I left the UK in February 2020 with my friend Harry from Newbury for what was meant to be a three-month gap-year experience in Vietnam. When the pandemic hit we decided to stay rather than risk the flight home. We have felt very safe here as Vietnam is well organised in these situations. After travelling round the country for several months we have settled in Hanoi.
We are living in an apartment with our foster cat, Morgana. We travel everywhere by moped (including taking Morgana to the vet when necessary in a special animal backpack). Life is good here, although we do find the high temperature quite challenging in the summer. We are teaching English and have made a life for ourselves here and are truly able to call the city home.
There have been a couple of Covid outbreaks in Hanoi – we are in the middle of one at the time of writing – meaning schools are closed. Thankfully, the low living costs and gracious support from back home has kept us afloat during this period. We hope for a speedy return to work.
During our spare time Harry and I, with a team of very talented people we’ve met in Hanoi, have shot a short film, Atrium, that I wrote and directed. Harry stars as Isaac, a young man who finds himself in an apartment with no memory of how he got there. Megan, my girlfriend, produced it, channelling her skills as a manager to organise and schedule everything. Our friend Alice, who studied editing at film school in France, is our editor and resident experienced filmmaker. Mohammed, who originally moved to Hanoi to use his camera in collaborative projects, has been able finally to flex his creative muscles as our cinematographer and cameraman. Bella provided invaluable support as a runner and morale booster.
We finished shooting last month and have been steadily making progress with the post-production. This is incredibly exciting for everyone involved, as it is most of our first projects. It has been a long and tiring process but has been an incredibly gratifying one.
During this recent Covid outbreak we have seen many foreigners leave the country due to visa issues. This is a complex and ongoing problem for both the Vietnamese and foreigners so I thought I’d give my perspective on what is happening here.
Many people come to Vietnam to work and teach so there are high numbers of foreigners here living and working, many of them illegally. Understandably, the Vietnamese government is looking to crack down on this and provide more opportunities to their citizens. This has resulted in some visa scares for visitors, particularly those from non-native English-speaking countries. Many have had to leave Vietnam to return home or to go elsewhere due to rejected applications.
This is by no means a warning against coming here. There have been periods of stricter enforcement in the past and recent Covid cases will have exacerbated this. These are just some of the issues you will have to face when living and working in a foreign country. Luckily for foreigners, the government is in no position to take over the important task of teaching English in this country and so is dependent on foreign teachers. This means that, at least for the time being, there will be a need for native English speakers in Vietnam.
We completed our TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification online while in Vietnam, then moved to Hanoi to start teaching. This was because teaching was not our initial goal in Vietnam but it became a way to make money while stuck here.
If you want to go to Vietnam, or any country for that matter, to teach English, it is always better to prepare before you leave. Complete a TEFL or similar qualification and contact a company in the country you’re going to. They will often sponsor your business visa (which must be registered with a real company). Many foreigners got business visas through tourist agencies, registered with shell companies. These are the people who are facing deportation at the moment. Even now, foreigners are being sponsored by English-teaching companies to come to Vietnam to work. If you want a business visa, you will require a bachelor’s degree or five years of experience. As Harry and I were already in the country, it was easier for us to find work on a more informal, part-time basis while still on our tourist visas.
Having had these experiences, I have a new level of respect for migrant workers all over the world. It is difficult and scary to try to make a living in an unfamiliar country and the warmth and friendliness we have received from the Vietnamese people has been invaluable. I also recognise our privilege coming from the West. We live in a country where we can earn enough money and have access to facilities and assistance for a variety of problems.
We are incredibly lucky to come from where we do, something I didn’t fully appreciate until I came to Vietnam. I also recognise our privilege in our ability to travel and to live and work somewhere so exciting and beautiful, especially over the past year. My eyes have been opened to an incredibly wide range of human experiences and realise that my own experiences have been fortunately safe and fulfilling. Once again, we owe this both to everyone from the UK who has helped us and provided us with so many opportunities, as well as the wonderful people of Vietnam who have accommodated our stay.
We are approaching the end of our trip – it’s now three months before we are due to fly home to start university in September. This is an exciting new adventure and one that has been on the horizon for a while. However, the prospect of leaving Vietnam is not an easy one. This country has been massively welcoming, providing us with work and opportunities we couldn’t have dreamed of back home. We have made friends and memories that will stay with us for life and will always have a special place in our heart for this country.