One Small Step for Mankind. One Very Long Flight for Me. 

Written by Kirsten Williams

Let me start off by saying, I love living in Vietnam. One would think that after being here for 5 months I would be less starry eyed. But the tasty food, the friendly people and the beautiful natural scenery (amongst so many other wonderful things!) make everyday exciting and possibility-filled.  Plus, being of short stature (I am a whopping 152cm in height), I finally found a place where nobody could make fun of me for my shortness – yay! But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here – so let’s rewind a little bit.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

I arrived at Noi Bai International Airport on the 17th of September 2019 after having traveled a grueling 22 hours from Cape Town. With 2 big suitcases in hand, a very vague idea of what on earth I was doing here and great expectations for what the country held in store for me, I began my life in the beautiful, and sometimes peculiar, Vietnam.

I mean, they were just kids and they look up to you as their teacher, so what was there to be nervous about?

The Job & Training

I had just quit my job in South Africa 2 months before I arrived. After having a less than ideal experience in my previous career, I was both anxious and excited to start working in my new job as an ESL teacher for APAX. I had never taught before and my experience with children was…lacking, to say the least. Nevertheless, I went into training with a good “I can do this!” attitude.

Training proved to be hard work, but the support I received from the wonderful trainers was incredible. That being said, I still found the training to be a little nerve wrecking, especially as someone who suffers from performance anxiety. We learned the various methodologies for each class level. Then the trainer would tell us to prepare a demo lesson to present in-front of the training group. Instant panic ensued, but what did I expect? I’d have to be able to do this EVERYDAY, multiple times a day, in front of 16 pairs of eyes. What have I gotten myself into here? Where is that “I can do this!“ attitude when I need it?

Fast forward a little bit to October. I was now a fully trained ESL teacher, on my way to teach my very first class. Please may the spirit of my English-teaching mom be with me right now! (She’s still alive, I just needed her spirit.) I thought I’d be more nervous, but I wasn’t. I felt a connection to the students. I mean, they were just kids and they look up to you as their teacher, so what was there to be nervous about? Nothing. I stumbled over my feet for the first few weeks, trying to get into the swing of using the technology in the classroom, accessing class materials and figuring out where my printing has disappeared to. However, I had great support from the other teachers at the center and I never felt like I couldn’t ask a question (even if it was the 18th question in the space of 30 minutes).

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The Apartment Hunt

(and associated costs)

November soon arrived and with a month of teaching under my belt. It was finally time to get off of my brother’s couch and find my own place. Having stayed in a few shared houses and also having lived in an apartment on my own back home, I knew that I didn’t want to live in a shared house. So naturally I went looking for shared houses (lol) and after proving to myself (again) that I did not want to live in a shared house, I went looking for studio apartments.  

The price and quality of apartments in comparison to back home was astounding. So affordable and with plenty of extras included. I’ve never viewed a place out here that didn’t have super fast free wifi and tap water. I eventually moved into a beautiful studio apartment in – wait for it – A HOTEL and no, I’m not loaded – it’s just THAT affordable.  

Coming from a working class family in South Africa, electricity has been a bit of a sore spot. So when I moved into my apartment I automatically assumed that electricity was going to be expensive and that I would need to use it sparingly. Air-con in summer? “No, Kirsten, that’s a luxury” I told myself. But as time went on and after forgetting to turn off the fan before a day/night out a few times, I realized that electricity is affordable here too. Other than electricity, I was pleasantly surprised to find that water is ABUNDANT here. This might not seem like that big of a deal really, but having lived in the Western Cape my whole life, droughts were a recurring thing. It got to a point where our showers would have to be a minute or less. So coming here to find that water is no issue – you had best believe my first shower here was something ridiculous like 40 minutes or so. Finally I get to perform my entire one woman singing show for a tiled audience!

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

The Travel Bug & Tiny Appetitis

December came around and by then I was settling nicely into teaching and living in Vietnam. However, I had been suffering from tiny appetitis (that’s a made up condition, but I hardly ate), despite all the various delicious foods I was eating everyday. Surely the cure would be a good holiday over Christmas? Well, maybe. A group of friends I had met at training sessions (mostly from the UK, unfortunately) decided that we would take a break from Hanoi and celebrate Christmas in the south of Vietnam in the beautiful Da Nang. Traveling within Vietnam was extremely affordable.  

Da Nang was beautiful and we ventured into popular Hoi An for a few nights as well. We had clothes made, ate too much, enjoyed shots of the infamous rice wine with friendly locals and basket-boated our way through a coconut tree plantation. Possibly the best holiday I’ve had in a very long time. Setting foot back on Hanoi soil, my tiny appetitis was officially cured (although I was totally unaware of what a curse this would be for my once petite figure). 

Looking back on all my experiences since I’ve been here: the initial culture shock, having to make new friends with people from countries other than my own, finding that I LOVE working with children and as an educator as a whole, trying new and peculiar food combinations and a myriad of other AMAZING experiences. I’d recommend coming here to anyone who’s interested in having a LIFE CHANGING (and I mean the good kind of life-changing) experience.


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