As submitted by author Sarah McConnell:

It was April in Hong Kong. The weather was beautiful, the flowers were blooming, and I was nearing the end of my study abroad experience at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. I would finish all my exams by the end of April and had about a month to travel before needing to return to the United States.

For me, a theme I have noticed through my abroad experiences, coursework, and co-curricular activities is my value in the relationships I build through these opportunities. I knew I wanted to travel to Vietnam, but I wanted to get involved with the people in some way during my short time there. I started searching for volunteer sites online and found a bunch of awesome resources. I ended up using HelpStay, but there are a lot of really cool available sites with tons of different opportunities.

Through HelpStay, I found a volunteer opportunity at Innovation English Learning in Hà Nội, Vietnam that provided me accommodation, meals, and a small stipend in exchange for English lessons at least 2-4 times per week. I would be living with other Vietnamese students who wanted to learn English and other English teachers.

Eating a Meal Together
We would often prepare, cook, and eat meals all together. This was a great way to learn how to make some of the traditional Vietnamese dishes like Pho, Cao Lau noodles, Bun Cha, Bánh mì and more. One of the students at the homestay was from France and shared his family recipe for making crepes. They were delicious!

After arriving and teaching in Hà Nội, I began to realize the push for English in schools throughout the country. The owner of the Innovation English Learning Homestay said there are currently more English teaching jobs than they have people to fill them. An English teacher with the TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) Certification can make good money and will be paying Vietnamese cost-of-living which is significantly less than in the United States. Vietnamese people are really striving to learn English as it is a sign of being well-educated. It also increases the potential to be successful in the global market as English is a universal language.


Overall, this experience opened my eyes to new ways to travel and make an impact. I was able to make so many Vietnamese friends, experience Vietnamese life all while sharing my culture and exploring a new location. I would recommend this type of travel to anyone who is interested in really getting to know the people in whatever place you are visiting. It is a great short term or long term opportunity and there are plenty of them out there! Specifically, if you are looking to teach English, Vietnam is calling.


Preparing a Meal Together

Sarah McConnell is Paul’s niece and goddaughter. Sarah is currently completing her bachelor’s degree at North Carolina State University (NCSU), studying Industrial Systems Engineering and Spanish. She is an avid traveler, yogi, and soccer lover. 

Click here to read about another experience abroad, when Sarah traveled to Guatemala for NCSU’s Engineers Without Borders!