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Don't Cancel: My Experience Teaching in Vietnam at 70

Discover how Susan Guggenheim started teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam at 70 years old, and how teaching and living abroad in Asia changed her life. 

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The happiest day of my life was when my United States Social Security pension started. I was 67 and a few months old. Finally, I could do anything I wanted (or nothing). I immediately started making plans to travel. First, a solo trip to Rome in 2019, and a few months later to Naples, with my sister. Then, unfortunately, COVID hit – what a bummer for a natural-born traveler. However, I finally got back to traveling in the fall of 2021, hitching a ride with a flamenco dance school on tour and for 3 weeks, visiting Seville, Cadiz, and Jerez.

Read more: Our Teaching English Over 40 Blog Channel

I learned something valuable in Seville, and no, it wasn’t flamenco. After exhausting all the tours and trips and wandering around, in the third week, I realized that I had no purpose there. I was not learning flamenco like my tour friends. I was not working as a digital nomad. I was a tourist day after day. This was just a persistent thought, and it was not until  a three week trip to Greece and Cyprus in April 2023 with my sister-in-law that I not only found something meaningful to do while I traveled the world, but I also got a "wallop upside the head" on what was valuable about my own lived experience.

vietnam teaching english

I started traveling when I was 17. My first trip, organized by my mother, was an immersion course in Spanish language in Mexico through living with a family in Patzcuaro. I was fluent after that trip. I left high school graduating early, and went to Ireland with the same program. After that, we went to London, and Paris, and ended up in Florence. I met someone, stayed for 6 months, and in the process, learned Italian (maybe not fluently, but very competently). The reason why I’m telling you all this because in 2017, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. No one knows if I had it for one year or ten, but it damaged the centers for language in my brain. All the Spanish and Italian I had learned over the years was gone.

I was sitting in my office in May of 2023 when I had an epiphany. I realized I should stop regretting losing Spanish and Italian because those languages are not my most valuable asset. English is my most valuable language!

I searched for a TEFL school, and compared five to six of them, but really, International TEFL Academy was my first and only choice because of the 20-hour student teaching requirement. I also liked the resources available to me even before I signed up – like the country comparison download, the videos, the blogs, the ebook for older teachers, and others.

I submitted a form, and an ITA Advisor called me from Chicago. I promptly signed up with a payment plan, and started my online TEFL course in September 2023. However, I did one thing between signing up and the start of my course that changed my life. I did not call my advisor back and cancel my course. Every day, I looked at the ITA Cancellation Policy, and every day I said, “This is crazy, I should cancel this.” Every day went by like that until the class started. I am so glad I did this out-of-character, ridiculous, crazy thing – getting TEFL certified!

vietnam teaching english

I did my student teaching with an NGO that sponsors refugees from around the world. The day I emailed them asking for a student teaching opportunity in my community, was the day they decided to offer an ESL class to their current group of new immigrants: 27 people, 50% Spanish speaking. I had 3 helpers, students who were from a local university. But talk about drinking from a fire hose! At first, my lessons were too high-level, too fast, and too much TTT (Teacher Talking Time). My students ranged from pre-literate (A0) to university graduate (B1-B2) language levels. I learned quickly that I needed to slow down, go back to basics, use pictures, scaffolding, TPR (Total Physical Response), and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling). I was an experienced trainer of software and customers using the software, but none of that prepared me to teach English as a Foreign Language. I was so glad I had the course, the textbook, my ITA instructor, and my coursemates to rely on for help.

In December, before I finished my student teaching requirement, I started looking for countries to start teaching English at 70 years old. Because I have my pension, and because I didn’t want to relocate or live long term in a foreign country (been there, done that 5-6 times), I chose to become a teaching volunteer. I was looking in Latin America, still wistfully thinking I’d recover my lost Spanish. On all the sites for volunteering for free, I kept seeing a listing for an organization in Hanoi called VCV. The listing was up to date, the website looked good, and the information was given in a professional manner, so even though I had no intention of going to Vietnam, I filled out the form, then spoke with a rep on Zoom and well, the rest is history.

Read more: What Are the Requirements to Teach English in Vietnam?

vietnam teaching english

I left for Vietnam in February of 2024, and returned in April. I’m planning to return for January through May 2025 because I want to again teach 60 students Business English at Hanoi University of Science and Technology, for an entire semester this time.

Read more: A 6-Step Plan to Get a Job Teaching English in Vietnam

So, let’s sum it up – when I realized that English is my most valuable language, and once I could prove it with a TEFL certificate, I went to Vietnam and found: a country I love, a purpose I’m passionate about, and friends to whom I’m committed. With my business background and TEFL certificate, I got to teach amazing students like my Saturday class of electrical engineers, my evening class of software developers, and my Friday class of 60 HUST students.

I know this sounds corny, and I must seem like a naive, starry-eyed ingenue (until you know my age), but my ITA TEFL course truly has changed my life, and I’m heading into opportunities and projects and plans that would not have appeared had I chosen to cancel my course registration. My advice to anyone interested in learning how to Teach English as a Foreign Language is to sign up for an ITA course, and then don’t cancel.


For more experience teaching in Vietnam over 40 check out this video:

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