In 2009 I moved to Vietnam. I stayed over four years. Before, when I worked in a country, I’d hear about the golden age of teaching there. When work was plentiful and anyone could survive and thrive in the market. When I entered Vietnam, that’s how it was. Jobs everywhere, paying a shockingly high wage despite how poor the country was, and things were cheap. Visas were easy too. If mine was about to expire, I’d just hand it into my school three days beforehand and tell them to get me a new six-month visa, the cost was deducted from my salary. Those days are over though. Around Tet New Year (it always happens then), the authorities decided there were too many foreigners making money. So overnight, with no warning, prices on visas went up and regulations went way up. I couldn’t just get a new six-month visa like that. I had to go through a long, expensive process of getting my degree notarized, getting a criminal background check, and more just to get a work visa. Many, many teachers had to leave. Others had to make visa runs to Cambodia every couple months. Jobs are still there, but foreign teachers flooded in and the economy had some problems, so the golden age is over.
This was also my first time living in a third world country. For those of you who haven’t before, you can’t totally understand it until you live there. I remember when I was there, international sites had some videos of traffic in Vietnam. Go on youtube and check it out, that’s what I experienced every day. Rivers of motorbikes flowing down the street, making sudden turns, tailgating, driving on the sidewalk. When you’re standing on the edge of the road and you see a river or motorbikes with no gaps coming, how do you cross the road? Just walk. They’ll all drive around you. But doing it the first time is incredibly scary. The only thing the police do over there is pull people over to fish for bribes. Bathrooms can be vile. Don’t talk on your phone when you walk down the road! You’ll get mugged. If you rent a place, the owner will feel comfortable just poking around your place when you’re not there. Yeah, there’s a lot of things I miss too. It’s a crazy place. But for those who’ve never been to the third world, you can’t really know how you’ll feel there.