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Teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam: Alumni Q&A with Gabriela Melgar

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What is your citizenship?

United States

What city and state are you from?

San Francisco, California

How old are you?


What is your education level and background?

Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?

Taught English abroad previously

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?

Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Spain, Italy, England, Morocco, Portugal, France, Holland

If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?


What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

I love to travel and wanted to explore a different country while financially supporting myself. I thought teaching English was the easiest way to do that and the most popular. I also had some teaching/volunteering experience in my country of origin (El Salvador) that I enjoyed. I felt I was naturally good at teaching.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

Before I decided to teach English in Vietnam, my biggest concern was money. I wanted to work somewhere where I would receive a comfortable wage so that I could continue paying off my student loans. Once I decided to teach in Vietnam my biggest concern became the visa process, which was pretty confusing!

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
I would say that they were both supportive and apprehensive. On one hand, they worried about me going to a country that was so culturally different and thought my decision was unexpected, and on the other, they supported me once they knew I had made up my mind.

Life as an English teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam


Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?

I chose to become certified because I thought it would give me more teaching opportunities and would open up a wider option of countries I could teach in. I chose the International TEFL academy because it was the one I found easiest online and because I had a good conversation with Jeff- an advisor? I had a good feeling about the school.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?

Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?

I thought the class was pretty easy, though it felt a bit work heavy at the start. I didn't feel too much of a sense of community, since I was doing it online and there wasn't much interaction from student to student. I don't remember my teacher's name, but I thought she did a good job of commenting on my work and was prompt.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?

Honestly, by the time I began teaching, I had forgotten so much, but some of the grammar language I had to re-study while teaching was familiar.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?

I chose to teach English in Vietnam in the city of Hanoi. Like I previously mentioned, I wanted a good salary and Vietnam seemed to offer that plus a low cost of living. I didn't know much about Vietnam, and that drew me to it. I wanted to learn and experience a completely different culture.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?

I stayed in Vietnam for 13 months.   

During which months does your school typically hire?

Year round

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?


How did you interview for this position?

It was a video interview with pre-recorded questions

What kind of visa did you enter on?

Work visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.

I contacted a Vietnamese agent I heard of online and payed her for the visa and convenience. Later when I started my job, my school handled the rest of the visa process.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply

- TEFL Certification
- Bachelor's degree

What is the best way to apply?

Apply online, directly at their site.

Tell us about your English teaching job!

Salary: I enjoyed my company and felt that they took good care of us. We had the stability of a minimum amount of hours we got paid for each month, regardless if we worked that many or not, plus paid holidays (around 10 days) , vacation time (16 days) and a working visa.

Type of school: I worked for a "language center" which had classes in the evenings and weekends for kids and adults.

Type of students: I taught all ages and levels, so it was a nice variety of experience. We had a curriculum outline for each class, textbooks, and supplies provided, but also a lot of freedom to decide how we wanted to teach the subject manner.

Hours: I thought the amount of classes we had at a time was a bit much though. At one point I had 12 classes throughout the week and felt burnt out. On weekends I sometimes taught four 2-hour classes back to back and that felt excessive. By the end of the year, I was drained.

Vacation time: 10 paid holidays and 16 days of vacation. 

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?

When I first arrived, I used an agent to help me find an apartment to live on my own. Agents are free and work on commission. You can find a ton online. When I moved into a shared house, I used the Facebook group "Hanoi Massive" to find a room.


Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Cultural aspects: The culture in Vietnam was pretty varied. The Southern part is known to be more laid back, open, with spicier food and more Western culture/ expats intermingled into Saigon. In Hanoi where I lived, there was more traditional culture and the architecture was gorgeous in some parts, with buildings from the French colonization era. In my experience, locals were sort of closed off. I think the language barrier played a big role in it. I found many people didn't speak much, if any, English, specially older people. Younger people were more outgoing, welcoming and curious of foreigners. As a foreigner it's imperative to learn basic Vietnamese.

Food: The food was awesome and cheap, specially street food. A meal usually cost $1.50-3 and the more expensive Western places anywhere from $6-$20 per meal.

Expat community: The expat community was sort of hard to crack into from my experience. It was easy to make friends in my school, but a lot of expats seemed cliquey. I think it's important to join clubs, go out and be as outgoing as possible.

Dating scene: As an expat woman, dating is pretty dry. I found that a lot of expats come to Hanoi coupled up and single expat men usually date Vietnamese women. I think it's an ideal place for single men.

Social Activities: In Hanoi a lot of social activities revolve around food--whether it's restaurants, street food, or cafes. Cafes are open late and are a popular destination for young people. Grabbing a beer around the lakes in Hanoi is a popular activity.

Nightlife: There are places to dance and stay out late but not too many. Generally Hanoi is an early city, with things closing down relatively early.

Travel opportunities: It's a good place to be to travel all over Asia and round trip flights abroad were usually $250-400. I had the opportunity to visit Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and South Korea during vacations and Japan after my contract ended. Hanoi has the best teaching wages in Vietnam, usually raging around $20-25 per hour and the cost of living is so cheap, so you'll get to live comfortably and enjoy what it has to offer.

Teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam


What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: $300 p/month when I lived in a studio, $200 for a room in a large house. Must pay deposit at first and sometimes three months at a time.

Food: $1.50-3 per meal for street food, usually $5-10 at Western places or nicer restaurants. Let's say around $250 per month.

Transportation: Motorbike! I got a good deal on mine and rented for $35 a month. Filling up the tank usually cost me $1-2 p/time (my bike was tiny). Lets say $60 per month.

Phone/communication: I had a pay-as-you go plan that usually cost $10 a month I believe? Can't really remember.

Travel: Really varied. Didn't travel every month.

How would you describe your standard of living?

Very good. I was able to enjoy myself, eat out everyday (actually cheaper than cooking sometimes), save, pay some of my student loans off, and travel!

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?

$1000 if not trying to pay off loans/save.

life as an English teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam


What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?

I would say think of your top priorities (such as saving money, travel opportunities, learning another language), and then choose what country would best suit you. I would recommend Vietnam if money is one of your priorities and if you can get down with some chaos and big cultural differences. It's a great place to grow as a person, make some money and check out other countries in Asia.

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