chaos’. But it all seems to work somehow. We arrived in Hanoi for our APAX training, which we walked to every day, so we had a baptism of fire with the traffic and scooters. In Korea scooter drivers treat any space as their pathway so it wasn’t unusual to see scooters driving on the pavements here in Vietnam. But the quantity was something we weren’t quite prepared for. Also that there is basically no time that you can cross an intersection without traffic coming at you from at least one direction, regardless of the colour of the traffic lights. Korea is a busy place, especially big cities like Seoul and Busan, but it is nothing compared to Hanoi!
Secondly there is the pollution and litter. It’s very common to see people just throw rubbish into the road, the air quality isn’t great and recycling is not a thing. Again, in Korea, recycling was drummed into us but it really doesn’t seem to exist here. I want to separate my waste but there is no where to dispose of it. Korea only really had the bad air quality to complain about, the streets were usually immaculately clean.
To be honest I had expected the training to be quite a breeze. The timetable we had been sent looked quite light and I was hoping for a relaxed week leading up to starting to teach. Unfortunately it was full-on, morning lectures and simulation followed by several hours of training videos to watch. APAX follows a very specific teaching methodology which we had to practice extensively. We also learnt about ‘Vietnamese surprise’ which is very similar to Korean surprise but somehow even worse. The culture of letting you know things at the absolute last second seems to be very common. This is one thing that really frustrates both me and Monique but we try and take a deep breath and move on.
We ended the week utterly exhausted. We had one day off before shipping off to our new hometown of Phu Ly where, luckily, we had a full week of shadowing before we had to take over from the old teachers. We did, however, have to stay in a dark little hotel room for the week before we could move into our new apartment.
Our new apartment is a wonderfully large place with huge windows and an amazing view over the town and surrounding areas. We are looking forward to really making the space our own over the next few months and hopefully we won’t be moving any time soon!
Moving to Vietnam – little things
If you’ve been travelling for any long period of time you will know that being connected as quickly as possible is essential. From using local services, to getting in touch with your family back home. At Hanoi airport there are a huge number of tourist stands that you pass before you leave that offer sim cards. We signed up with mobifone for VND 300,000 (roughly $15) which gives us 25 minutes of calls and 2GB a day. Another good service is Viettel. Apparently you can top up at most stores in Vietnam, we have yet to do this but we’ve been told it is easy.
Hanoi is not the nicest place to walk around so having Grab is very useful. Grab works exactly like Uber and you can call anything from a scooter to a 7 seater van. Grab is much cheaper than the local taxis, what costs VND 120,000 in a grab costs VND 500,000 in a metered taxi. Just a warning, several times after waiting nearly 20 minutes for the Grab, the driver cancelled on us, so give yourself time if you need to be anywhere specific.
Food and drink
I will be publishing a much fuller post on this later but the food in Vietnam is incredible. You may eat some strange things but on the whole every dish has been delicious! When in doubt get a Banh My, either a sandwich or a roll. The coffee is also incredible and will have you buzzing for several hours. If you enjoy food and exploring new tastes, Vietnam is an amazing place and has kept me happy since moving to Vietnam.
Final thoughts on moving to Vietnam
The 6 weeks leading up to this post we were living out of our suitcases. We had very little idea of what to expect or what was going to happen so a lot of the time we were stressed and anxious. Long-term travel is not easy because you have to give up a lot of things, but the excitement and fulfillment of exploring new places and learning about new cultures is a worthy trade-off. Often we questioned whether we had made the right choice moving to Vietnam but as the dust slowly settles things are looking brighter and we’re already booking trips to explore our new home country.
Expect lots of awesome adventures, great stories, and spectacular photos to hopefully inspire your next trip!
Blue skies and safe travels!
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