Why Tet is the best time to visit Hoi An.

When I first decided to visit Vietnam back in January I was a little worried. Vietnam observes the Lunar New Year; this nation-wide holiday is called Tet and sees the whole country all but shut down for ten days during the festivities! This is was the source of my worries; what was I going to do for ten days when nothing was open, what would I eat, where would I go?! I needn’t have feared however, Vietnam during Tet turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had while travelling. I ended up spending the bulk of the festive period in Da Nang and Hoi An which I am happy to say was definitely the right decision. Why? I hear you ask, well look no further than the next few paragraphs my friend and all your questions will be answered.

 

20190208_120119
Walking through the old quarter of Hoi An

Hoi An is a popular destination among tourists the year round, its beautiful beaches are just a short cycle from the main town and to get there you pass through beautiful rice paddies that look like a scene straight out of “Eat, Pray, Love”! Situated right in the middle of this long coastal country Da Nang has an international airport as well as good rail links with the rest of the main cities in Vietnam. The only trouble I had visiting Vietnam during Tet was finding train tickets as every train I looked at was full. This left me with the slightly pricier option of travelling by plane but I had saved my pennies for this trip so I wasn’t so upset with paying a bit extra to get to my destination.

20190205_112001
Mango smoothie by the beach!

The reason I fell so in love with Hoi An wasn’t because of its beautiful beaches or rural rice paddies (although they definitely helped). It wasn’t even the gorgeous hotel we stayed in or the vegan restaurant we stumbled across. No, the reason I fell in love with this quaint little tourist trap was the way it came to life after dark. Hoi An is famous for its lantern filled market streets and this multicoloured light display only intensifies during the Tet holiday. The old quarter was full of locals celebrating the festival by releasing floating lanterns with tiny candles into the water. Street vendors lined the streets that were draped in hanging paper lanterns, lit up in rainbow colours. There was something to see everywhere I looked!

20190207_213946
Floating lantern on the water.
IMG_2833
Boats decorated in colourful lanterns.

The town was quiet during the day with little tourists opting to visit at this awkward time of year, this made it a lot easier to navigate the maze like layout that is Hoi An’s old quarter. It was also a lot easier to bargain for a great deal in the many tailors and souvenir shops in the area than it had been in the rest of Vietnam. Be aware when bargaining though, this time of year means a lot to the Vietnamese and any bad sales, no sales or arguments with customers will be seen as bad luck for the year to come. So bargain if you must but be respectful of the people you are bargaining with.

IMG_2948
A woman can be seen only by the light of the lanterns she is selling.

The quiet beaches and mesmerising night markets made Hoi An the absolute highlight of my trip to Vietnam. Any worries I had about having nothing to do went out the window as soon as I checked into the hotel and we were told that we could rent bicycles for free. If you are thinking about visiting Vietnam during Tet then I would definitely recommend Hoi An as the place to go. Hanoi becomes a ghost town as I discovered on my last day there before flying down to Da Nang. I was warned by a friend to hold off on visiting Ho Chi Minh until well after Tet was over for the same reason. Hoi An might not be as busy as it usually is over this festive period but if anything that’s a positive not a negative. It’s the perfect place to go after the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities with the added advantage of pretty lights and sun kissed beaches!

For more of my adventures take a look at one of these posts:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: My Five School Bag Essentials

School bag with yoda doll inside

If you are new to teaching there may be some things you wouldn’t think about but can actually come in very handy in the classroom. This is probably not everything you will need but they are definitely things that I have found useful during my time teaching in Asia.

School bag with yoda doll inside
Yoda is of course the most essential item in any bag!

1. Tissues

Apart from the fact that there is almost never toilet paper in the public toilets in Asia, tissues are one of the most useful things in my bag. Kids being kids there is always going to be a spillage or a runny nose somewhere in the classroom. Most of the students in my school in China kept a packet of tissues in their desk but there was always someone in need of an emergency tissue or two. I even had a lesson in Summer last year where the Chinese teacher bought every child in her class an ice-cream and, let me tell you, I have never been more grateful for my little packet of tissues.

Children covered in toilet tissue dressed as mummies
You can never have too many tissues! Myanmar

2. Hand Sanitizer

This can be particularly handy (see what I did there?) when working with young learners. Hygiene levels are not at the forefront of most young students minds and the sneezes are always doing the rounds. Also, you should not expect soap to be readily available in your school bathroom. More often than not you will find an empty bottle or no trace of where soap once was, which is why it is always a good idea to carry hand sanitizer in your bag. It is also a great thing to have around when little fingers are left to run wild with ice-cream in 35 degree heat…

mmexport1526546869935
Cute but sticky… China

3. A Ball

I’m not talking a beach ball here, unless you’re planning to deflate it after each class to pack back into your bag… Any size ball will do but I would recommend you go no smaller than a tennis ball as the likelihood of getting lost increases as the size of the ball decreases. Having a ball nearby will vastly open up your game options when you find yourself at the end of a lesson plan with 10 minutes of class time still to go. It is also a useful thing to own if you have a particularly unruly class, use the ball to select which student will speak next or answer a question by throwing it to them. This will give the students something to focus their attention on as they will be watching to see if the ball is coming to them.

4. A Water Bottle

We all know how important it is to keep hydrated at the best of times but when you are living in Asia it is even more important to keep a bottle of water in your backpack! Some classrooms do not have air conditioning, especially in Thailand, and the heat can really get to you if you are not prepared. I recommend investing in a really good quality reusable water bottle, tap water in Asia is not safe to drink but most schools will have water refill stations either in the classrooms or in the corridors. We all know the damage that plastic is doing to the environment and the problem is especially bad in Asia so try not to buy bottles of water from convenience stores. Reusable water bottles are available in just about any supermarket and if you are already in Asia I recommend checking out Miniso for some really cute designs!

5. A notebook

This is an essential item for any teacher who is as forgetful as me! I use my notebook for so many things and without it I would be completely lost. It is where I keep my lesson plans, where I write down new ideas, where I keep class lists and timetables. It is also a good thing to have on hand if you have forgetful students, not all classrooms come equipped with the supplies you would expect and if a student forgets their notebook there might not be paper readily available for them. As long as you have your notebook they won’t have any excuses for not doing the task!

Lesson Plan Notebook
Never seen without a notebook in my backpack

The list of things that would make your life easier in the classroom is endless, but these are the five I never leave the house without! What do you think? What essential item never leaves your teacher bag?

For more TEFL tips check out one of these posts:

A Tea Drinker’s Guide to Coffee Shops in Hanoi

Due to poor planning on my part, I spent a lot of time in Hanoi during my trip to Vietnam at the beginning of this year. In total I spent almost two weeks roaming the streets and frequenting various coffee shops, without drinking a single drop of coffee I might add. Usually I order a nice safe peppermint tea, failing that I’ll choose a mango smoothie! As you can probably guess, this will not be a list of where to find the best coffee in Hanoi. If that is what you were looking for then I suggest you look elsewhere (sorry). What this will be, however, is a list of the coffee shops I visited while I was there and my opinions of them. So if that sounds interesting to you, sit back, grab a coffee and read on.

20190129_141208
My favourite travel word… probably because it sums up my life…
  1. The Note ( Open 6:30 am – 11pm)

The Note Coffee was at the top of my list when it came to things I wanted to do in Hanoi. I know it probably should have been the temple of literature or a museum of some sort, but once you see the photos you’ll understand why I was so excited to check it out. It has to be the cutest coffee shop I’ve ever visited! Filled with notes of love left by visitors from all over the world, you can’t help but feel like the walls themselves are giving you one big hug. The peppermint tea was as good as any I’ve had and they do a fantastic matcha iced smoothie too if that floats your boat. I loved this coffee shop and I spent hours there writing blog posts and editing videos, and for most of that time I had a whole floor of the café to myself. If you love post-it notes and good vibes then I would definitely recommend a visit.

IMG_2104
Even the mugs are friendly!
20190129_134240
A room full of love and kindness ❤
IMG_2117
Extra points for the whipped cream on top!

Where to find it: The Note Coffee is right in-between Hanoi’s old quarter and Keim Lake (great view of this busy area from the top floor of the café). Easily locatable on google maps, less easy to navigate yourself to if you struggle to dodge speeding motorbikes and follow directions at the same time! It’s located on the right hand corner of the lake as you come out of the old quarter and shouldn’t be too hard to spot, but I did miss it and walk right past it when I was looking for it…

 

Address: 64 Lương Văn Can, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

 

  1. Hanoi Social Club (Open 8am – 11pm)

When I saw a menu that said “gluten free, vegan spaghetti” I was excited but kept my expectations low. Gluten free pasta dishes can be a hit or miss situation at home, never mind halfway around the world in a country where gluten free is barely even translatable! I was actually pleasantly surprised and had myself a lovely meal. As if things couldn’t get better they even had gluten free chocolate cake! Add to this the homey, comfy atmosphere of the place and you’ve got yourself the perfect spot to hang out for an afternoon. It’s a bit on the pricey side but when you’ve been living off spring rolls for the past two weeks paying a little bit extra for a delicious spaghetti is definitely worth it! If you like a café with mismatched furniture, quirky artwork and dim lighting, then this one is for you.

20190203_115036
You have to order a green drink in a place like this!

Where to find it: Within walking distance of the old quarter this hipster café is definitely in a central location, I did have a little trouble finding it though. It is located down a small side street that google maps has no knowledge of so it took me a while to figure out where to go. Once on the side street, however, it is easy enough to locate.

 

Address: 6 Ngõ Hội Vũ, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

 

  1. Hidden Gem Café (Open 8am – 11pm)

Hidden Gem is a unique and wonderful place with a great mission! Everything in the café is made from upcycled materials from the seats to the décor and even the cups you drink from! The café’s owner is a friendly man keen to talk about his ambitious mission to clean up South East Asia (and sell his motorbike tours of Hanoi). It is built over four floors, three of which have seating in all shapes, sizes and materials. On the ground floor you will find bike parking and smiling staff waiting to take your order, this is also where you get your first glimpse of the café’s upcycled décor with plastic bottle ceilings and water jug light shades. All around the café are posters about climate change and plastic pollution really expressing the inspiration behind the place. I returned to this café a few times and would recommend going in the evening as the atmosphere is truly at its best at this time.

IMG_2564
Even the ceiling is recycled!
IMG_2246
The only spider I’ll ever call cute

Where to find it: When they say “hidden gem” they mean hidden! Well not really but it took me far too long to find this place. The hour long search resulted in a smashed up phone and an essential but brief trip to the next coffee shop I’m going to talk about. If I’m honest I just wasn’t using my eyes… as soon as I sat down in the coffee shop across the street I saw the sign saying “Hidden Gem Café this way” and felt like an idiot as I waited for my apple juice and desperately hoped my phone would fix itself. It is right on the edge of Hanoi’s old quarter and if you bring your brain with you really isn’t that hard to find, if all else fails find Always (the Harry Potter themes café) and look across the street, it will be right in front of you.

 

Address: 3B Hàng Tre, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

 

  1. Always Coffee and Butterbeer (Open 8am – 11pm)

This cute little café needs some TLC but I loved it all the same. It is a Harry Potter themed café and has drinks named after different potions and beverages mentioned in the books and movies. Leave them a review on tripadvisor and you’ll even bag yourself a free deathly hallows necklace. It’s a small café with one floor and a small amount of tables but both times I went I was able to get a seat no problem. As mentioned above, I wasn’t very adventurous the first time I went, opting for what I thought would be a quicker option in the form of apple juice. Unfortunately for me in that moment but something that earns them points in reality, all their fruit juices are made from scratch and so my apple juice took at least ten minutes to come to me. By which time I had been staring at my intended destination for about eight minutes. Disastrous day it may have been, but discovering a Harry Potter themed café was definitely a bright side to my misadventures.  When I returned, intentionally this time, I ordered a Felix Felicis (the famous luck potion from Half Blood Prince) and it was delicious! A mango smoothie floating on top of what I think was lemonade, whatever it was it tasted better than I just made it sound! If you’re a Harry Potter fan this is the place for you in Hanoi.

 

20190202_175704
After all this time…

Where to find it: Located on the edge of the old quarter, if you see the Hidden Gem Café then look no further than across the street… the best way to find it would appear to be by looking for something else… (come to think of it maybe it is actual magic and not just a cute theme!) Nearby landmarks I can attest to are a phone repair shop (I’m not bitter I promise) and Highway 4 restaurant.

Address: 8B Hàng Tre, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

  1. 65 Coffee (Open 10:30am – 8:30pm)

This tiny shop is where I chose to spend a whole day watching the train pass through Hanoi’s infamous train street! As seems to be the theme with my travels, I was not actually looking for this coffee shop. In fact I was looking for one I had seen in a vlog when researching my trip to Vietnam (I know I might not have a solid plan but I promise I do at least a bit of research before I arrive in a new country). I located my predetermined café “Hanoi Train Track Café” only to find it had closed down. A bit disappointed but determined not to let it dampen my spirits I walked about five minutes down the track and was welcomed by a wonderful smile and told to sit by the owner of 65 Coffee. It was about 35 degrees so the first thing I wanted was a cola but as I said I did spend the whole day there so I eventually ordered myself a lemon ice tea (bet you thought I was going to say mango smoothie)! I must have been there from 12pm to 4pm but time flew by; chatting with other tourists and the shop owners, waiting for trains to speed past at unbelievable speeds for a residential street and making friends with a very dirty but very sweet dog. I definitely recommend this little spot if you are interested in checking out train street. It is much quieter than the other end which is usually crowded with tourists trying to get a snap of the unbelievable sight of a train driving edge to edge with people’s actual homes!

20190202_141536
Not a mango smoothie!
IMG_2484
Everything else might be closed for Tet but not this little shop!

Where to find it: Well, the clue is in the last paragraph really but you can find this café on Hanoi’s train street. I walked there from the old quarter and it was manageable despite the heat. There are a few café’s along the street and if you are interested in train street I will be posting a blog soon detailing my day there.

Address: 65 Ngõ 224 Lê Duẩn, Khâm Thiên, Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam

For more of my travels check out some of these posts:

5 Reasons to Travel Solo

Every major trip I’ve taken until now, I’ve done it solo. Some could argue that it’s because I have no friends, but I promise you that is not the case and it isn’t because I don’t like other human beings either, although a little time alone never hurt anyone. I need human interaction just as much as the next person and honestly without someone to debrief to after a long day I think I’d go a little bit stir crazy but at the end of when it comes to travel I alway opt for a solo journey. Why? Well, I have my reasons and if you keep reading you’ll find out!

Freedom

There is a great sense of freedom that comes with travelling solo, I especially love the fact that you are free to do what you want when you want to do it. When you travel with other people you have to plan around everyones needs and what they want to do. Someone wants to go shopping and someone else wants to go to the beach but then someone else wants to explore the local area by bicycle. Without a leader in the group all you end up doing is going round in circles until you’ve wasted the whole day trying to plan the day! This isn’t always the case of course, sometimes there is a natural leader in the group and plans are made but this alway means a compromise was made somewhere along the way. Travel alone and there’s no wasted time, there’s no compromise and no one knows if you take a cheeky pool day when most people would be expecting you to be immersed in local culture! Some will call it selfish, I call it self-care! Don’t get me wrong group trips can be amazing too but personally I just love the freedom of solo travel a little bit more.

37520418_10213698795959124_3802679256929009664_o
Solo travel means self timers and tripods are essential kit! Hong Kong

No Stress

When I do travel with a group I find myself feeling responsible for everyone, I’m a people pleaser so the stress of trying to make everyone happy all of the time can be a bit overwhelming for me. I especially feel this kind of stressful responsibility in airports, for some reason I feel like it’s my job to get everyone to the gate and organised when really they are all adults and if they miss the flight it’s their own fault! I love airports when I’m by myself but in a group I can’t relax until we are all in the air.

It’s Easier to Make New Friends

If you travel with one or more friends the chances are you will stick together, nothing wrong with that but I find it much easier to make new friends if I’m by myself. Groups can be a bit of a safe space for me, but when I travel alone it forces me to talk to new people to find out information. Sometimes these conversations don’t go much further than getting directions or the information you were looking for but they can also lead to a longer conversation and as a result a new friend. This new friend might invite you on a day trip or a night out while you’re both in the country but it doesn’t have to be anything more than that and you aren’t tied to their itinerary for the rest of your travels.

39846580_10213925661190613_7563588999126712320_n
Go on tours make new friends! Thailand

It Will Build Your Confidence

When I travel with friends I tend to let them do the talking, mainly because I don’t want to be responsible for anything that goes wrong… Travelling by myself has taught me that things are bound to go wrong at some point and as a result my confidence in planning a trip, asking for directions and organising transportation has definitely increased. Having only yourself to rely on forces you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do things that you don’t usually do for yourself. If things go wrong, they go wrong. It’s part of the fun of travelling!

37409365_10213707406414380_2405265343132991488_o
Travelling alone requires the confidence to ask strangers to take your photo. Hong Kong

The Destination is Your Choice

If you want to go somewhere, don’t wait for someone to go there with you! Nothing is stopping you from seeing the world but you, so pack your bag and just go. When you travel with other there will inevitably be a compromise somewhere along the way. While compromising is a part of life and being able to accept compromise is definitely a desirable trait, you should also be able to see the world on your own terms. Not having anyone to go with is not an excuse!

cropped-20180402_170719
Go where you want, when you want! China

I feel like it is important to note that travelling solo has its flaws too, it can be lonely at times and in some places it just isn’t safe to travel alone. I’m happy with a good balance between my solo travelling and meeting up with friends along the way but its not for everyone.

What do you think? Is travelling solo better than travelling with friends? Are there any other advantages to travelling alone?

To read about some of my adventures, solo or otherwise, click on one of the links below:

 

TEFL Tip Tuesday – Top Five Resources For Any ESL Teacher

I’ve been teaching English for about a year and a half now and in that time I have discovered a few resources that I find myself returning to again and again. Whether it be for lesson inspiration, warmer and cooler ideas or worksheet creation, these are the books and websites that supply me with engaging activities for both my young learner and adult classes alike.

FB_IMG_1559477916877
Elementary Class, Myanmar

 

  1. YouTube

Ok, let’s get this one out of the way straight of the bat. I am not recommending that you play YouTube videos for the entirety of your lesson! When I first arrived at my school in China they told me plain and simple that my lessons were not to be 40 minutes of the kids watching TV and I mean, fair enough. I was alarmed to think that anyone would even consider it at the time, but once you’ve taught twenty classes a week for a few months you start running out of ideas and 40 minutes of TV starts to sound a little tempting! I luckily never resorted to this, but I have used YouTube in my lesson to enrich and expand on the topic of the day. This has ranged from the smash hit that is “Baby Shark” (every ESL teacher’s secret weapon for a happy classroom) in my first grade and kindergarten classes to how astronauts brush their teeth in space with my level six class here in Myanmar.

YouTube has an unlimited amount of visual resources for any topic and any age but you have to tread wisely. If you want to use YouTube in your classroom make sure you watch the video all the way to the end before you play it over the loudspeakers, you need to check that the content is appropriate for your class. This doesn’t just mean checking for bad language or scenes of a sensitive nature but it also means checking the language used in the video is at the right level for your students and that the speech or song is presented at an easy to understand pace. If you are using video in the classroom it is with the intention that the students will learn from it, so make sure they understand it.

20180423_155836.jpg
Grade One dancing to “Baby Monkey”, China
  1. Twisty Noodle

Word-trace worksheets are perfect for young learners who are just beginning to learn English as it allows them to practice their writing skills within a guided context. Twisty noodle is my favourite website for word-trace worksheets, you can find everything from colours to transportation on the site and they allow you to add your own word or phrase to worksheets making them personal to your class. I’ve used Twisty Noodle’s worksheets as stand-alone activities in my classroom but I have also incorporated the word-trace elements from their site into my own worksheets when I want to make things a bit more technical. The site also has colouring pages which I often give to my students as an activity before class if the arrive early to keep them entertained.

20190109_093153
Two Twisty Noodle worksheets combined in one page, China
20190616_124611
Twisty Noodle worksheet used to make Father’s Day cards, Myanmar

 

  1. Brain Training Books

This can be any brain training book and is something I recently added to my TEFL tool belt. I was really struggling to think of warmer for my adult classes, warmers are particularly important when it comes to my Elementary class as there are always at least two late comers (sometimes half an hour or more late but I don’t wait around that long for them, usually I aim for fifteen minutes of warm up time before diving into the course book). I’m brand new to the world of teaching adults having previously only taught 14 year olds or below so for my first couple of lessons I felt completely lost. My friend suggested I take a look at her book “5 Minute Brain Workout” for some inspiration, it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Brain teasers are the perfect warmer for an adult class in my opinion because they are interesting enough that the students won’t get bored easily and challenging enough to keep them thinking while we wait for the stragglers. There are a couple of good warmers out there that I like to use with adults like “find someone who” and “who wrote it?” but these kinds of thing can only be used so many times before they get repetitive or boring. Having a book of brain teasers on hand has proved to be very useful and I’ve even used some of them with my young learner classes for the students who finish everything first, it keeps them quiet and focused on English while the rest of the class finish the task.

51VXzYw6LVL
This book has given my adult classes plenty to think about!
  1. Canva

Canva is a free design website that you can use to create just about anything. I love this website for creating my worksheets and activities, it’s so simple to use and it come with templates if you have no idea where to start. I have used Canva for just about every lesson plan since I arrived in Myanmar and it has honestly been a life saver for me. I hate trying to format things in Word, where you move one image and suddenly the rest of the images are ten pages away and upside down! Canva brings me back to my University days and allows me to design beautiful worksheets without all the complicated shortcuts and tools that you get in programmes like InDesign and Illustrator, because who has time for that when all you need to create is one worksheet on gerunds?!

 

20190321_180237
One of my first Canva worksheets, so quick and easy to create, Myanmar

 

  1. Other Teachers!

One of the best and possibly most readily available resources is your fellow teachers. I find brainstorming with other teachers to be one of the most useful ways to plan a lesson and this was especially true when I was just starting out. Being able to bounce ideas of other people and think out loud allows you to think differently than if it’s just you and your laptop or notebook trying to create something alone. Two heads are better than one and when you are trying to think of a fun and engaging lesson it can be really helpful to get a second opinion on an activity. You never know, your fellow teachers may have already done a similar lesson or know of a useful resource you could go to for more inspiration. This doesn’t just have to be people you work with; reach out to the TEFL communities online, if you did an in-class course send a few of your classmates a message and see how they’ve tackled similar lessons, follow other teachers on social media for creative ideas and if you like what they’re doing send them a message and talk about it.

61945453_10215797483024989_7330358655612616704_n
Me and my fellow teachers, Myanmar

 

Honourable Mentions.

These are definitely my top five favourite resources but they are not the only place I go for inspiration and last minute activities, here are some of my honourable mentions that you can also use if you find yourself stuck for ideas:

Teachers Pay Teachers – There are many free resources on Teachers Pay Teachers and some of them have been exactly what I need, others I have adapted and created my own worksheets and activities from, usually on Canva.

FluentU – This site has a lot of great ideas for speaking classes and can be a real help if you are stuck for ideas for warmers and coolers. The site can be a bit confusing to navigate sometimes though.

Busy Teacher – This was one of the first websites recommended to me by a fellow ESL teacher and I find myself back there now and again. I find the blog posts most useful but I have used the occasional resource from the site, maybe with a little fine tuning…

ISL Collective – This site has a lot of worksheets, and I mean a lot. It can be a little overwhelming at first and finding a worksheet that is perfect for you topic could take a while but there are some gems on there. Again I often find a resource with the relevant topic and tweak it a bit to fit my style of teaching and class needs.

Twinkle – This website honestly has some of my absolute favourite resources and the only reason it isn’t on my top five is because only a limited amount are free to use. It makes sense, they are beautiful worksheets and there are some great activities on there so they are definitely worth paying for but us poor ESL teachers can be a bit strapped for digital cash (most jobs pay cash in hand or, if you’re in China, setting up online banking with your foreign bank account is pretty much impossible)!

 

For more TEFL Tips check out one of my previous posts:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: In-class vs Online TEFL courses, which is better?

I have completed two courses since I began my TEFL journey way back in October 2017. The first was an online 120 hour TEFL course which I completed in my own time back in Scotland and the second was an in-class 120 hour TESOL course which I completed in Thailand with 14 other participants and one incredible teacher. Both are adequate tools for getting yourself an English teaching job overseas, both have their advantages and disadvantages but how do you know which one is right for you? Hopefully this post will help you decide!

39227353_154984865400415_2219872491390631936_o
My TESOL group in Hua Hin, Thailand

I want to preface this post by pointing out that having two TEFL qualifications is not at all necessary, I only have two because the opportunity presented itself and I’m not one to say no to spending three weeks in Thailand, next to the beach, learning how to become better at my job! (Does this make me a nerd? Probably…)

 

Online

My online course was part of the deal when I signed up to STA Travel’s teaching internship in China. The idea was, you complete I-to-I TEFL’s 120 hour online course, go for a week of orientation in Beijing or Harbin and then you get placed somewhere in China for a 5 month “internship”; essentially you arrive at a school with a basic knowledge of teaching methods and get thrown in at the deep end teaching 25 hours a week for around a £200 a month salary. They call it an internship because that way you can enter China on a student visa as you are there to study Mandarin and how to teach English as a foreign language.

In favour of the online course is the fact that it is a really easy way to achieve your TEFL qualification and it was included in the price of my internship package with STA. The reason it appealed to me so much at the time was that I had just finished 6 years of higher education and while TEFL had always intrigued me until that point I had assumed it was something you needed to study at college. The thought of going back into the college/university system did not appeal to me so to be told that I could do the course online from the comfort of my own home (well to be honest mainly coffee shops and my friend Hannah’s apartment) was music to my ears. A way to travel, earn money and I didn’t have to go back to college, perfect!

20171201_095254.jpg
Who doesn’t love a study sesh in their local coffee shop?!

The best thing about an online TEFL course is that you get to move at your own pace when it comes to what you are learning. As someone with Dyslexia this is really important to me as it can take me longer to read large amounts of text than most people and sometimes that large amount of text doesn’t even sink in after I’ve read it so I end up having to read it again! My course gave me three months to complete the material and sit the test after signing up. This was the perfect amount of time and meant I could fit studying in around my other commitments such as my job and going to the pub every other night…

The downside to online courses in general is you really need to have internal motivation to get them done. The online TEFL course I did was no exception and while there was the external motivation of the 3 month deadline, it wasn’t until the last month of my course that this finally kicked me into panic mode and I crammed the material hard!  It could be argued that the motivation should come from the idea of your new adventure, moving to another country and becoming an English teacher, but I have one of those personalities that doesn’t tend to 100% believe something is happening until I’m actually on the plane and there’s no chance to turn back. So it’s safe to say that this motivation didn’t really work for me, I’m more of a “works well under extreme pressure that I’ve only created by my own actions” kind of students.

Another downside to the online course is just the vast amount of information that you need to process alone. I like to talk about things when I’m learning about them but with an online course it’s just you and your computer so getting all that information to stick can be a bit tricky. I used up three notebooks writing notes on all the different topics and sections in the course, it was a lot to sift through!

When it boils down to it this is a great option for people who are good at getting stuff done and focusing on a project once they commit to it. You can move at your own pace and can fit it in around your existing schedule. Maybe if you are planning on travelling with a friend then doing the course together online would be a good option. You could even do the course as you travel, before you go for a teaching position. For people who find it hard to motivate themselves or find a lot of course material overwhelming in sort of “don’t look at it and hope it goes away” kind of way, I would not recommend. The sheer amount of material and no real pressure to get the work done was a bit of a challenge for me, luckily I’m a last minute kind of girl as I mentioned above and having to squeeze half of the course into a third of the time worked out to be the best way for me to do it in the end but I probably made it more stressful than it needed to be!

 

20170122_140420
Friends who study together, stay together!

 

 

In-class

I was invited down to Thailand from China as part of my current job here in Myanmar; it made sense that if I was going to work for their language centre I should probably learn how they do things first, so in August last year I travelled to Hua Hin for Xplore Asia’s 4 week TESOL course.

20180803_110329
Office dogs are definitely a plus! Xplore Asia also have a charity that works with the stray dog population in Hua Hin and some of their furry friends hang around the school during the day providing very appreciated cuddles between lessons. 

The best part of the in-class course for me was how interactive it was, I could discuss the lessons with class members and there was a good amount of group work mixed in to our solo assignments. This isn’t for everyone but if, like me, you look externally for you motivation then it’s the best way to learn!

The course is taught with enthusiasm by someone with years of experience teaching English abroad and this really shows through the classes provided. Our instructor was probably one of the best teachers I’ve ever had and this really did help when it came to the atmosphere in class. His laid back but professional teaching style has really influenced my own and I have noticed a difference in my own classes since taking part in his course.

FB_IMG_1534329692625
Me and my TESOL instructor Jaco (ignore the last name on my certificate… it’s a typo!)

Another obvious advantage of this option was the fact the course was taught in Thailand. Now I know not all in-class TEFL courses are going to have this advantage but to be honest why would you even choose any other course when you could travel half way around the world and spend your summer in one of the most beautiful countries in the world (and it doesn’t just have to be summer, they offer classes almost all year round). If you are choosing to do TEFL then chances are you are looking to move abroad anyway so why not just travel 4 weeks early and begin your adventure with some expert training. Extra bonus is that Xplore Asia offer a placement service after you complete the course, so they even help you find a job afterwards (I already had my job lined up but everyone else in the group signed up for this when they booked the course).

20180812_110144
Weekdays in class, weekends at the beach.

Everyone in the course was there for the same reason and they had made the commitment of travelling all the way to Thailand so there was definitely a spirit of community within the group. This made my time in Hua Hin one of my all-time favourite travel moments from last year and is probably where I fell in love with Thailand.

Something that you really can’t get with an online course but that is provided with the in-class option is hands-on classroom experience. My course gave us two days in an actual Thai classroom to put all of our training into practice. This alone this alone makes choosing the in-class option worthwhile. When I arrived in China I felt so under-prepared and I had no idea what to expect from my first day of teaching, so the opportunity to have a practice run before your actual placement is unbelievably valuable in my opinion!

IMG_20180808_180818_403
Hands on practice in an actual Thai school was a stand-out feature of the TESOL course in Thailand for me!

In terms of disadvantages, for me personally, there aren’t really any to speak of but I know there are probably a few things that could present themselves as potential problems for some people. The first would be that group work does not always work out well for everyone and it can be frustrating trying to get work done when someone in the group isn’t pulling their weight, my advice here would be to use this situation as an opportunity to practice your patience and understanding skills because you are going to need them when it comes to stepping into the classroom as a teacher.

Obviously with this option you are restricted to the time structures and course start dates that just aren’t a thing with the online course. Instead of working your course around your life, you have to work your life around your course as far as moving yourself all the way out to Thailand (or elsewhere as Xplore Asia offers courses in a few different South East Asian countries)! As a mentioned earlier though, you are probably looking to move abroad anyway right? So why not do your TEFL course abroad too? If you struggle to work to a deadline then the in-class course might be the perfect way to train yourself into a more disciplined mindset, or it just might not be for you!

 

To summarise, this is definitely my preferred option and the one I would recommend to anyone thinking about becoming TEFL qualified but it is not for everyone and if you haven’t 100% decided if TEFL is for you travelling all the way to South-East Asia might be a bit of a daunting move. There are of course in-class course available at most local colleges in Scotland (which I know isn’t much help for those outside of my beautiful home country) so if you are interested in the in-class option but not quite sure if you’re ready to hop on a plane, then I would definitely advise looking into a course closer to home.

37829412_10213746329027421_8781303156295335936_o
WE ❤ TESOL

I hope this has helped you to make a decision and as much as I do recommend the in-class option over the online courses it really does depend on how you learn and at what stage of “ready to go” you are. If you are practically on the plane already then definitely look into Xplore Asia and their TESOL programme. If however you’re still on the fence then have a browse for online courses, they tend to start at around £50 and do still provide you with all of the information you need to become an English Teacher abroad, just without the practical experience that in-class can provide. As always if you have any questions about teaching English abroad feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email and I’ll try my best to help you out!

 

For more information about I-to-I TEFL, Xplore Asia and to see the internship programme I signed up to through STA travel follow these links:

 

For more TEFL tips check out one of my previous posts:

TEFL Tip Tuesday: A Year of Teaching English, What Has it Taught Me?

A year ago today I landed in China, I had no idea what to expect. My original plan was to spend six months teaching in China and then move onto Vietnam. There I would spend another six months teaching and move onto Australia for a year before finally heading home to the U.K. It’s safe to say that isn’t exactly what happened. I fell in love with teaching English, fell in love with China and fell in love with the school I had been placed at. Now I don’t know when I’ll finally be heading home; I have just finished a year teaching in China and I am at the beginning of a six month contract in Myanmar. Teaching English has surprised me in how much it has taught me about the world we live in, about how language evolves and how to deal with unfamiliar situations and why they are not always a bad thing.

mmexport1519258386866
Orientation week in Beijing

I travelled to China alone, this was not by mistake. I didn’t even try to convince anyone to come with me. When I made the decision to travel the world I did so with the conviction that I would be doing it alone! The reason behind this was not because I had no friends or because I was “travelling to find myself”. No, I chose to travel alone because I wanted to go and I wanted to go as soon as possible. I wasn’t about to wait for anyone to join me, who knew how long it would take to find someone willing to move themselves halfway around the world. I have always travelled alone, it’s the only way I knew and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? This year has taught me that my belief in solo travel runs deep within me and that it gives me the freedom to go and do whatever I want to do while I’m travelling. On the reverse of that it has also taught me that sometimes it is nice to have a travel buddy or a friend to visit in a country. Making friends and travelling with them is part of the appeal of solo travel for many people, and without some of the friendships I have made this year I would not have done or seen some of the incredible things that I have.

Jumping sunset
Travelling solo doesn’t mean you are always alone.

When it comes to the teaching side of things I could go on for days about how much it has taught me. If you have ever had the pleasure of being introduced to me in a bar after a drink or two you’ll know just how much I can talk about the advantages of TEFL, to the teacher and student alike! The most surprising thing I have learnt this year, and the thing that really should be the least surprising at all really, is how much I have learnt about the English language. I always enjoyed English at school and, despite my Dyslexia, it was always one of the subjects I performed best in, but since teaching English I have found myself more and more fascinated by how our complicated and at times completely irrational language came to be the way it is. English as a language honestly makes little to no sense unless you have grown up speaking it, this is something I have discovered this year and something I have discussed with my fellow teachers at length. I think to understand this allows you to become a better ESL teacher. It’s not just about having fun games and a lot of energy (although these things definitely help) if you understand how much English really doesn’t make sense sometimes then it will allow you to think about the language from a non-native speaker’s point of view. If you can do that then you are going to be a much better English teacher!

fb_img_15303569281394285965291522885112.jpg
Chaotic but we made it work.

I always say to my eighth grade students “Chinese is so difficult” and they always say to me “No, teacher English is so difficult” it’s become a bit of a pantomime call scenario at this point, we’ve come to the conclusion that both languages are difficult. As much as I teach them English they teach me new things about English daily by questioning the language. This forces me to really think about why we use a word the way we do or why some words are spelled the way they are when really they could be spelled completely differently (even while writing that sentence I had an inner-battle of spelled vs. spelt). Teaching English has made me better at English.

20181220_155407
Grade Eight Girls on my last day.

Teaching English as Foreign Language has put me into situations that are completely unfamiliar and unknown to me. I had never stepped into a classroom as anything but a student until I arrived in Sanxiang, China one year ago. I had no experience as a teacher and my experience of working with children amounted to weekend Pizza Parties at my part time job and a short stint as a Young Leader with my local Girl Guides unit. This year has pushed me out of my comfort zone completely and taught me how to handle situations that I would not have come into contact with had I not become an ESL Teacher. It has taught me how to think on the spot when my lesson plan finished ten minutes before the end of class, it has taught me how to be a role model to teenagers who I thought saw me as the very uncool foreign teacher when in fact they saw me as the cool foreign teacher with two cats (having my cats associated with my cool factor is always going to make me happy) and it showed me how taking an interest in the cultures and language of the countries you visit can completely change that experience for the friends you make there as well as yourself. Unfamiliar situations used to fill me with dread, the unknown was worse to me than knowing something bad was about to happen (mainly because if I didn’t know I would think of about twenty bad things that could happen and these would spiral until it was better just to not do anything) but now I find myself excited at the prospect of an unfamiliar situation or an unknown challenge. I have definitely learnt this year to trust myself and my judgement in these situations because more often than not they turn out to be the best kind of adventures.

20180404_103540
Outside your comfort zone is sometimes exactly where you need to be!

A year of teaching English has taught me that you can’t run away from problems, you have to face up to them and moving halfway across the world doesn’t make them go away. China has given me the confidence to stand up for myself, it has shown me what I am capable of and it has shown me that people value my time and opinion. Being asked by students and teachers alike if I will be returning to teach in Sanxiang made me happy and sad at the same time, to tell them I was leaving made me sad but to know they wanted me to stay made me happy. I made myself completely at home in China and although I had to leave I know it is not forever. Teaching in China taught me so much and I know it still has much more to teach me. Here’s to another year of TEFL and many more to come, whether that be in China, Myanmar or countries as of yet undecided!

For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?

Harbin Ice Festival: The Three Main Parks and What They Have to Offer.

We arrived in Harbin on new Year’s Eve after a long and interesting journey by sleeper train. Once we had checked into our hotel and freshened up a bit, we decided to go for a walk down the main street to see if we could find a bar or a restaurant to spend the evening in and celebrate the changing of the year. The main street was beautifully decorated with fairy lights and lined with ice sculptures, some still a work in progress. Along this street you can also find high street stores, shopping malls, restaurants (yes there is a McDonald’s) and some of Harbin’s famous ice cream parlours. Apparently no trip Heilongjiang province is complete without ice cream and so, this is how we found ourselves in a bar at quarter to midnight ice cream in one hand and a drink in the other. I think the main appeal of Harbin ice cream is the novelty of eating it in sub-zero temperatures, but it is still really good ice cream so I do recommend giving it a try.

20181231_231416
Harbin Ice Cream
20181231_233224
The strongest Jack and Coke I’ve had in my life!

The ice festival in Harbin doesn’t actually start until the 5th of January so we travelled Yabuli for three days of snowboarding. Yabuli is located about three hours south of Harbin by train and is probably the most well-known Ski Town in China, boasting three major ski resorts. More about this in a later post though…

There are three main parks in the Harbin Ice Festival, two I would say are a must do and one that I would recommend you squeeze in if you have time but is not essential for the overall experience.

IMG_20190109_114414_441
The snow sculptures were indescribably impressive!

The first park I suggest you go to is Sun Island Snow Sculpture Competition and Scenic Area. My research told us that it was best to see this park during the day and I do agree with this but make sure that you stick around for sunset as seeing the large snow sculptures bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun was definitely one of my favourite things about this park. We arrived just before midday and left as the sun was setting around half past three, spending roughly four hours there in total. I don’t think you need four hours to see the whole park, you could probably see everything in around two and a half hours, but we spent a good amount of time warming up in the coffee shops that are scattered around the park. Another reason we were at this park for so long was because of the amount ice related entertainment on offer, they had everything from giant ice slides to ice bikes and sledging. I pretty much had to drag Justin away from the attractions before I froze to death!

20190106_151231
Sunset over the ice rink.
20190106_125746
One of my favourite features were the sculptures you could climb inside and become part of!
20190106_151034
He told me not to dab but I did it anyway…
dav
No such thing as too much fun!

Also on offer at this park, and included in your ticket, is a shuttle bus from the main entrance to various stops around the park and back again. We chose to walk around the park first and then got the shuttle bus back to the entrance  because when the sun goes down in Harbin the temperature starts to drop really quickly!

20190106_121004.jpg
Looking like a marshmallow is mandatory in subzero temperatures

The second must see park and main attraction of the Harbin Ice Festival is Ice and Snow world, also located on Sun Island. A popular option for visitors to Harbin is to do the Sun Island Scenic park and the Ice and Snow World park in the same day. This is definitely a good way to do it but is not necessary if you are in Harbin for more than two nights. We chose to do the parks on separate days as we had more than enough time in Harbin and didn’t want to feel too rushed.

IMG_1930
Ice and Snow World begins to impress before you’ve even made it through the gate!

Ice and Snow World has been on my China bucket list since I made the decision to come to China way back in 2017 and it did not disappoint. I have never seen anything quite as impressive as the ice sculptures in this park. Before we travelled to Harbin I watched a few videos online and read a couple of blog posts as research for our trip, but even that did not prepare me for the scale of this place! The park has everything from to-scale replicas of famous landmarks to rides and slides made from ice. There were towers of ice blocks as tall as a block of flats and actual castles made from ice! Words honestly cannot do this place enough justice and even in photos it is hard to appreciate the wonder that is Ice and Snow World. I would say two hours is probably enough time to walk around the park and, as with the Sun Island Snow Sculptures, there are plenty of place to nip inside and warm up when the cold starts to get too much. We arrived around seven in the evening and stayed until the park closed at half past eight, we would have arrived earlier but I could not figure out how to get there. My advice would be to flag down a taxi and just show them a picture of Ice and Snow World, this is what we ended up doing and it was far easier than trying to figure it out on google maps!!

IMG_1935
Replicas in ice form can be seen of famous landmarks such as the Roman Colosseum.
IMG_1950
The ice blocks are carved from nearby Songhua River.
IMG_1971
Fireworks over the Ice Sculptures of Ice and Snow World.
IMG_1994
The view from the highest point in the park is like nothing I have ever seen!

The third park I recommend taking a look at is Zhaolin Park. This park is free to enter and has more than 1,000 ice sculptures. These sculpture are more like what you would traditionally think of when someone mentions ice sculptures. Intricately carved designs lit up brilliantly with coloured lights line the pathways through the park; figures of animals, people and even an axe made up the art works alongside some smaller ice-block buildings. Don’t feel like you have to squeeze this one in if you are a bit short on time, it is worth checking out but there are ice sculptures dotted around all around the city so if you don’t make it to Zhaolin then you are still pretty much guaranteed to see one somewhere!

20190105_181234
Zhaolin Park has some smaller ice buildings and has no entry fee.
20190105_180307
There were some incredibly intricate designs on display!
IMG_1869
Harbin’s main walking street is lined with ice sculptures during the festival.

Harbin was the perfect way to end off my year in China (I was originally meant to begin my year there but with the Chinese New Year festival they changed our orientation week to Beijing instead).  The festival for me really summed up my experience in China, it is the perfect combination of Chinese culture and the “how is this real?” moments that were a running theme throughout my time there. If you find yourself in need of sub-zero temperatures and pretty lights then Harbin is the place to go. Given the opportunity I would return to the Ice and Snow Festival in a heartbeat and I wouldn’t mind another one of those ice creams either!

Why not check out some more of my adventures around China?

 

China by Sleeper Train: If Sleep is for the Weak then call me a Body-Builder…

December 29th, the day after my 25th birthday, I boarded my first ever sleeper train. It is a backpacker rite of passage when travelling through Asia to take at least one journey on a sleeper train and, having been in China for a whole year, I figured it was about time I gave it a go! Besides, I had only ever heard good things about China’s sleeper train network.

20181230_110434
Snow on the tracks delayed our train by about six hours!

Let me tell you first of all that the thirty-six-hour journey between Guangzhou and Harbin is not for the faint hearted! One hard sleeper ticket buys you a bunk in a six-bed compartment that is roughly the size of a large cupboard. Justin had taken a sleeper train before so reserved us each a top bunk as, in his opinion, it was the best option. It does offer the most leg room of the three and you do have easy access to the luggage rack, but that would probably be where the benefits end for me.

20181229_194634
This is me for two nights…

As I settled down in my bunk I suddenly remembered how much I disliked small spaces… The space between the bed and the roof of the train is not even enough to sit up in which does lead to a feeling that the you are the last sardine being pressed into the tin before it is vacuum sealed and ready for the shelves. Getting up and down from the bunk was a whole other struggle for me and my non-existent upper arm strength, the top bunk is about twice my height! The sight of me trying to pull myself up onto the bed must have given a few passengers a good laugh. Take care on the steps, they are about the size of cd covers and they can be folded away so double check they are still there before you get out of bed. There are designated smoking areas on the train but either people were just ignoring them or maybe the doors weren’t closing properly because all I could smell was cigarette smoke which is not what I would call a pleasant smell and definitely did not help me sleep. Our train also ended up delayed by about six hours which put our journey time up to forty-two hours, almost a full two days!! On the plus side I did read about ninety percent of “Eat, Pray, Love”, a book I have wanted to read for about a year so it’s not like I wasted my time in sleepless solitary confinement.

20181230_112541
My Kindle saved me on this trip!

At the end of the day it got us where we needed to go for next to no money, so I can’t complain too much. You get what you pay for, and the heavy duvets were definitely appreciated as we were travelling in winter! All I can say is that the sleeper train is an experience that everyone should try at least once. I have been told since that I was unlucky and that the cigarette smell is not usually a feature of the sleeper train experience. If you have been to the gym more than five times in your life, then pulling yourself onto that top bunk also shouldn’t be an issue for you like it was for me (maybe start the push-ups now though, just in case).

Final verdict: do it for the backpacker points, but I highly recommend choosing a shorter journey than Guangzhou to Harbin… much, much shorter…

 

Sleeper train from Guangzhou to Harbin: 600 yuan (about £68), 42 hours

Flight from Harbin to Guangzhou: £186.98, 4 hour and 40 minutes

 

TEFL Tip Tuesdays: Speak Their Language.

Welcome back to TEFL Tip Tuesdays, this week I want to focus on speaking the same language as your students. I know this sounds counterproductive, but stick with me…

When introducing a new topic in English it is important to keep students interested and the easiest way to do this is to make it relatable to their own lives. When I say speak their language, what I mean is use their interests to communicate the topic to them. Find out what movies they like, the music they listen to, what they do on the weekend and translate that information into a fun and engaging lesson plan. My eighth graders are really into Marvel films so it is easy to get them engaged in a conversation if it has something to do with Captain America or Spiderman. I recently did a lesson where I asked my students to write me a scary story and you would be surprised how many of them involved Marvel characters saving the day!

20181107_120432
I wasn’t looking forward to teaching teenagers, but they’re not so bad really.

These themes are so simple to work into all stages of your lesson from warmer, to practice and production, all the way to your cooler. It is even better if you share the interest and are able to show off a bit of your knowledge on the subject. For example; a lesson on the future can be easily focused around Marvel movies because of the very nature of the movies themselves, use the ideas from the movies to inspire a conversation about how we might live in the future. Will people have superpowers in the future? Will we travel to other planets in the future? These are some great questions that get students thinking in future tense without them even realising they are learning something new, because the theme is so familiar to them.

charades
Charades is a fun cooler to end a lesson on movies.

If you take an interest in your students you will soon notice a change in attitude towards you. It can be quite common for students to see the foreign teacher’s class as a time where they can switch off and stop learning for one hour of the day. While I think it is important for students to be relaxed in my classroom I obviously still want them to learn something from me. A classroom full of teenagers can be a challenge to control, they believe they have much better things to be talking about than the rules of the English language. Gaining their respect by getting to know them, even a little bit, is one of the best ways to control your classroom. If even one student starts to actively participate in your lesson then they will want the rest of the class to play along too, this will cause a ripple effect and soon you will find that it is the students asking for people to be quiet and listen instead of you!

For more TEFL tips why not read one of these posts: