A teacher’s friend in Vietnam

Within days of arriving in Vietnam, Alex Sinclair Lack marvelled at an extraordinary country and within months he spotted an opportunity to help others enjoy all that Vietnam has to offer.
Inauspicious arrival

“If I can live here, I can live anywhere”, those were my first thoughts upon arriving in Vietnam in November 2013. I had just been dropped off from a twenty-four-hour bus ride from Laos, thrown on the back of a motorbike and driven another two hours to Hanoi through a thunderstorm. I had no job, no home, five hundred pounds to my name, and a single friend in a five-thousand mile radius. Little did I know, that in a year’s time I would not just be living, and teaching, but I would be running my own company!

I spent my remaining money on renting a penthouse apartment, complete with broken hot tub and cockroaches. Furniture was a luxury we could not afford, so for the first few months, evenings were whiled away on a mattress on the lounge floor, playing travel-sized table football with my not-so-travel-sized flatmate – a seven-foot Dutchman. A social faux-pas and a power cut meant that my first class was not only taught barefoot, but by candlelight; “My CELTA course didn’t prepare me for this”. Even then, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was a paradigm of everything teaching in Vietnam would be.


Making progress

Eight months later and my teaching schedule was perfected. I was tutoring intellectual ten-year olds in the morning, playing elaborate teaching games with university students in the afternoon and leading discussion seminars on metaphysics at the Academy of Space and Technology in the evening. Not forgetting, of course, a weekly lesson running, playing, and singing with some adorable four-year olds.

In hindsight, my journey was brilliant. It was empowering and liberating, I had fallen in love with the country, the enchanting landscapes, rich history, irresistible food and, above all, the indomitable Vietnamese desire to connect with other cultures.

However, it came at a price, a good deal of difficulty and stress. That led me to wonder, how could I share the chaotic majesty of the country with other people like me? What would I have wanted when I arrived that would not have dampened the sense of adventure, but would have made my transition that little bit smoother? And so, the idea for Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam was born. A company that finds the happy medium between large recruitment businesses and travelling completely independently and taking on Vietnam’s many challenges alone.

Getting busy!

The idea for the company evolved quickly: before I knew it I was organising motorbike lessons, sales and customisation, creating specialised teaching plans for Vietnamese students, matchmaking teachers’ preferences with their ideal employers, organising meetings with schools and estate agents across the country, navigating the Vietnamese visa system, designing web pages and business cards, setting up language exchanges and tours of the city, managing social media groups and writing travels guides!

The list felt endless, but when I sat back with a cold glass of bia hoi (fresh, ten cent beer) I felt proud of myself. I had created a company that, in its small way, was improving recruitment efficiency, sharing profits with local educational charities, helping battle discrimination and providing teachers with real opportunities. It wasn’t huge and it wasn’t making a fortune, but the feedback received from teachers was a constant reassurance that the hard work was worth it.

The ideal person to take over

When the time came for me to leave Vietnam and start a new adventure, I was lucky enough to find the perfect person to take over. Georgie Snape, a teacher and friend who I’d met in my early days in Hanoi. She had already left Vietnam once, but her passion for the country had drawn her back halfway across the globe.

Independent, hardworking, and an encyclopaedia of Vietnam knowledge, Georgie is motivated by a love of meeting new people, sharing great experiences, and embracing challenge. And she would need to be all of those things as, in her own words, “All of a sudden, I was in charge of website maintenance and development, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), finances and tax returns, HR, social media marketing, advertising, liaising with schools and partners and dealing with contracts and legal matters. On top of this, I was helping teachers (many of whom had never lived abroad) relocate to Vietnam to teach English. I was in charge of everything- finding them a job, accommodation, a reliable motorbike, lesson plans, arranging city tours and language exchanges and the list goes on… and on… and on… What did I used to do before I took over Teacher’s Friend – Vietnam?”

Thanks to her hard work, new teachers arriving in Vietnam have access to everything they need. They have a way to tailor their experience to their own image of what travel should be. They have a support system in place should anything go wrong. They have an opportunity to enjoy their time in an unparalleled, awe-inspiring country. They have a teacher’s friend.

 

Alex Sinclair Lack

Alex Sinclair Lack is a writer, teacher and entrepreneur; always on the look-out for exciting new projects. He comes from the coastal county of Cornwall in the UK, and studied philosophy at the University of Sheffield. He is currently working on an idea for a unique ELT textbook series, as well as a top-secret travel project.

Twitter: @alexsinclair     Flickr: Alex Sinclair Lack

Feature Image: Long Bien Bridge, Hanoi

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