Moving to a new country with an entirely different culture and traditions can sometimes result in you unintentionally embarrassing yourself by doing something that; although would be deemed perfectly fine in your home country, is extremely wrong in another. Avoid any potential faux pas by learning how to adjust to Vietnamese culture.
A major part of Vietnamese culture revolves around ‘face’, and how you can lose or build it; and is something that you should always be considerate of when in Vietnam, particularly when in the TEFL classroom.
‘Face’ is essentially a mixture of reputation, dignity and social standing; and if someone were to lose face, then it would mean they would be looked down on amongst family, friends and the community. Therefore, when in the TEFL classroom, always be careful with your words and actions – if a student has made a mistake (e.g. they’ve gotten the word order wrong in a sentence), don’t call them up on it in front of the class as it will cause them to lose face, and others may laugh at them. Instead, if you hear mistakes during free practice, coax the class to reach the right answer as a whole, not naming specifically who made the error in the first place.
A way to gain friends in Vietnam is by helping others build face – basically, making someone feel good in front of their peers. This could be done by complementing someone, or graciously receiving gifts (don’t forget: take the present with both hands!). Been invited to dinner by a TEFL colleague? Complement them on their hospitality – they’ll really appreciate it!
There are many small things you must be aware of too, that you should avoid so you don’t cause shock amongst your students!
1. NEVER touch a student on their head, or pass anything over the head – this is because the Vietnamese believe the soul is contained in the head, making it the most sacred part of the body
2. Pass items with both hands to the recipient, as it shows you’re sincere in your offering
3. If pointing to anything in class, NEVER point with your finger (this is only used to call animals in Vietnam); instead, point with your whole hand
4. Dress conservatively – avoid short hemlines or low-cut tops, and only wear shorts at the beach
5. The Vietnamese are always punctual, and you should be too – always make sure you’re early to class so you have time to set up
With TEFL colleagues
1. A handshake is the most common greeting in business situations, but it becomes more complicated when a male and female meet. The female should initiate the handshake, but if she doesn’t, the male must bow instead
2. If your TEFL colleagues invite you out for dinner or drinks, let them pay the bill if they offer, otherwise they’ll lose face. In Vietnam, it’s typical that the person who initiates the invitation pays the bill; so next time, YOU can invite the other person out for dinner!
3. If out with friends, be aware that you should never raise your voice in public, as it causes you and the person you’re with to lose face. Resolve any arguments once you’re behind closed doors
Unfortunately, at some point during your stay in Vietnam (or any other foreign country for that matter), you’ll no doubt suffer from the dreaded culture shock. A feeling of disorientation and anxiety due to different senses and a way of life, it can be a really difficult time. Whilst it can hit a person at any time, most interns find they start to suffer culture shock a couple of weeks after landing in Vietnam, once the excitement of being in a new country is over. There are ways to get through culture shock, however:
Be open to new things
The great thing is, is that with a network of interns, you’ll all be in exactly the same position. Arrange to meet up with those in the same city as you, and explore your new home. Go to a traditional Vietnamese street market for dinner, and learn things that you truly love about your city. By keeping yourself busy, you’re less likely to feel anxious and miss your life back home.
Learn the language
Whilst Vietnamese can initially just sound like a strange combination of noises, a key way to integrate into society is to learn a few basic phrases so you can get by when outside the TEFL classroom… plus the Vietnamese will really appreciate the fact you’re trying! During the orientation week, you’ll receive conversational Vietnamese lessons to help you during your stay.
Bring home comforts
A great way to combat homesickness – bring with you some things that remind you of home: pictures of family and friends, a stash of your favourite chocolate… anything that you know you’ll miss while you’re in Vietnam! If you do find you suffer from homesickness, it can often be heightened on special events like birthdays or Christmases; but it’s important to remember that other interns will be feeling the same, so celebrate together! And finally, don’t forget that your loved ones are only a Skype call away.
Vietnam is an amazing country, and getting to TEFL there is a truly rewarding experience that interns really enjoy – and by understanding and adjusting to Vietnamese culture, you’ll be making your time here even more amazing!
If you’ve been inspired to start your own TEFL adventure, you can find out more about the Vietnam internship; or alternatively, if you want to TEFL but don’t think Vietnam is the place for you, you can also take a look at the internships in China and Thailand.