Niobe Etc: Moving and Teaching Abroad in Vietnam

I had the absolute pleasure this week of interviewing Niobe, from Niobe Etc about moving and teaching abroad. As a Teacher, Blogger, Writer, Illustrator, Niobe literally can do it all!

Niobe and I met several years ago when she began teaching with my Mum. At the time Niobe had a side hustle business, Better Half Full, illustrating and designing greetings cards! Yes, she’s always been incredibly original, talented and creative.

I absolutely love to follow (and I’m living through) Niobe’s travels in Asia, her illustrations and features for magazines and every coffee and brunch stop along the way.

Here, Niobe shares more about her experience of moving and teaching abroad in Vietnam. Warning, by reading this post you’ll probably want to move there too…

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your life.

Niobe teach abroad

Of course! I’m Niobe, I’m 27 years old and I’m from the UK but now live in Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi. I lived in Nottingham until I went to uni in Exeter. Then I did Teach First, taught in a primary school in Peterborough for 3 years (with Jess’ mum!) and then moved out here in 2018 with my boyfriend, Oli, who’s also a teacher.

I enjoy writing, drawing/painting and baking as well as obviously hanging out with friends and going on holiday! 

After University and training as a teacher, did you know what you wanted to do next?

Nope! After graduating, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I worked full time at my uni for another year. This allowed me to get an income and develop skills alongside still enjoying elements of the student life I loved.

I applied to Teach First because I had enjoyed work experience I’d done in schools and it’s a reputable grad scheme, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was what I wanted to do. Fortunately, I do enjoy it, though it can be pretty stressful and tiring!

What made you decide to go into teaching abroad?

teach abroad Vietnam

Oli and I have loved to travel together since we got together and used to try to go away every school holiday. We decided to look into working abroad as a way to see more of the world without having to give up our jobs. This meant we could enjoy a different culture, travel lots and still be saving up for the future – a win/win situation!

Out of everywhere in the world, how did you choose Vietnam? Had you been before?

Neither of us had ever been to Asia, so it was a leap of faith really! One rainy evening in England, we were watching Jack Whitehall’s ‘Travels with my Father’ and they visited Vietnam and other Asian countries. We thought they looked interesting and exciting places to live. Oli had friends in Hanoi who loved it here, and we saw schools were recruiting. 

We also applied to a couple of other schools in other countries in S.E. Asia. It was a big culture shock when we arrived – and sometimes still is, even two years in – but we have grown to love it here!

How is teaching in Vietnam different to teaching in England?

I teach at a school that follows the English curriculum, so what I actually teach is very similar. The school I’m at here is made up of mostly Vietnamese and Korean children which is different from my school in the UK. My school here is privately owned whereas in the UK it was a state school. On the whole, though, the job is very similar, and I actually currently teach the same year group too. Ultimately, children are children and there will always be similar characters in your classes regardless of ethnicity and background. 

Is living and teaching abroad how you imagined it would be? Has there been any unexpected challenges?

Living abroad is full of ups and downs (which is what I try to focus on in my blog). I’m privileged to be in this position and there are so, so many positives: I can leave work at 3:30 on a Friday and be on a tropical island by 7 and the cost of living here is low, so I can afford a good lifestyle. Hanoi is great because it’s authentically Vietnamese, allowing me to really immerse myself in the culture, but there are also a number of more western restaurants and bars too. 

I get a lot of messages like, “You look like you’re having the BEST time,” but to be honest, most days my life is similar in many ways to what it was in the UK (go to work, come home, eat dinner, chill out on the sofa…). I still have laundry and life admin to do. And I’m a very, very long way from my family and friends back in England. I sometimes feel torn between where is ‘home’, get FOMO about big events in my friends’ lives and obviously miss everyone a lot!

COVID has thrown up a huge load of emotions too. I usually go to the UK for 6 weeks over the summer holidays which is a great opportunity to see everyone and catch up on the past year. This year, I haven’t been able to. Vietnam dealt with the virus SO well, so luckily I’ve been able to travel around the country this summer and done some brilliant things, but in the back of my mind I wonder when I’ll eventually see everyone in the UK again. This week, Vietnam has had a second wave of the virus, so I guess that puts my return home off even further…

Still, there are far worse places to be and I feel very lucky to be here!

What’s the best place you’ve visited in Hanoi/Vietnam? 

Hanoi is a big city full of places to explore. It has lots of lakes and I love sitting out at a coffee shop watching the world go by with the lake as a backdrop. The food is great here – there are so many fab Vietnamese and international restaurants, cafes and bars.

On the whole, Vietnam is just beautiful. It’s got mountains with epic views, pristine beaches, cosmopolitan cities, luscious fields – there’s just so much to see and do. I’ve just returned from Con Dao island. I only went for a couple of days but it earned itself a place at the top of my list of favourites! It’s a national park and is relatively untouched by tourism, so there’s just nature everywhere. I already want to go back! 

The million dollar question is… do you think you’ll ever come back and teach in England again? Or would it just not be the same?

Good question! I think we’ll leave Hanoi in the next year or so, but will probably stay abroad a while longer. I’m trying to develop other areas of my CV too, so maybe when I return to England I’ll be ready to try something else. We’ll have to wait and see! 

What would your top tips be for anyone thinking of teaching abroad?

There are lots of ways to teach abroad. I got a PGCE and QTS, so I can teach at an international school, but for people looking for a quicker route to teaching abroad, there are TEFL and CELTA courses. These will allow you to teach English abroad in language centres and local schools. They often pay well or you can volunteer in poorer regions.

Think carefully about where you want to be and how long you want to commit to – my first contract was for 2 years, which is normal for international schools, but TEFL/CELTA jobs will require less commitment. I used TES Jobs to search for international schools – they advertise positions worldwide. Some people manage to secure language centre jobs before moving whereas other people like to travel around and when they find somewhere they like, they start searching for jobs. It depends how flexible you are!

Things to consider when choosing where to go are: distance from your home country, cost of living, ease of travelling to other places, personal interests/hobbies (e.g. do you want to learn a particular language or ski every weekend) and finally whether you want somewhere ‘similar’ to your home country or somewhere very, very different!

I would say go for it, though! When travelling, you never get to experience a country quite like when you live in it. It’s a real learning curve – I’ve learnt a lot about Vietnam itself, but also about myself and others.

Is there a charity that you’d like to mention that’s close to your heart?

I thought I’d choose a Vietnamese charity: the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. Blue Dragon does fantastic work to prevent human trafficking from Vietnam and rescue those in need. They care for children who find themselves living on the streets and give them a home, as well as educating them, offering a safe place to go and helping them find jobs.

Whenever I read stories of the work they do on their social media, I feel like crying! What they do is incredible – check them out and donate if you can.

Read more interviews here.

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  • Hannah says:

    This was such an interesting read – thank you for sharing Niobe and Jess! I have always wanted to live and work abroad but unfortunately it would not be applicable with my current job as you would need to get a new qualification to practice elsewhere. I actually considered teaching English abroad at one point but I do not think my English is good enough for that! xx

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