What I learnt about culture when teaching English in Vietnam

Dear Vietnam: Your ways are one in a million

So, there are many things I’ve become accustomed to since teaching English in Vietnam.

I’ve grown used to the street I live on, where cuts of meat are sold on tables outside- no refrigeration or clean surfaces needed.

I no longer react to the pungent smell of fried tofu, thuôc laò smoke and lemongrass that often wafts up to my room. I’ve even grown used to the constant stares I receive on a daily basis; being a tall, female foreigner is quite peculiar in these parts.

However, even though I’ve been here for just over 3 months, there are still three things in particular that I simply cannot acclimatize to:

• Number 1:

The three hour official ‘nap time’ that occurs in the middle of the day. To be honest I think it’s a rather genius idea that should be adopted worldwide.

person having a nap in a car

• Number 2:

The sheer amount of scooters and the Vietnamese’s ability to transport pretty much anything on them. Actually, the transport system in general still blows my mind. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but I still find it astounding.

Overloaded bicycle in Vietnam

And finally:

• Number 3:

The obsession with the late Ho Chi Mihn and the not so subtle way his legend carries on. He lead armies, won wars and granted the Vietnamese their independence and democracy. So yes I get it. As a South African, I never thought I would find someone more celebrated than Nelson Mandela. But then I came to Vietnam.

Ho Chi Mihn

So Number 1: Siesta time.

This occurs roughly between the hours of 11:00- 14:00. Most businesses are closed and streets are somewhat quieter. Let me put this into perspective: during these hours, even the sport of badminton is seized.

That’s the equivalent of saying “during these hours, even Pokemon relax and cannot be found”. That is how seriously a midday nap is taken this side of the world.

I think what I find the most fascinating are people’s abilities to sleep anywhere. No bed, pillow, chunky duvet or lullaby needed. A makeshift hammock, table or floor will do. During siesta time people are sprawled out anywhere and everywhere, catching some peaceful Z’s.

Hammock hanging between branches of a tree

Even we interns have started following the midday nap practice during our lunch breaks.

I think the most bizarre experience I had was when I paid a visit to our company’s office during these ‘snooze hours’.

The usual humming office had its lights turned off and all its employees were on the floor, casually sleeping next to their desks and computers. Each had brought their own small pillow and blanket from home to make the daily event a little more comfortable.

My eyes widened as I thought “surely this doesn’t happen in the corporate world too?!”, but alas, it does.

I climbed and quietly hopped over bodies until I finally reached an employee who decided to forego the daily slumber and could help me with my inquiry.

It’s something that doesn’t do much, but be a slight inconvenience at times, however it’s an event that, as an adult, I still struggle to fully grasp.

I, of course, have nothing against it, it gives me the extra oomph I need for my afternoon lessons.

I simply laugh at the fact that I’m currently living in a country with customs that still sometimes make me lift my eyebrows in disbelief.

I always thought that a midday nap was only acceptable if you were a toddler or retired, but here it’s acceptable even in your most spritely years.

Woman riding a bike in Vietnam

Number 2: The roads and their travellers.

Like I said, I have mentioned the traffic and its confusing, chaotic nature many times before, but it’s something that everyone still finds rather fascinating.

There are basically no rules on the road in Vietnam.

Yes, you wait for a red light and go when it’s green, but that’s about it.

Even though road lines are painted creating lanes, they aren’t adhered to.

Why have 3 cars in 3 lanes, when you can fit 4 or 5 in a row?

Why on earth would you slow down at a at a four-way stop?

No, you keep driving, stop oncoming traffic, edge you way past other vehicles, slowly squeeze through the tightest spaces, get stuck in a grid-lock and sometimes drive on the sidewalk.

Let me try and describe this in a different way. Image an aerial view of a group of ants:

•  They’re relaxed and content whilst enjoying some rays outside. Then a drop of water falls right into the middle of their gathering- panic. They frantically run in all directions, bashing into one another as chaos reigns.

That is what Hanoi traffic looks like and how it operates.

Scooter carrying shopping

What’s more captivating is what certain scooter drivers are able to transport amidst this pandemonium.

How they manage to stay on the road without toppling over or to the side is extremely impressive!

I’ve seen masses of pottery, beer, toilet paper, rice and even chickens being carried on a scooter.

I think the most surprising has to be the sheer amount of people that can fit on a scooter and how their safety is most definitely an afterthought.

You often see Dad controlling the scooter. Mom then sits behind him and wedged in between is a toddler, not old enough to keep their own balance, but big enough to fit snuggly between their parents so as not to fall off.

Secured on Mom’s back is a baby that’s been put in a specially made harness, created and distributed throughout Vietnam for this purpose.

Finally, the oldest child of 5 or 6 stands on the base of the scooter between Dad’s legs, grabbing the review mirrors for support.

And that ladies and gentlemen is how a family of 5 get around Hanoi.

Lastly, Number 3: Ho Chi Mihn and his legacy.

In my opinion, the man is not thought of a mere moral, but a demigod.

Ho Chi Mihn's Bust

Apparently, according to a tour guide I met, on his death bed he asked to be cremated however, that wasn’t granted and he now rests in a rather impressive looking mausoleum.

Thousands of people trek to his final resting place throughout the year and wait in line for hours just to get a glimpse of their former Prime Minister.

At EVERY school there is a framed picture of him in each classroom, his bust is on display in each teacher’s room and there is a huge tribute to him in the schools’ entrance ways.

The man is celebrated everywhere!

In a way, I find it quite lovely and it adds to the profound sense of patriotism the Vietnamese have.

Ho Chi Mihn's Masoleum

So after all this time, that is what still puzzles, beguiles and captivates me. I don’t think I’ll ever fully wrap my head around these things, despite my efforts.

Oh Vietnam, you are one for the books, Lauren x 

If , like Lauren, you want to be fascinated by Vietnam’s rich culture, then teaching English in Vietnam may well be a great option for you. Through teaching you’ll be part of the local community and with our Paid Vietnam TEFL internship you’ll have a guaranteed job and accommodation waiting for you.

Dear Vietnam… I don’t think you have enough scooters

So it has all begun. After a torturous 24 hour journey, in which I nearly missed a flight resulting in my name being called over the airport intercom, I am finally here! I’m 3 days in and to say that the experience has been crazy would be an understatement. I wanted a change – a jolt to my system – yet Hanoi has been more of an electric shock than a jolt. However, despite my severe electrocution, this place is slowly growing on me. The more damp, narrow alleys I walk down, the more vibrantly coloured buildings I pass, the more coffee I drink and the more humility I see in the locals’ eyes, the broader my smile becomes.

Aerial view of flats in Hanoi, Vietnam

First impression of Vietnam: controlled chaos. I am SO glad I had a team of people to help and guide me as, if not, I’m pretty sure my face would be on the back of a milk carton right now. The entire team has been amazing and in all honesty, I can’t imagine doing any of it without them. They’ve settled me in, calmed my nerves and assured me that after orientation week, I’ll have more confidence in my teaching abilities. All is run from the comfort of our hotel, which is much more comfy and air conditioned (thank goodness!)  than what I was expecting. The whole place is swarmed with interns and so you’re never alone in the elevator or without someone to chat to. Meals have become a huge social event with lunch and dinner being served ‘family style’. This makes it so much easier to mingle with different people and to try get accustomed to everyone’s accents! You would never think that we’re all speaking English. It’s pretty clear that there’s still lots to learn and adjust to but I know that’ll come as this orientation week progresses.


So despite the fact that all is running smoothly and I’ve been assured that I won’t be a completely useless teacher, there is one activity  that has blown me away and that I know I will never be able to do – navigate a vehicle on the streets of Hanoi. Oh my sweet, lovely, baby Buddha! There are approximately 3.4 million scooters in the city of Hanoi and this becomes overwhelmingly apparent when you step outside. When gazing at a street the roads get continuously hit with one tsunami of scooters, mopeds and motorbikes after another. Some carrying a family of 5, some carrying a family of 5 and their dog, some carrying what seems like a year’s worth of toilet paper.

Crowds of motorbikes and mopeds on the street in Hanoi, Vietnam


It is frighteningly impressive. To add to this, the rules of the roads are more like loose guidelines. The streets buzz with the constant sound of honking and  hooting. From what I’ve gathered, all the noise is to notify other drivers that they’re riding beside them or want to pass, because clearly the use of review mirrors and indicators are too much of a bother. The most amazing thing however, is the fact that amongst the sea of horns, a driver knows if a honk or hoot is meant for them. It’s become very apparent that the Vietnamese simply have superior hearing. So as you can imagine, as a pedestrian, it is a harrowing experience trying to cross the road! I’m not exactly what one would call a spiritual person but I can’t help doing a couple of ‘Hail Marys’ before frantically running across. I think it’s fair to assume that in Vietnam, the chicken simply didn’t make it to the other side.

Flats in Hanoi, Vietnam

So to sum up these past few days: beautiful, sweaty, busy, eye-opening, exciting and humbling. As I fall asleep tonight to the soundtrack of the streets, I simply cannot wait to see what the rest of my time will have in store for me.

5 Reasons to go on the Vietnam TEFL Internship

Are you considering trying something new this summer, but you’re a bit unsure as to whether to take the plunge?  Our paid internships are extremely popular and allow you to get great teaching experience while embracing a new culture. Oh and did we mention you get paid too!

So what are you waiting for? Find out why you should join our Vietnam TEFL Internship!*


1) You’ll get a great living allowance


TEFL intern cycling in Vietnam

Whilst $700 a month may not initially sound like a lot, when you consider the cost of living in Vietnam, you’ll be able to live a very comfortable life – especially as your accommodation costs are already covered!  With all that spare cash it’s up to you how you spend it – work your way through the local Vietnamese delicacies or make the most of your spare time and take a trip to one of Vietnam’s hot spots.


2) You’ll make friends for life


TEFL teachers having fun at a bowling alley in Vietnam

When you think about it, the whole situation can be overwhelming: moving to a foreign country (potentially for the first time), starting a new job and leaving your friends and family behind.  But put those worries to bed! You’ll be sharing the whole experience with plenty of other interns who you’ll no doubt end up forming really close relationships. Nothing bonds you like sharing tales of the classroom over a couple of beers at the local karaoke bar!


3) You’ll have a great support network


TEFL teachers smiling together

If you love the idea of moving to another country, but you’re not so keen on the idea of doing it by yourself, then the Vietnam internship was made for you!  Not only will you move abroad with a bunch of other people who are in the same position as you, but you’ll also be fully supported by our expert in-country partners, they’re based in Vietnam, not just for your orientation week, but for the entire 4.5 months overseas.


4) You’ll get valuable experience teaching


Class of TEFL students in Vietnam

Let’s get one thing straight: if you want to go abroad for 4.5 months just so you can party, then this internship isn’t for you (although you will have time off to go and enjoy yourself!).  You’ll have a guaranteed teaching placement in a school where you’ll have your own class to teach and put all your TEFL theory into practice! After 4.5 months teaching you’ll have gained valuable experience as a TEFL teacher.  In fact, many of our interns continue working overseas once their internship has ended, either having signed a contract with the school they worked at, or getting a job in another school.


5) You’ll be more employable back home


TEFL teacher in fancy dress with his class

All our interns are different and you might find that whilst you enjoyed the whole experience, teaching isn’t for you.  One of the biggest myths about moving abroad is that you’ll instantly become unemployable – this couldn’t be further from the truth! After you’ve completed the internship you’ll have lots of new skills to put on your CV: organisation skills, time management, leadership qualities, just to name a few! And let’s not forget your independence and drive to move and work in a foreign country to teach children and make a difference to their future, not just lie on the beach for 5 months!  Employers genuinely will love that.


So what are you waiting for?

Our next departure is in August, so if you’re ready to try something new and teach in a foreign country this summer, hurry up and book your place – they’re filling up fast!  Not sure if Vietnam is for you? We also run Paid TEFL Internships in China and Thailand.

*Please note: to qualify for the Vietnam internship you must be under 35 and have a degree.

Top 5 Cities to Visit in Vietnam

Whilst you’ll spend a lot of your time in the classroom teaching your students on the Vietnam Internship, make sure you’ve got some fun trips lined up from when you get a break from school life.

We thought long and hard about where our favourite places to visit in Vietnam are and managed to get it down to our top 5!

What do you think? Have we got it right or have we missed your top spot? Get ready and start planning your next trip!


5. Dalat

Dalat really is a feast for the eyes: beautiful flowers fill the fields, with a backdrop of rolling hills and Alpine Lakes – it’s often described as a fusion of Vietnam and Switzerland! The Vietnamese like to retreat here in the height of summer, as temperatures remain cool (they can drop to about 10 degrees Celsius at night).

Whilst the scenery certainly is something that should be enjoyed (a leisurely stroll around Ho Xuan lake, anyone?!), one place you simply MUST see is the Hang Nga. Translating to ‘crazy house’, this fairy-tale inspired treehouse was designed by architect Dang Viet Nga, with a series of ten guest rooms, including the Tiger room and the Eagle room, representing China and America respectively… it certainly lives up to its name.


4. Hanoi

So the first thing that you won’t be able to avoid are the swarm of motorbikes driving round the streets, but Hanoi has so much more to offer than that! There’s a constant buzz in the air, which is especially present at the bustling street markets. Be sure to head along to a night market for socialising Vietnamese-style, whilst checking out all of the deals!

Finally, no visit to Hanoi is complete without catching a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre: an ancient Vietnamese tradition dating back to the 11th century, the puppet show takes place in a pool of water – well worth a watch!


3. Hoi An

Named the Best City on Earth 2013 by Wanderlust, it’s definitely worth exploring when you’re on the Vietnam internship! As the culinary capital, it’s the perfect place to try your hand at cooking traditional Vietnamese food, with lots of schools offering classes at very reasonable prices.

If you can still move once you’ve snaffled all of those tasty dishes, take a trip slightly outside of the city to the beautiful paddy fields, or alternatively relax on the golden shores of An Bang or Cua Dai (you’ll find much more tourists here – we’d recommend the former!)


2. Nha Trang

Voted one of the most beautiful bays in the world, Nha Trang is a popular seaside resort with golden sands and tranquil blue shores. The diverse mix of fish makes it ideal for scuba divers; but if you’d prefer to stay on land, you can visit the amusement and water park, both located in Vinpearl Land.

But it’s not all built-up touristy areas! Nha Trang has natural beauty by the bucket-load, with a backdrop of mountains, forests and waterfalls. Plus, it’s home to the stunning Long Son Pagoda, mosaic dragons adorn the roof, and a giant sitting Buddha statue, it’s not to be missed.


 1. Ho Chi Minh City

The largest city in Vietnam – there’s an air of sophistication about it, with its classy bars and swanky shops! One place you MUST go to is Alto Heli Bar – situated on the 52nd floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, you can enjoy amazing views of the city’s skyline whilst sipping on a cocktail or two.

But it’s not just the glamorous nightlife that makes Ho Chi Minh worth a visit (and worthy of our top spot!); it’s got culture, history and stunning architecture in abundance. Pay a visit to the Ho Chi Minh museum to learn about the country’s tragic past, or check out the Notre Dame Cathedral to see a piece of history! Of course, the day isn’t complete without a stop at the street markets to pick up some tasty Vietnam cuisine, and bag some (more) bargains – be prepared to haggle!


Are you ready to pack your bags and join the Paid Vietnam TEFL Internship? We’ve still got places left so make the dream a reality. You can find out more by downloading the Vietnam Internship guide here.

Find Us

i-to-i TEFL
4th Floor, Wilson House, Lorne Park Road,
Bournemouth, England, BH1 1JN,
United Kingdom

i-to-i TEFL is a part of Teach and Travel Group Ltd.
Registered Company No. 7935847.