Aimee: Tefl Adventures
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Vietnam, etc.
I’m Aimee. I finished university in 2007 and completed my Trinity CertTESOL shortly after because I wanted to teach English abroad. I’ve been living away from home ever since. My teaching career has taken me from Spain, to Argentina, to Vietnam, and I’ve been able to travel to lots of other countries in Europe, South America, and Asia as well. I moved to Vietnam in 2011 but I plan on leaving soon to complete an MA in Linguistics in Barcelona.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I’d been wanting to blog about my experiences for a long time. Realizing that I would probably never have so much free time again in my life, and encouraged by a blogger friend from Spain, I finally started blogging in November 2013. I only wish that I had started sooner!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My blog is about my life abroad as well as teaching reflections. My favorite blog entry about my life abroad is probably Nap Time in Vietnam. My favorite entry on teaching reflections would probably be Working with Teaching Assistants.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Vietnam differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Wow. My life in Vietnam is completely, utterly different from my life back home. I stumble through my daily routine here completely surrounded by a language I have only a rudimentary grasp of, so that’s probably the biggest difference. I’ve got very good at miming! The traffic in Saigon is what shocks most people on arrival, but I decided after a couple of weeks on the back of terrifying Xe Oms (Motorbike Taxis) that I would rent my own. The road feels a lot safer when you’re driving at your own pace! The hardest thing to get used to for me is the lack of green spaces. I come from a small mountain town in Southern Oregon, so living in the middle of bustling city of 7 million people can be overwhelming. I try to get out to the countryside as often as possible. The best thing about living in Vietnam is the standard of living I can allow myself. An English teacher here makes a decent wage, even for the USA, but the cost of living is extremely low! I can save loads of money each month and use it to travel as much as I can.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Vietnam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was pretty prepared for Vietnam because I had already visited before moving here. I already knew that I would be able to buy almost anything in Vietnam once I figured out where to look. The only exception to that are “large” size clothes. By large, I mean anything larger than a US size 5, or Euro size 36. If you are above a size 36, bring what you need, especially bras and underwear! Luckily, I knew this already, so I came prepared. My biggest problem is quite trivial, and it’s that I haven’t yet been able to find my shade of make-up. The Vietnamese are obsessed with being as white as possible, so they only sell two shades, white, and blinding white. This doesn’t work for my tanned complexion, so I have to buy make-up when I travel. If I’d known this I would have stocked up!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I think my funniest moment would be on the Island of Phu Quoc. I was riding on the back of a rented motorbike on a dirt road. Suddenly, we hit a sand patch and tipped over. When we managed to get up, there were two men sitting next to a shack laughing at our clumsiness. We drove on, only to find that the road was a dead end. After turning around, we passed the same house, and I reminded my boyfriend to drive carefully. He must have got nervous or something because we hit THE SAME sand patch and tipped over, AGAIN! The bellows of laughter from the men at the house must have been audible for miles. I think they had set their own “tourist trap.”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Vietnam?
- Get all your documents for a work permit before you leave your home country. It’s much more complicated and time consuming once you’re already abroad. Check with the HR department of any company you’re thinking of working for. The laws are always changing and the documentation has probably changed 5 times since I arrived. Also, if the company is not willing to process your work permit, they’re not worth working for.
- Don’t worry if people comment on your size/age/marital status. It’s part of their culture to ask. They actually need to know how old you are and if you are married to be able to talk about you in Vietnamese, so these questions aren’t rude, they’re essential!
- Vietnamese food is amazing. But when you’re craving home, the two tiny import shops next to Ngu Lan Bakery on Ham Nghi street are the place to go. They have EVERYTHING.
How is the expat community in Vietnam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Vietnam is concentrated in Saigon. There are also expats in Hanoi and some in Da Nang, but smaller towns will have a lot fewer expats. It’s not hard to find like-minded people, but like in any expat situation, there are positive expats that you’ll want to surround yourself with, and there are also those negative Nellies who you’ll want to avoid.
How would you summarize your expat life in Vietnam in a single, catchy sentence?
"More Phở please!"