What the Hell Am I Doing Here?

I haven’t written a “Letter from Emily” in a while because it’s been difficult to articulate how I feel. I still don’t really even know what I want to say as I begin writing this. Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been posting fewer pictures and videos of my teaching in classrooms full of forty or fifty kids. Some of you may not have noticed, and that’s totally fine.

I feel as though I have built many strong relationships through traveling and through social media platforms, and I do know that many of you are curious as to why I have changed some things around in my life. While I do not necessarily feel like I have to share, I want to share some details as to why I have made the decisions I have made.

Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to figure out what I want from my life here in Vietnam. I genuinely thought that I knew what I wanted: a normal job like I would have back in the States with evenings and weekends off and decent pay. I truly, genuinely thought this was what I wanted; I thought I wanted a life similar to that of one in the States, just in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was two weeks deep into a job that I began to figure out what I actually wanted. I have been struggling with the idea of wanting to “pay my dues” in the world of teaching here; I wanted to get some experience under my belt and eventually find a new job after a full school year. Once I started teaching, though, existential doom fell upon my shoulders as I began to realize that the job I was in was not something I could continue to do for another month, let alone another nine months until the end of the school year. My existential doom had very little to do with the job itself; however, it had everything to do with the content of what I was teaching and the way that public schools operate here.

Many people come to Vietnam for an easy life; they’re okay with easy teaching jobs that don’t challenge them because it isn’t their actual career field for the rest of their lives. Some people come here for a quick dollar, some have no teaching experience and no certifications, and many are happy to mindlessly teach because it’s good money for minimal effort. If that’s what you are here for, fine. But I’m not that type of person and that is not why I am here. What I do here in Vietnam is the beginning of my career.

Now, I am not typically the most anxious person in the world. I have anxiety about weird little things like parking my motorbike and social situations. Once I started my job, though, I began to experience anxiety on an uncomfortable level; my anxiety became physical. I could feel it in my chest. It was always present. I had never experienced something like it before, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew it was a side effect of the job. I didn’t want to give up so easily; I am well aware of the negative effects that being a temporary fixture in a child’s life can have. I didn’t want to make my decision lightly, but I began to rationalize. I was only two weeks in, and I had only seen each of my students twice at that point. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, but it seemed as though I was exerting so much energy and receiving absolutely zero positive mental stimulation. The schedule was not worth the sacrifices I was making.

As someone who has dedicated her life to the English language, I need a job that challenges me intellectually. When I had originally agreed to my job teaching in public schools, I had a specific schedule which I knew I would enjoy because the kids were a bit older. The day before work began, my official schedule was released… and the only grades on it were grades 1 and 2. Cue existential dread. Teaching English to first and second graders is teaching them the alphabet and a few words a day. It was the same class repeated seven times a day. I was shuffled in and shuffled out of classrooms. I was merely there as a face and a person to pronounce words. Because I had received my schedule only the day before school started, I merely had to accept that that was what my life was going to be for the next nine months. After just a few days, my brain was going to mush, and I was losing my voice as well as my sanity. I was physically and mentally exhausted, yet I felt as though I was achieving nothing because I wasn’t actually using my brain. 

By the end of my second week, I had had enough. I had reached out to my company and asked if there were any other schedules available that were similar to the one I had originally signed up for, and apparently, there were not. It was a Thursday evening, and I had just come home from an unbelievably frustrating afternoon teaching. I arranged to meet with my TESOL instructor to just chat the next day. I merely needed insight from someone who had worked in the field and was familiar with the way things worked here. He told me exactly what I needed to hear. “Just quit,” he said, “there are so many jobs here. There is no reason for you to feel this way about your job when there is one that you will actually enjoy. Say you’re only here for a year – why would you spend that time being absolutely miserable?”

And that was the beginning of where my life stands right now. He was completely right. But I needed to figure out what I wanted in a job, first. I was so set on teaching during the day time – I don’t really know why. As I said, I thought that I wanted a “normal job.” I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to work in a learning center because the hours are evenings and weekends, but the way public schools operate here makes for long days with the same total teaching hours.

The more I thought about it, the more I started to realize that I shouldn’t be chasing a “normal life” because I’m not living one – after all, I’m living in Vietnam. I started to play with the idea that maybe teaching in a learning center wouldn’t be so bad, but I couldn’t just settle for any learning center. Many learning centers will tell you one thing and throw you into something else. The content still isn’t exactly thrilling, and in most centers, you’re still teaching English as a language, just more in-depth.  I didn’t need to find a job. I needed to find the right job. That was the turning point. 

Because the vast majority of jobs here do focus on teaching English as a language, I can’t lie and pretend that I wasn’t afraid of not finding the right job. I was afraid that I was going to be stuck teaching material that didn’t excite me, and that I wouldn’t have much of a reason to really stay in Vietnam for a long period of time. I was genuinely concerned about my future…. that is until I found a job posting the same day I made the decision to quit my job. I saw the post online. The position was for general English, debate, deep reading, and creative writing. The pay was in the same ballpark as what I wanted. The hours were flexible. It seemed too good to be true, but I emailed the company my CV and scheduled an interview.

I interviewed for the job on a Tuesday. I left feeling extremely hopeful and excited. They told me they would let me know whether I got the job on Thursday.

They ended up emailing me the same day with a job offer. I screamed. I danced. I jumped around my apartment like a complete weirdo. I was beyond thrilled because I knew that now I had a reason to be here.

Sometimes, you just don’t know if things are going to work out. But ever since I got that email, everything else has fallen into place. My anxiety has disappeared. I look forward to my lessons and my job. My future is bright, and I feel confident in my staying here. 

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading.

Until next time,

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  • Kristina

    This is crazy because I’ve been feeling similarly about my job and current life situation, so I sat down to write about it. I process things by either writing them out or speaking them, so sometimes I don’t even know how I feel until I’ve written them down. After writing, I got on Twitter and saw this post. It’s amazing because the way you felt is how I’ve been feeling, and you making the decision to quit only further affirms what I’m feeling about my situation. And now, I’ll probably post what I wrote rather than just letting it sitting forever. Thanks Emily, reading this has made my day. And I hope your new job is as fulfilling as it sounds!


    • emilyrose

      This post took me so long to write! It’s been really difficult to articulate how I feel, especially in a way that might make sense to others. Thank you so much for reading, let me know what ends up happening with your job! I’ll be looking forward to the post.

      Emily Rose

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