08 Jun Goodbye Vietnam
It’s been almost 10 months since we arrived in Vietnam and during that time Hanoi has become a home of sorts; a crazy, chaotic, often frustrating one, but a home all the same. This week we dismantled our lives here and closed the door on this chapter of our adventure.
*A quick note: If you’re heading to Vietnam then you’ll probably need an invitation letter for your Visa On Arrival, we recommend Vietnam Visa as they provide a professional, efficient and transparent service.
Building a Life in Hanoi
When I think back to how I felt when we arrived in Hanoi last year, I’m amazed that I lasted so long here. Disorientated by the noise and traffic, I was plagued by homesickness for the awesome British summer we’d just experienced. The task of starting anew felt huge and exhausting; we didn’t have a home or any friends in the city and I’d accepted a job I wasn’t even sure I could do. Had we made a massive mistake in coming here?
Despite being bogged down by a huge black hole of self-doubt, we forced ourselves to find an apartment, start our jobs and find our way around the city. The first couple of months were so tough; at first teaching was a terrifying, daily ordeal and the chaos of schedule changes and general Vietnamese-style disorganisation made things ten times worse. We were frequently sick and I completely lost my voice for a while. The heat and humidity sapped us of energy. Almost every day we contemplated leaving, but we stuck it out and things slowly clicked into place.
I got into my teaching groove, discovered that being around energetic, boisterous children can be extremely uplifting and got to know and love many of my pupils. I worked extremely hard to be a good teacher, spending hours planning and searching out resources. I sang songs and invented games. I learnt what the kids were interested in and tried to incorporate this into my lessons. Perhaps most importantly, after an entire semester, I finally learnt how to be strict with the kids and it made a huge difference. Yes, there were still nightmare lessons that sent me spiralling into despair, the language centre still regularly had me tearing out my hair in frustration with their disorganisation and there were times when the kids drove me absolutely crazy – but I survived.
General life in Vietnam was also a mixed bag. We loved our apartment, our favourite restaurants, the low cost of living and the fact that we were saving so much money. We got used to our schedules and learnt our way around the city. I began to relish the familiarity of having a daily routine again and being in one place. At the same time though, the corruption and chaos of Vietnam would often drive us crazy; from the absurd road-rules (or lack thereof) to the ridiculous amount of red tape you have to wade through to do something as simple as open a bank account. Oh, not forgetting the time we crashed our motorbike; I have the scar on my knee as a permanent reminder of our time in Vietnam.
The People We’ll Miss
I guess what I’m trying to say is that living and working in Hanoi has been an incredibly intense, polarising experience, one that I’ve loved and hated in equal measure. I don’t think we would have survived any of it if it weren’t for the people who’ve become such a huge part of our lives here. We have developed a small, tight-knit group of friends from the UK and Europe who we’ve shared the joys and frustrations of Vietnamese life with over long weekend lunches or evening drinks.
When you’re so far from home, trying to make sense of living and working in a completely different culture, having people around you who come from a similar background and understand what you’re going through makes things so much easier. You develop close ties based on the shared experience of being a Tay (Westerner), an outsider, the cliché of the young, white English teacher living in Asia. This support network becomes an essential part of your life.
Whilst travelling, Andrew and I got used to the fact that our journey was a lonely one, that we’d see our friends and family just once or twice a year. So, one of the best things about living in Hanoi has been having friends we see regularly, going out for dinner or meeting for a drink. This is something we took for granted when we lived London, something we missed when we left the UK to travel and something we’ll crave again now that we’ve cast ourselves back onto the road again.
I will also miss the Vietnamese people we got to know in Hanoi, our fellow teachers, assistants and my favourite students; through them we’ve felt welcomed and learnt so much about Vietnamese life and culture. Ultimately, we moved to Hanoi to save money, but I had also hoped that living and working here would give us a deeper understanding of Asian life than travelling had afforded us. I know that this short period of being here hasn’t made us experts in Vietnamese culture and we could stay another 10 years and still be seen as outsiders, but I do feel that we’ve gained a deeper insight into life here through working in public schools; we’ve become a temporary part of the community.
Goodbye Vietnam: Moving On
When it finally came time to leave Hanoi, I was awash with conflicting emotions. The last few days we spent in the city were strange, we’d given up our apartment and motorbike and we’d finished teaching. Instead, we were staying in a hotel on Ma May, one of the most touristy streets in the city and we felt like visitors rather than people who’d lived in Hanoi for the better part of a year. I was exhausted from the intense school year and relieved to have finally finished teaching, but I was sadder than I imagined I ever would be to say goodbye to my students and some of my teaching assistants.
The night before we left we met up with friends one last time. Even though I’m sure we will meet again somewhere down the road, it was hard to say goodbye. Hours later, after a broken sleep, my eyes blurred with tears as we sped in a taxi to the airport and I watched the familiar Hanoi streets pass us by for the last time with nostalgic fondness. Everything was as it always has been; the swarm of motorbikes with poncho-clad drivers battling through a typically fine, Hanoi drizzle; the early morning market sellers hunched over bowls of vegetables and people eating their morning Pho on clusters of tiny stools on the pavements.
Yes, Hanoi might not have been the easiest place to live, but it was a place I am glad we lived in, for all its ups, downs and pure craziness. Goodbye Hanoi – it’s been one hell of a ride!
MattPosted at 10:28h, 08 June
I love that you give a balanced view of what it was like. So many things I read are either extremely positive or extremely negative but I think the balanced view of what you guys experienced in Hanoi is probably much more accurate! Don’t know if I could do it (but we’re still weighing up TESL as an option). So Thailand now? Where are you guys off to next?
AmyPosted at 14:34h, 08 June
Living and teaching here definitely wasn’t easy but it was very rewarding and overall we had a positive experience; we will look back on our time here fondly 🙂 After Thailand we’re heading back to the UK for a couple of months before we start our autumn road trip in the U.S, exciting!
Gilda BaxterPosted at 21:18h, 08 June
Nice wrap up of your time in Vietnam Amy, I am sure in years to come the memories will be mostly good ones and in particular the friends you made, your students and the people you worked with. Sometimes it is the most challenging of places and situations that bring the greatest rewards. I am looking forward to the next chapter of your adventures.
AmyPosted at 07:56h, 09 June
Thanks Gilda, I agree that sometimes the most challenging times are often the most rewarding. I’m sure we will look back on our time here and smile 🙂
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 04:39h, 09 June
I can’t believe your year in Hanoi is done and it’s time to move on! I really feel like you guys just got there, but you clearly have the battle scars to mark your time there. And now you’ll always be able to say to Andrew, “Remember that time we lived in Vietnam for a year?” I love that I get to say that about certain places… already I can tell that my life is so much more interesting than if I had stayed at home, and that makes those hard moments worth it.
It’s been so lovely to spend the past year experiencing Vietnam through your eyes and now I’m excited to continue on with you guys through your next adventures. Onwards and upwards!
AmyPosted at 08:04h, 09 June
I can’t believe we’ve actually left Vietnam either Steph, I think it will take a while for it to sink in. I know what you mean too, since we left the UK we’ve had some many interesting experiences; teaching and living in Hanoi is up there as one of the craziest and most rewarding 🙂
RhondaPosted at 16:27h, 10 June
Hi guys! Sorry, I was behind and just got caught up on your adventures. I can certainly relate to your mixed emotions on leaving a place that you’ve called home for nearly a year, and can also relate to your post several back where you were well and truly fed up with Vietnam; the noise, the chaos, the constant assault on your senses…. reading your words brought memories of our time in SE Asia, although not as long as yours, but intense none the less!
As we prepare to get our house on the market and hit the road again ourselves, we are also having conflicting feelings. For the last five years we have lived in this house that we do not love. And yet, now faced with the idea of leaving it makes me a bit melancholy because, having done this before, we also know there will be much to miss…. the SPACE for one, consistent hot showers, friends nearby. There truly is no one perfect life, but we’re excited to start the next chapter. And excited to see YOU start your next chapter. Have fun on your European roadtrip!
AmyPosted at 04:19h, 11 June
Hi Rhonda, how exciting that you’re almost on the road again! Make the most of your home comforts while you can 🙂 You’re right, there is no one perfect life, but you take the bad with the good and our life is pretty good right now!
HeatherPosted at 17:38h, 18 June
Hello, I just came across your blog. Brilliant timing as we (= me, husband, two children) are heading to Hanoi on 13th July. I’m excited and nervous for the adventure in equal measures and share the ‘are we doing the right thing’ questions you also had. Your post is a great summary and pretty much what I’m expecting. I have a job in a university and my husband is hoping to teach English – I’m wondering if you can share any valuable do’s and dont’s or potential decent employers/places to avoid? He is a qualified teacher and has a tefl. Best wishes for your next trip
AmyPosted at 04:55h, 19 June
Hi Heather, it sounds like you’re in for one hell of an adventure too! I’m sure your husband will have no problems finding work if he’s a qualified teacher and native speaker. It’s maybe best for him to start sending off his CV to a few places so he can line up some interviews for when he arrives and be ready to start the school year in September. I don’t know much about private/international schools in Hanoi but the public schools all seem to hire through language centres so it’s worth applying to some of those; Apollo, Language Link and ILA are all quite well known in Hanoi. We worked for Washington Language Centre, it was chaotic but we survived! I know they are hiring at the moment so let me know if you’d like us to put you in touch with the director of studies. If you have any other questions, let me know 🙂
Heather AtkinsonPosted at 09:32h, 20 June
Brilliant, thank you. Ross completed an online interview for Language Link last week and he will look into the others too. He is maybe a bit late for an international school position, although there may be things that come up once the school year gets underway. The advantage of this is that we could get parents discount or free place for our 4 year old which would be a big bonus financially!
I have had a read of the other sections in your site – lots of useful tips and advice thank you!
AmyPosted at 05:12h, 22 June
Sounds great Heather, I wish you and your family luck 🙂 Enjoy Hanoi!