Friday, 31 January 2014

Rise and shine!

I've actually used a desk like this!
It’s been a very busy few weeks what with moving house, leaving my job and selling all my possessions to move abroad.

I’d be forgiven from letting a few things slip down my priorities list.

One such thing is the fact that I’m about to start a new career as a teacher.

But, on Tuesday morning Mark and I were lucky enough to be welcomed to the Bournemouth School of English for a morning of observations.

Late last year I decided that observations would be a great way of seeing a real class in action with teachers who didn’t speak the native language of their students. I emailed about 20 different schools in the area (Bournemouth is a popular place for language students) and of the replies, the Bournemouth School of English best suited our needs.

The timing couldn’t have been better. We’d just watched a documentary on the coffee industry in Vietnam that didn’t paint the best picture of the country, so we needed a little boost to get us back on track.

So, suited and booted we made our way to the school. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were greeted warmly, given the options of which classes we would each watch and introduced to the staff.

My first observation was a group of intermediates learning about colloquial idioms. These students already had a good knowledge of the language, but it was funny to hear what they thought “When the penny dropped, I went bananas” meant during the warm-up exercise. It reminded me that I really do love our language, and the nuances we hardly ever notice ourselves as native speakers.

My second class was a group of advanced students. Binomials (a new word even for me) was the subject matter; two words that are often found together e.g. fish and chips, death and taxes. It was a much smaller class, but the teacher more than made up for it in personality and reminded me of some of my favourite teachers from school. He had built a great relationship with his students, much like I’d hope to do in Vietnam.

At the end of the morning I left feeling excited again about my new career, which is one half of a massive change we are going through, but has slipped from my mind now the initial training is over.

4 weeks to go!!

Friday, 24 January 2014

How to move abroad as an EFL teacher: Part 2

So you've got your awesome TEFL certificate, what next?

Book your flight, pack your bags and kiss your mama goodbye?

For me, and many other TEFL graduates I'm sure, you will find getting your certificate is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to starting a new life abroad.

Here, I'm going to give you an overview of the preparation I had to do to move from Bournemouth, UK to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in two parts* ; preparation for at home, and away. Read Part 1 here.

*These are my own experiences to date. I am in no means an expert.

Part 2: Preparation for Vietnam

Vaccinations. As soon as you know when you are going, get yourself to the nurse to talk about vaccinations. Some courses take a few months, but there are usually options available if everything is happening a bit last minute. The NHS Fit For Travel website is the best 'by country' resource to help you out.

Anti-malarials. I take the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to anti-malarials. Depending on what your plans are, you may need one or another type of anti-malarial. For Vietnam and travelling around Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia, we were recommended:
  • Doxyxycline (antibiotic, ladies) 
  • Mefloquine/Lariam (which has a number of issues
  • Malarone (which is expensive)
  • Chloroquine/Proguanil (bargain at c.£15 for 7 weeks of treatment - which equates to 2 weeks in a high risk area)

Document certification. Be prepared; to get a work permit in Vietnam (to teach English) you may be required to have your certificates and criminal disclosure 'notarized'*. Here's how:

1. Call a local solicitor's office and ask if they can do ‘Document Certification’ and how much they charge per document. Usually this will cost anywhere between £4 and £10 per document. We were able to walk into the office and have the documents signed there and then in about 15 minutes.

2. Once you have a solicitor’s signature on either your original document or a photocopy, you can send your documents to be legalised at the Legalisation Office. The website tells you everything you need to do to pay and send your documents. It costs £30 per document and you also need to pay for outward and return post. The process is quick, but if the solicitor who signed your document doesn't have a signature on file, it may take a few extra days.

*It is worth noting that things are not black and white regarding which indeed, if any documents need legalising before you arrive in Vietnam. We've had a lot of conflicting information, but decided it's harder to get the documents certified once we've left the country, so better safe than sorry.

Police checks. You might have heard of CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) forms, and an employer might ask you for a Police check of CRC (Criminal Record Check), but in the UK, obtaining a criminal disclosure as an individual is now done through Disclosure Scotland, and is called ‘basic disclosure’. It costs £25 and takes about 10 days.

Gadgets. Travelling today is not as simple as throwing a few necessities in a bag and grabbing a guidebook; it takes gadgets. Our tablet will be invaluable whilst we are living in Vietnam as a way to Skype home, find places to stay and source valuable teaching resources. But tablets, iPods and cameras are expensive, so plan what you might need now and get saving/begging/borrowing. Remember, there’s no iTunes app for Android, so load up your iPod with music before you go!

Dress codes at work. Do not be fooled into thinking an English teacher/world traveller can go to work in a sarong right off the beach. Vietnam is at the end of the day a communist country and there are rules that need to be adhered to. You'll likely need smart closed-toe shoes, trousers, shirts and modest dresses.

Flights. It's fun booking a one-way ticket, but long haul to Vietnam is not cheap. Expect to pay upwards of £370 with Vietnam Airways, who are cheap and fly direct to Ho Chi Minh. Check Skyscanner for the best fares and be flexible with your departure date to get the best price.

Visas. If you are going to be working in Vietnam, you should be able to get a letter from your employer, which will grant you a business visa on arrival. It will cost about $45 for 30 days single entry (I think). If you are arriving in Vietnam as a tourist, the best I can suggest is to apply to the Vietnamese Embassy in London. Make sure you know your arrival date and they will be able to put the Visa in your passport before you arrive. The process can be done by post, or in person over 2 days.

The fun bits. Once you've jumped the hoops it's time to start learning about the culture, planning where you'd like to go and practicing some phrases. Here are some of the best blogs and websites specifically on teaching and the Mekong Delta that I’ve found:

Can Tho - The Mekong Delta by Mr and Mrs Lemon

Enjoy your adventure!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Despite the fact I'm moving to Vietnam in a little over a months time, tonight I am taking my first lesson in Italian.

"Italian?!" I hear you cry.

Yes, dear reader.

You see, whilst I will have little use for Italian in Vietnam, (though I have been assured there is at least one Italian restaurant in the Mekong Delta) learning Italian is something I have wanted to do ever since I first visited Rome and began my love affair with the country in 2010. And believe it or not, I think now is actually the BEST time for me to start. Here's why:

1. I am about to start a new life an a teacher of English as a foreign language. I have almost no knowledge of Italian beyond the menu in Pizza Express and the phrase "bel far niente" which I learnt reading Eat Pray Love. With this in mind, I think it will be a great experience to be in the shoes of the student right before I become the teacher, refreshing my memory of the complex world of language and learning.

2. My husband and I would love to be able to end our time travelling by spending as long as we can in Italy. When we visited a Tuscan vineyard for a few days in 2012 we managed to squeeze seeing Sienna, San Gimignano and Pisa into one day en route to the airport in our hire car. It was one crazy day, but it gave us a taste of the Italian countryside, and left us hungry for more. With our TEFL qualification and some experience we might even be able to find work as teachers! I bet the Italian language classes will be useful then.

3. Why not? I am in the full swing of operation-pack-up and I will very soon run out of things to do. I've already worked out how many cups of tea I need to drink to get through this pack! Having something new and fun to learn will help me relax. I don't want to be waiting and planning things my entire life and this is one thing I can do now.

So there it is. I'm a British girl, moving to Vietnam, starting to learn Italian. (I am also learning Vietnamese too; Chào actually means hello in Vietnamese; Ciao is the Italian.)

Now, watch this amazing clip from the IT Crowd, which I think pretty accurately shows what I'll be like trying to use my Italian skills!

Friday, 17 January 2014

How to move abroad as an EFL teacher: Part 1

So you've got your awesome TEFL certificate, what next?

Book your flight, pack your bags and kiss your mama goodbye?

For me, and many other TEFL graduates I'm sure, you will find getting your certificate is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to starting a new life abroad.

Here, I'm going to give you an overview of the preparation I had to do to move from Bournemouth, UK to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in two parts ; preparation for at home, and away (covered in Part 2).

*These are my own experiences to date. I am in no means an expert.

Part 1: Preparation for at home

Living arrangements. Currently Renting? Get in touch with your landlord as soon as possible to see when your current lease expires. We were lucky enough to be on a 6-month lease, which ends exactly when we need it to. It's always worth asking if you can leave your lease early. If you own your own home you'll need to think about the laws around renting it out or *gulp* if you're going to sell it which is a long and costly process.

Mobile phone contracts. With some forward planning you might be able to join a sim only month-to-month plan like these from Orange, leaving you free to cancel at anytime. If you are in the middle of a contract, it’s often hard to get out of them without paying off the rest of the term. This could be very costly if you've only just signed up for a 24 month deal to nab yourself the latest iPhone.

Debts. The last things you want to leave behind are any debts. They are likely to still need repaying whilst you are away and any issues can be tricky to resolve from the other side of the world. My advice is to start working them down as soon as you can. I worked in the background for 2-3 years to become debt free, but knowing there won’t be any surprises whilst I am away is worth it.

Insurance. A bit of a pain, but the last thing you'd want when you’re miles from home and sick is the added stress of how you're going to pay for it. Get insurance that will cover you for all the activities you might do. Try Explorer Insurance for a quote; for the two of us for 18 months cost circa £500 and included any paid work we did.

Savings. Whilst the cost of living is generally cheaper than at home, you will need savings facilitate your travels. $50 per person per day seems to be a reasonable guide, but it is always worth having back up funds for an emergency flight home. Working as a teacher will obviously make your money go further too!

Downsize. Make a little extra money before you go by selling off any bits you don't need. Gumtree and car boot sales are a great place to sell, and the more you shift the less you have to store. Make sure you are set up at a car boot sale early to be ready for the eager buyers and accept a certain amount at bargaining. Car Boot Junction gives you details of local sales.

Storage. My advice is to make friends with someone who has a large and mostly empty loft. Storage units are expensive (£1000 per year) and hard to manage if you don't know when you will be back. Sell, sell, sell and keep only the essentials and sentimental things you need for your return.

Jobs. There are a few options when it comes to your jobs. Depending on your current situation you might want to quit, take a sabbatical, or arrange remote working if you plan on only teaching part-time. Think about your options carefully and unless you are happy to leave your job, speak to your employer soon. They'll appreciate your honestly and you never know what kinds of arrangements you might be able to come to.

Cash. Think hard about how you are going to access your funds whilst you are away. Through my research I've found that accessing cash using my regular debit card will be expensive and I want to eat into as little of my savings as I can. I recommend a cash card of sorts e.g. this one from STA Travel. You can easily top it up online through the modern wonder of internet banking for no fee. Once you know where you will be teaching, you might also want to open an account with a local branch. HSBC are a truly global bank with a website (mostly) in English wherever you are.

Changing your address. You aren't only going travelling, you're probably moving house too. Don't forget everything that goes with it. Cancelling utilities, subscriptions, TV licences and registrations. One advantage you have is the pleasure of the perfect excuse. "Forget the sales pitch, I'm leaving the country!"

Check out Part 2!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Culture vulture

Lots of people go travelling because they want to experience new things, and I am no exception.

I mean, what better opportunity to try something different than when I'm living in a new country, doing a different job and surrounded by opportunity!

There are a lot of things I've read about that take my fancy, but some appeal to a side of me that's been waiting patiently to be awakened.

Like a cookery course in Thailand. It’s an untapped passion of mine to cook, and my brownies are notorious in my office. I recently went on an evening cooking class for a friend’s birthday and really enjoyed it; I even prepared the shrimps, poo removal and everything! Taking a cookery class in Thailand, one of my favourite cuisines would be great fun and a fantastic way to immerse myself in a small part of Thai culture, smiling all the way.

Like a day as an elephant trainer! I love a bit a nature and an elephant experience is right at the top of my list of must do's. Another friend who recently visited Thailand was shocked by some of the treatment of elephants she saw, so it's important to me that wherever we have our experience the elephants are property cared for and not exploited. Elephant's are beautiful, majestic animals and the biggest I think I'll ever be able to get close to.

Like a yoga and meditation retreat! I'm not a Buddhist, I don't have a yogi, I don't even attend a regular yoga class, but I am craving something. I love to stretch out after a run, and wish I knew how to calm my mind, so yoga with meditation sounds (and has always sounded) right up my street. But I also feel I need to explore my feelings around belief, faith and spirituality. It's these things that a yoga class in a sweaty gym might never be able to provide and if I'm perfectly honest, I'm too nervous to attend a real yoga class with so little knowledge of what its all about.

Like scuba diving! Nothing says Gili Island culture to me than a short scuba course, and with my awesome aqua shoes in my backpack, it's only the fear I get of inhaling water whilst submerged and wearing a weighted belt that I have to worry about! But hey, I'm not going to let that stop me!

So there it is, my culture vulture wish list, because if not now, when?

Carpe diem.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Are you awake? Me too.

I led in bed last night wide awake and unable to turn my mind off. That's Sunday nights! All the rest from the weekend wiped out in a flash as I toss and turn all night thinking about logistics and a to-do list for the week, month, rest of my life!

I know Mark often goes through the same thing, lying silently next to me mulling over everything and nothing.

Last night though, we broke the silence and at 12.02am admitted to ourselves that we were awake and set about trying to remedy the situation.

Hot milk - Check
Few minutes reading - Check
Switching off - No way

The fact of the matter is we are just too excited about moving to Vietnam in just 8 weeks time! 8 WEEKS!!

We've got bags of equipment, clothing and luggage all waiting to be ripped open and packed; I have lost a full corner of my bedroom!

So, here are a few of my favourite things I have stored up so far:

1. Aqua shoes
These are quite possibly the single most important purchase I have made. You see I have a massive fear of stepping on some sort of poisonous animal in the sea, but no more with these babies! (And they totally match my bag!)

2. My watch
Mark bought me this beautiful watch for my birthday this year. One of my wishes from when we are travelling is to be less reliant on my phone, not checking it every 5 minutes, only using technology for research and entertainment. A watch was a must have (so much so I actually got 2). This one even has a turtle on it, to remind me of the amazing experience I had in Mexico watching a turtle lay her eggs on my honeymoon.

3. First Aid Kit
Again with the cautious side of me! I feel much better now I have a basic first aid kit and it is jammed FULL of essentials. Bandages, paracetamol, sterile wipes you name it!

4. My bag - A Berghaus Capacitor 35L
Mark insisted I got the more reasonably sized bag and let him do all the heavy lifting... and they say romance is dead.