We are excited to welcome Ross to our Expat Life Interview Series. In this interview, he shared his travels abroad and his expat life in Vietnam while teaching English.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from a small village in England, about an hour or two from London.
Q: In which city and country are you living now? Did you move there alone or with a spouse/family?
A: For the last 18 months, I have been teaching English in Vietnam.
Q: Did you move there alone or with a spouse/family?
A: For the last 3+ years, I have been traveling/living abroad on my own.
Q: How long have you lived there and how long are you planning to stay?
A: I plan on staying until August. Maybe if I get better at online teaching or find an opportunity in Ho Chi Minh City (the biggest city in southern Vietnam), I will stay longer.
Q: Why did you move and what do you do?
A: My savings from Australia were running out and my options were to teach English or fly back to the U.K. I am young and single, I had nothing pulling me back to the U.K. And Brexit will potentially damage the job prospects back home.
Phong Nha National Park, Vietnam
Q: Moving from England to Vietnam, what was your first impression?
A: Before I moved to Vietnam to find work I had already visited the country and neighboring countries as a tourist. Before starting my job I already had some inclination as to the difference between developed and developing countries and Western and Asian countries.
If you fly into Vietnam via Hanoi or HCMC airport then you will be quickly thrown into the countries chaotic traffic. Jumping red lights, driving on the pavement, undertaking, not wearing helmets, speeding, mindlessly pulling out at junctions are all very everyday issues here.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Vietnam? What were some of your favorite experiences?
A: In 2017, my auntie and brother visited me, I had not seen either of them in 2 years. Spending Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day on a boat in Ha Long Bay with them was amazing. Family, sun, beautiful scenery, beer, kayaking – it was undoubtedly one of my top Christmases.
Q: What do you miss most about home?
A: I should say my family but honestly its the food – Yorkshire Puddings, Pigs in Blankets, Greggs Sausage Rolls (not their new Vegan ones), etc.
Q: What has been the greatest aspect of your expat experience so far? What are the adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life there?
A: Before I started my trip, I was a city boy. I craved the city and showed little interest in national parks and no interest in wildlife. Kata Tjuta (Northern Territory, Australia), Franz Josef (South Island, New Zealand), Ha Long Bay (North Vietnam), Kinabatangan River (Borneo, Malaysia) were absolutely stunning and left me craving more!
And on a morbid note, I have enjoyed the war tourism in Ho Chi Minh (Southern Vietnam), Luang Prabang (Laos), Vientiane (Laos), Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Phnom Penn (Cambodia). Learning about Agent Orange, UXOs and other issues has really torn me apart, forced me to take deep breaths and challenged my ideas and views on current wars being fought throughout the world.
Q: How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country, in terms of cost of living, public transportation and healthcare system?
A: Rent, beer, petrol, food, the cinema, tourist attractions, and public transport are all much cheaper in Vietnam than the U.K.
The NHS (the U.K. Public healthcare system) is absolutely fantastic. At the point of service, you can get all major of issues dealt with (from a stubbed toe to cancer treatment) for free. Whereas in Vietnam I have had to spend about $500 on healthcare (and claimed back on travel insurance). In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, you can find some respectable hospitals, but in the smaller tier-2 and tier-3 cities, the hospitals can be absolutely gross.
Q: What are the best things to do or places to visit in Vietnam?
A: Ha Long Bay is the obvious answer and I hope in the next few years Phong Nha National Park becomes better known as well. The national park is home to a number of the biggest caves in the world (including number 1 and 3) but relative to places like Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, and Sapa, Phong Nha National Park did not feel hugely touristy.
Franz Josef, New Zealand
Meeting people and making friends
Q: Tell us about your typical day as an expat in Vietnam.
A: On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, I teach in the evening. At the weekend, I do morning and evening shifts.
I only teach 18 hours a week in the classroom and I fill my free time with a mixture of online teaching, Gym, socializing and mindless procrastination. At one stage I was attending Vietnamese lessons but I gave up after just a few weeks. I didn’t have enough patience, grit or zest in the lessons.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? Did you feel you fitted in culturally?
A: I have worked in a few cities in Vietnam and sometimes you get lucky, from day 1 you start forming a great bond with the other teachers and in other cities after months and months, you still feel like a third wheel.
With the cultural, language and economic barriers, the foreigners in Vietnam tend to keep to themselves. There will inevitably be one or two teachers who manage to learn the language and become good friends with the locals but in my opinion, the teachers are in the minority.
When I lived in Australia for a year I regularly hung out with the locals but over there I was not faced with anywhere near the same barriers as in Vietnam.
Kinabatangan River, Borneo, Malaysia
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or go through an agency?
A: Before I started working for Apax, I got blacklisted from Vietnam and had to pay to clear my name.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: In England, I worked in offices. In Australia, I worked in a pub. In Vietnam, I work in a classroom. In all three countries, I have experienced very different working days but I suspect in my case that is more to do with the different types of jobs rather than the different work cultures.
Q: What are your tips or advice for anyone looking to live and work in Vietnam?
A: Buy travel insurance. Do not arrive in Vietnam (or any country for that matter) with just £500. Why my old housemate thought that was a wise decision, I shall never know. Try and avoid getting blacklisted. Read my guide on teaching in Vietnam.
And lastly, just work out travel goals, save up for them, plan the logistics and try and make memories you will cherish for life. If you want to learn to Scuba Dive, see elephants, go on boat trips, climb mountains, eat new food, learn a new language then just try and make it happen.
Thank you, Ross, for taking the time to be part of our Expat Life Interview Series! Ross is a young twenty-something from England who has been living and working in Oceania and South East Asia for the last 3 years. His main interests are national parks, wildlife, food and war history.
Follow his journey at Ross The Explorer and on Facebook.
*All photos are the sole property of the author. They were provided and used with permission for this interview only. Any unauthorized use of these photos is prohibited.
The Expat Life Interview Series was created to know more about the country, not just from a traveler's perspective. We hope to help others who are thinking of working abroad to know how it is to live and work with the locals. If you are living and working abroad even for only a few months or several years and would like to be featured on Wellington World Travels, please Contact Us so we can send you the questions and you can share your expat life experience.
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12 thoughts on “Interview with Ross: Expat Life in Vietnam”
The TEFL industry is designed in a manner, where you do not need to know the local language to teach English. With the younger kids you provide instructions by using your body language (modeling actions such as sit down and open your book). With the older kids I use visual tools such as YouTube, Google Maps and Google Images. Sometimes you can end up pulling up your hair though because you just cannot communicate the message appropriately. You have to remember that as well as the language barrier there is also an age and culture barrier.
Thank you, Ross for clarifying that.
I’ve visited Vietnam and loved Sa pa and Cat ba island if you haven’t already been there. I’m wondering do you find it hard to teach when you don’t speak the local language?
I wondered the same thing. However, a lot of people are even teaching English in China without being fluent in Chinese. Same thing in Vietnam. I guess they have a way of doing things.
I am always interested in hearing about people who have taken expat status in other countries. Some day we may want to do this. It does seem that teaching English is a great way to earn money for expats. Developing a love for wildlife and natural beauty is a great outcome. Healthcare is always an interesting topic to read about. Since we come from Canada with universal healthcare. A great look at many aspects of being an expat.
We have been an expat for 9 years (although it is coming to an end now). It has its pros and cons, but definitely worth the experience.
An interesting read for westerners who choose to spend a few months or even years in Vietnam. Especially the language barrier makes things sometimes quite hard I guess. Probably Ross has more insight on this, but I felt (compared to other countries in Southeast Asia) that it is quite hard in Vietnam for people find compromises…
Hi Mario. His experience has indeed put some insight/perspective on that.
That’s a brave decision to move to such an exotic country. Would love to visit Vietnam one day. i love simplicity and nature. Thanks for the interview
Yeah, the decision to move to another country is not easy. For him, it’s a good place to teach English.
What an inspiring interview!! Great advice on setting the travel goals and work to make them happen.