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November 30, 2021
By Sophia Lorusso (she/her), Junior English Major.
Pictured above: Kelley Lusk at the Cloud Dragon Glass Bridge
In 2019, Kelley Lusk graduated from SOU with a BA in English. After doing extensive research on teaching-abroad opportunities, they found APAX. This teaching-abroad program, like many others in South-East Asia, requires a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Shortly after graduation, Kelley got to work on their TEFL certificate. They took an online certification to achieve this through the International TEFL Academy. Kelley did a 200-hour certificate with 20-hour practicum and 30-hour ESP (English for Specific Purposes) for Young Learners. After completing their TEFL certification, they were journeying to Vietnam by September 2019.
Before starting the training process with APAX, Kelley traveled solo from Ho Chi Minh City through central Vietnam into Hanoi (where their training took place). They found that this experience eased them into their life in Vietnam by teaching them about the culture and language throughout the trip.
The APAX English Center is the largest English company in Vietnam. Kelley explains the company:
“APAX has over 140 centers across 40 cities. There are two options for training with APAX which depend on where you want to live. To live in the north or central Vietnam, you’ll train in Hanoi or to live in the south you’ll train in Ho Chi Minh City. I chose to train in the north. After 3 weeks of training in Hanoi, I received my teaching placement for Phu Ly, Ha Nam where I lived and taught for 10 months.
APAX divides their teaching placements into 4 tiers. Tier 1 cities, like Hanoi, do not offer any extra financial bonus or living stipend due to ease with which expats can live and navigate the city. These cities have everything you would expect from a global metropolis and any expat can find a taste of home. Tier 2 cities are similar. They do not offer any extra bonus, but they offer living stipends because housing is harder to find for expats. Tiers 3 and 4 offer both a bonus and a living stipend, though Tier 4 receives the most incentives. Tier 4 receives these incentives due to the difficulty of living and navigating in a more rural province where English is not easily accessible. Tier 4 cities can be isolating and often have a high turnover rate. I lived in what APAX deemed a Tier 4 city: Phu Ly, Ha Nam.”
In Kelley’s rural province of Phu Ly, Ha Nam the students ranged from four to sixteen years old. APAX has an IGarten program – it is the program for younger children from ages 4-7 years old. Kelley was the lead teacher for this age group in Ha Nam and they taught reading, writing, grammar, and how to speak in a collaborative learning environment.
On weekdays, Kelley worked for four hours in the evenings; on the weekends, they worked 8 hours. Their workdays were easygoing – they had time before work to explore the area, visit the market, go to a café, etc. Weekends were more high-stress and exhausting for Kelley. They explain, “Weekend classes were back-to-back all day with very little breaks. Since I primarily worked with ages 4-7, weekends were also physically exhausting. It became easier to manage as I became more comfortable with teaching and developed relationships with the students and staff.” Building relationships plays a vital role in adaptation and comfort while teaching abroad. They continue, “Teachers also had different days off and usually they were not consecutive days. I was very lucky to have Monday and Tuesdays off, and I often spent those days traveling and exploring nearby places like Ninh Binh or Hanoi.”
Pictured Above: Ta Van Village, the quaint village in Vietnam which Kelley stumbled upon while exploring. Photo credit to LoriQoPB on Flickr.
It took Kelley some time to adapt especially with the language barrier, but they made the most of their time in Vietnam by exploring, being open to new things, and practicing the language. On their days off, they would go on spur-of-the-moment trips like motorbiking through the mountains of Northern Vietnam. On a spontaneous solo trip, they came across the Ta Van Village and motorbiked through the longest mountain pass in Vietnam, the O Quy Ho, arriving at the Cloud Dragon Glass Bridge. This bridge stands 300 meters high on transparent glass.
“I came back with a stronger sense of who I am, and a different sense of what I consider success to be.
— Kelley Lusk
Kelley reflects on their personal growth while in Vietnam:
“My ideas and perceptions have broadened in scope and, in general, I feel like an expanded version of who I was prior to teaching in Vietnam. I was tested, but I also tested myself. I came across a lot of challenges traveling solo as a woman but through all the challenges I had just as many accomplishments. I came back with a stronger sense of who I am and a different sense of what I consider success to be.”
Now, Kelley is working as a Print Book Editor for Blackstone Publishing. While they don’t think teaching abroad again is in their future, they would love to live abroad eventually.
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