Teaching English in Vietnam vs. South Korea

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One question that comes up a lot from friends, family, & curious randoms– what’s the difference in teaching/living in Korea & Vietnam? Life here couldn’t be more opposite. Obviously, the massive temperature difference and the luxury of missing out on Korea’s brutal winters is a given. The pace of life, culture, expectations, quality of life, job duties, hours, pay, prices, vacations.. everything is different.

  1. Korea was cushioning. I was taken care of. My life was ready & waiting for me before I even got there. My apartment, my school, students, teachers.. even making friends was taken care of for me in the first week of orientation.
  2. Vietnam = dive into it, holding your breath, crossing your fingers, & hoping for the best & not falling flat on your face. We moved here with a plane ticket, lived in a hostel for a month & busted butts emailing resumes, handing resumes out, interviewing, calling about apartments & motorbikes for sale– it was all on us, no one was here to soften the blow of moving to an Asian country. It made it a hell of a lot more exciting!
  3. I am almost certain that Korean public school students are spawns of Satan. Most Korean kids are in school 8am-9pm or even later, so school is their time for play. A class where you can’t understand your teacher when she is yelling at you is definitely the class you want to play in too. Plus, I didn’t hit the kids with big wooden poles like the Korean teachers  did, so that made my class even more like playtime for the students. Playing baseball, leap frog, gambling in class… you name it and I probably sent a student out for it.
  4. Vietnamese students listen to me. They even respect me! They ask questions, listen intently, and I can safely say I’ve taught at more than 3 schools and have found it to be the same case at all of them. Maybe I’m just lucky, but all of my friends that teach here say the same thing. 90% of my classes have fantasitc, attentive students.
  5. The job. In Korea it was 8-5 Monday-Friday, without fail. If the students and other teachers weren’t there, it didn’t matter I would still be sitting there in my cold classroom shivering with no heat on fulfilling my chair warming duties. In Vietnam, the sky’s the limit. I have one friend teaching guitar lessons, I teach US History & Geography in a private school (hurray for a break from grammar!), Rhys teaches American Law at a high school,  some people work nights & weekends at Language Centers. It’s all up to you. Basically choose the hours and days you want to work & find something that fits it. Nothing is set in stone, and things are constantly changing & new opportunities always emerging. If you don’t like your school, quit & go apply at 20 other ones. I guarantee 6 of them will ask you to come in for a interview. For a while my work day in Vietnam didn’t start until 1pm & I only worked 25 hours a week!
  6. Hours. It can be really hard to find a job that allows you to work 30 hours a week. If you are coming to Vietnam to save as much as you can than you need to work around 25-30 hours a week. It’s easy to find teaching jobs hiring for 10-2o teaching hours a week, but finding a steady job that guarantees you 30 hours every week can be very challenging. Don’t get me wrong, you can live on 20 hours a week here no problem. Meals can be 50 cents and a beer 15 cents. But, you won’t save much unless you are working over 25 hours. If you’re planning on moving to Vietnam, understand that it might take you 6 months of searching and picking up random teaching jobs until you find that stable income every week. We moved here expecting 30 hours from the get-go, and found out quickly that wasn’t the case for many teachers. 20 hours a week does allow for plenty of playtime and fun though!
  7. The lifestyle. Life in Saigon is so fast-paced with motorbikes constantly zipping by you and a big travel/backpacking scene that sadly skips over Korea. You either jump on board or get left behind in a city this manic! Saigon is pretty dirty & has poverty everywhere you look. At times I miss Korea’s development with clean street, and technology, and well… nice things to put it plainly. On the contrary that is what makes me love Saigon, the fact that is far from being very developed. It’s underdevelopment compared to other major cities keeps it crazy, fun, and always keeps you guessing. Things in Korea got a little boring from time to time, but life here keeps me on my toes constantly.
  8. We chose our life here. Our life was handed to us in Korea, which was fantastic but it has also been great to pick and choose what we want. I didn’t like my first job in Saigon, so I found another one. We looked at 20 apartments until we found what we felt was home. Freedom.
  9. Show me the money. Korea is a gold mine, it’s no secret.. if you want to make a lot of money go to Korea, Japan, and if you’ve got the experience get to the Middle East. You’ll make a fortune. We make a great wage in Vietnam, especially compared to the CHEAP lifestyle but… I won’t be saving the same kind of money I did in Korea. I’ll probably save $5,000-$9,000 less than I did in Korea. That’s because flights, housing, and bonuses are non-existent for most teachers in Vietnam & everything was paid for us in Korea plus a contract completion bonus. In Korea your school tries to pay you for every little brainless thing you do. Why did we leave that kind of money? Things got boring. I don’t want to make teaching ESL my career & I  moved to Asia to teach as a way to travel. That means leaving good wages in the name of new cultures, new challenges, and new fun. It was time to go, I left Korea while I still loved my life there, another year and I’d have felt suffocated by the conforming lifestyle and Korean culture.
So, comparing teaching in Vietnam to teaching in Korea is like comparing apples to oranges. They are a little bit the same, I am still teaching in English in Asia afterall… but they’re so different that it is an impossible question to answer. I wish I could bring some things from Korea here (like the money  & lack of crime) but also bring things from Saigon (the exciting/CHEAP lifestyle) and combine them into my own country where I could live and teach English forever because nothing would ever piss me off!
4 Responses to “Teaching English in Vietnam vs. South Korea”
  1. Tricia Mitchell says:

    I wish I could save money and only work 25-30 hours a week. Where do I sign up?

    • Nicky says:

      && our friends here complain if they work over 25/week! One girl here works 32 hours a week and everyone thinks she’s some crazy work-a-holic haha. Living the breezy life for sure, do 40hr work weeks still exist?

  2. alexaabroad says:

    “We chose our life here. Our life was handed to us in Korea, which was fantastic but it has also been great to pick and choose what we want. I didn’t like my first job in Saigon, so I found another one. We looked at 20 apartments until we found what we felt was home. Freedom.”

    Absolutely what I’m looking for in my next move! My contract is up next March and I’m ready to drop to company furnished apartment and pre-planned curriculums of Korea 🙂

    • Nicky says:

      Power to you!! Korea is a great platform to get your bearings on teaching and Asian culture… but after a year, moving on to something harder and more of an adventure is definitely a plus! Cuts all complaining too, if you don’t like something than change it 🙂

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