Category Archives: Asia

Exciting Things I’ve Done So Far

Doing a placement abroad means that there is so much more to the experience than just a job. Living in a country as wildly different as Vietnam has led me into some pretty fun ‘extra-curricular’ activities on a regular basis. Here is a selection of my highlights from the first half of my placement.

1. Parasailing 

Parasailing would have been a great activity to try in the UK, but throw in a little Vietnamese-style health and safety (and lack thereof) and boy is that an experience!

But I didn’t die, and it was amazing to be able to see the entire city to one side, and endless ocean to the other.

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2. Trips Away

I’m so lucky to have a placement in such a wonderful and diverse country such as Vietnam, and so any opportunity to see more of it and I’m on board.

I have the beautiful Ancient town of Hoi An on my doorstep, and have been able to have weekends away in the old capital, Hue and the bustling, hectic Ho Chi Minh City.

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On top of this I was able to spend my Christmas expanding my horizons and exploring more of Asia, visiting Bali, Kuala Lumpar and Singapore.

Each of these trips have given me new and diverse perspectives on life, shown me spectacular views and allowed me to taste wonderful foods.

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Travelling really has been one of the best parts of this placement.

3. Ending up in the Ocean After Nights Out

We work hard but we certainly play hard too. For such a small city, Danang has a surprisingly consistent night-life. Each week we meet new people travelling through, and make some really great friends in the process.

And what better way to solidify a friendship? Ending up in the ocean at 2am. Yet another perk of having the beach so close.

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4. Attending my First Vietnamese Wedding

Weddings are a fantastic way of seeing into a country’s culture, and as luck would have it, one of the best friends I have made on this placement got married in October, and I was honoured to be part of it.

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It was slightly crazy, I understood very little of what was going on, but it was a brilliant night, full of joy and love, and I was thrilled to be there.

5. Meeting Ambassadors

For a teaching job I’ve done a surprising amount of networking.  I’ve met a lot of important people I never thought I would get a chance to meet, including both the Vietnamese Ambassador to the UK, and the American Ambassador to Vietnam. I’ve had a chance to meet and work with some great minds from around the world and it really has been a pleasure.

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I’ve also taken shots with the keynote speakers from international conferences, but that’s a story for another day…

6. A Few Body Mods

So it looks like I’ll be coming home with at least one new tattoo and one new piece of facial jewellery – but the year’s only halfway through…

Getting a new tattoo and my nose pierced in Vietnam weren’t actually as scary and back-alley as they sound, I did go to well established places.

It was a lot of fun, and tends to worry people when I tell them.

 

These are just a few of the things I’ve been up to both in and out of work. Whittling it down to just these few was hard, as these six months have been so full and diverse. Who knows what your year will hold!

A Day in the Life of My Placement

Before I write any more about the challenges and experiences of my time in Vietnam, I thought I’d give you all some more information on what I actually do on my placement.

I’m on a working placement in Danang, Vietnam as an IELTS instructor at VNUK, a new, Western-style University partnered with Aston,  and a day here is a lot different to a day as a university student.

6am: The Alarm goes off

The Vietnamese day starts a lot earlier than the British one, and I’m in work at 8am. (I’m never complaining about a 9am lecture again!)

7.45am: Coffee Time!

A Vietnamese coffee goes a long way to help me cope with such an early start. Stronger, sweeter and icier than the coffee I’m used to, I think I’m addicted.


8am: Work starts

After a quick moped ride, navigating the hectic streets of Da Nang, I get to the office at 8, check some emails and make some final preparations for that morning’s lesson.

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10am: Lesson time

I tutor university students in English and it’s my favourite time of day. Despite all the challenges (I’m sorry to all my teachers for ever talking in class- it’s so frustrating!) it’s really rewarding to be able to see students improve every week. My students are friendly, engaging and fun to spend time with, saying goodbye to them will be one of the hardest parts of leaving this placement.

11.30am A snack and a nap

We are given a nice long lunch, so after a trip to my favourite restaurant (I don’t even have to order any more, they just see me walk in and my food appears) I give myself a refreshing nap – it’s like I’m still at university really.

1pm: Back to work

After I’ve woken myself up I finish up my lesson plan for the afternoon and catch up with any marking I need to do.

3pm: English Club

Once a week we run an English club called Tea Time Talk. This offers a more relaxed environment where we get to teach students about life in Britain, and help them improve their English with informal conversation.

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5pm End of work – to the gym

Weekends are spent on the beach, which means weekdays are spent at the gym, and who wouldn’t want to work out to Vietnamese dance music next to a woman wearing denim shorts with no air conditioning?

7pm: Grab some street food

The best way to dine in Vietnam! Sitting on chairs that are way too small, eating delicious food of slightly dubious origin, drinking a cold beer and watching city life pass you by. This is the life.

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I hope this gives a bit of an insight into how I spend my days here, after 6 months here (where did that time go??) I’m now used to all the subtle differences that working life in Asia offers. I don’t even look twice at the sight of a moped with 5 people on it and torrential downpours are really no biggie. And with a schedule like this, I have really been able to focus on refining my napping skills!

Thanks for reading!

Surprising Things I had to Adjust to after Moving to Vietnam for Placement

So there are some things you expect when you move to a developing country, and some things that take a little more adjustment. After six months on placement here, here are some of the things I’ve had to get used to since moving to Vietnam.

1.  You’re going to be sweaty. A lot. Like 95% of the time.

Now I knew it would be hot, especially coming from the UK, but summer in Asia is another level. I’ve now embraced the fact that living in a hot country means my sweat glands will be working overtime. When January lows don’t go below 25 there is no getting around it.

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This isn’t sweat but it may as well be

2. Your new fragrance is Eu Du Deet

In the west we are endlessly warned of the dangers of Malaria in hot countries, so when visiting or moving to Asia, it’s likely you aren’t going to be stingy with the insect repellent, and that stuff isn’t fragrance free. Although it isn’t a bad smell, it takes a little acquainting to the fact that that is what you will always smell like.

3. Ever wondered what it is like to be famous? Now I know!

I stick out in Da Nang. It may be different in places more popular with tourists, but my pasty skin means I get noticed. I’m now so used to being stared at that it no longer registers. I do still find it weird when people ask for pictures with me though. Paparazzi Please.

4. The sound of car horns

I thought the noise adjustment I made when I moved from the countryside to Birmingham was big, but nothing could have prepared me for the commotion that was an Asian city. The Vietnamese, it would appear, are very fond of their car and bike horns. I’m so used to it by now that I have no problem falling asleep to it, which is just as well.

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Beep Beep

5. You question whether rats  or cockroaches are really that big a deal

Seeing a rat in a restaurant in the UK may mark its closure, but I’ve seen rats and roaches  in almost every eatery I’ve dined in. It freaked me out at first, but I’ve not been sick yet so… Plus we’ve all seen Ratatouille.

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Is there something scurrying behind me?

6. Searching Out Home comforts can be tricky

Living in a big city, I had assumed that it would be fairly easy to locate a few western comforts. I was wrong. Every few weeks we engage in a city-wide treasure hunt that involves advice from colleagues, Google Translate, some bad miming and compromise, all for a good cup of tea, or spinach, or even a bit of fast food. Challenge accepted.

7. Everyone who speaks English is a person of interest

English is not as common in Asia as we’re led to believe, so meeting someone who speaks English as a first language is a rare treat. You begin to lose any inhibitions you had about talking to strangers (sorry mum!) and strike up a conversation with anyone who’ll tolerate you. Having said that, you do quickly work out which ex-pats to avoid.

8. Your students have no issues calling you fat

It does not take long to notice that the Vietnamese have a very different filter than we do in the UK, well they don’t really have one. They don’t see any problem in calling you fat because they see it as just another adjective, they are just describing you. I had a haircut a few months ago and asked one of my students if she liked it, her response: “No, I think it’s ugly”

Thanks for the ego boost guys.

9. Beer is often cheaper than water

You’ll often find that when eating out, a bottle of water is just as expensive as a bottle of the local beer. Well when in Asia…

10. Breaking my binge-watching habits

You  know how your parents always tell you about when there were only four channels to choose from? That is my life. I get to pick and choose from four whole options of English speaking TV.

If you think you can escape this with the sweet relief of Netflix… think again. The wifi is a new level of slow – and that’s even after living in both a village and student halls. Grim.

On the plus side you break some bad habits and find some other things to do with your time – so maybe it’s a good thing.

 

So there it is, as well as the obvious, there are little things to adapt to, that may seem insignificant, but for some reason stick out like a sore thumb when you’re faced with them daily.

Despite all of this I do really enjoy living in Asia. At the halfway point now, I can really appreciate what this placement has brought me, even if, among other things, that’s a real appreciation for home.

And if things get too crazy there’s always the beach…

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It’s not a bad life really

Proud endings and hopeful beginnings

…yes, in that order.

As you may, or may not know; the Japanese school calendar begins in April and ends in February. This means that the Spring Break for Japanese students is equivalent to the Summer Holidays in the UK. As a result, I was able to attend the graduation ceremony for the final year students I worked with and the entrance ceremony for the new group of freshmen.

It takes work to look this good

It takes work to look this good

The graduation ceremony was a grand affair. The students were dressed in their finery (most of the girls in beautiful 着物 and 袴) and the university was adorned with fine displays of flowers.

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The ceremony itself was VERY formal with a strict schedule and very traditional execution. It was a great insight into the culture of Japan to witness it and a proud moment to see the successful students pleased to accept the proof of their hard work.

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Of course no graduation would be complete without a celebratory ball and this Japanese university is no exception! I was lucky enough to be invited along and share in the fun! The party was held in a very swanky hotel in Shijuku and all organised by the students.

If you look REALLY closely, you can just see me in the back.

If you look REALLY closely, you can just see me in the back.

They all looked fantastic in their (different) best outfits and the buffet was delicious (you thought I might make a blog without mention of food huh… nope). There were performances by talented student musicians and speeches from the elected class representatives. It was really a wonderful evening.

Would it be a Ryan blog without food? Maybe, but it would be a sad one...

Would it be a Ryan blog without food? Maybe, but it would be a sad one…

Just a week later, I found myself working in the team ushering the new freshmen into the hall for the welcome ceremony. They were all dressed in formal suits and I can only describe the average facial expression as equal parts hope and fear. I wonder if that’s what I looked like on my first day at uni?

I certainly don’t think so, but I like to hope I looked half as happy to be there as these new smiling students did. Just three weeks later they are all settling in well and proving to be a pleasure to teach. I only wish I had more time here to see them through to their eventual proud graduation day!

Thus, my blogging addiction begins.

Since I came to Japan, I haven’t really stopped typing. It began with writing emails, social media posts and messages to my friends back home. I guess part of that was to check in but I know there’s a big part of me that wasn’t entirely sure about the decision I had made at first. Keeping in contact with Home like that was kind of my trail of breadcrumbs if I needed to find my way back in a hurry.

When even a packed lunch is post-worthy, you know you've got the Social Media Bug!

When even a packed lunch is post-worthy, you know you’ve got the Social Media Bug!

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If I were where you are now again – 5 top tips for working abroad

So, as second year students reading this blog, you’re probably being constantly bombarded with adverts for placements; advice from final years; and being badgered by your tutors to choose your placement!

I remember that situation. Now that I am here, in the middle of my placement (wow, have I been in Japan nearly six months already!?) I am looking back. Since hindsight is 20/20, I have been thinking about what I wish I knew before I left my comfy little flat in Birmingham!

1. Learn how to feed yourself.

What I mean by this is that you may know how to stick a ready meal in the oven; mix the contents of a can with some bread; or even bake a mean banana loaf (trust me, mine is to die for). All of your food knowledge so far is probably very UK-centric.

In Japan, space is a rare comodity

In Japan, space is a rare commodity

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Less is more… right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if this were your kitchen? Would you know what things can be cooked in a toaster oven? Would you have any idea what ingredients to buy to make something edible with a hot plate? How about including fibre in your diet when a box of cereal is three times the price?

Doing a little bit of homework before embarking on the placement would have helped me be healthier in my first couple of months. I dove right in the deep end and learned the hard way!

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Ring in the new year!

Happy New Year to you! What a year 2014 was; some good, a fair bit of not-so-good…

The Japanese celebrate New Year with a number of interesting traditions. It is one of the most important dates in the calendar here. One of my favourite traditions is the eating of 年越しそば and any tradition which involves eating food is going to please me!

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This is a simple yet delicious recipe for Year Crossing Noodles!

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