Alumni Spotlight: Riri Nagao


Riri is an Americanized Japanese girl from New York City and currently lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She completed her Liberal Arts education at Soka University of America in California, USA and focused her studies in the Humanities. She teaches English to both Vietnamese and Japanese students. She is often traveling, taking international trips almost every three months. She is still searching for a career path that best utilizes her past experiences and skills but in the meantime, she is enjoying the unpredictable nature of daily life in Vietnam.

Why did you decide to teach abroad with LanguageCorps in Vietnam?

Riri: After graduating from university, I wanted to teach English in Asia to exploit travel opportunities. Being a teacher would give me that privilege while financially sustaining myself and keeping my resume current. LanguageCorps offers various teaching destinations in Asia and I thought that Vietnam best suits what I was looking for. It has the highest earning potential and a relatively low cost of living, meaning that I could save a lot. This was particularly important because like most university graduates, I have student loans. I also want to visit three or four new countries every year. I have heard great things about Vietnam and LanguageCorps from past participants so I applied for it.

It has been a little over a year and I am very happy with where I am. I have two solid jobs and on any given week I work for thirty hours, give or take. I teach Vietnamese students of all ages at a language center and also teach English conversation to Japanese elementary school students.

So far, I have taken three local trips and eight international trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. The plan is to keep going! The best part about visiting so many places is the different types of food I am introduced to. It is almost impossible to pick a favorite but if I must, it is a close tie between Malaysia's nasi lemak and Indonesia's nasi campur.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)

Initially, education and language were not things I was deeply passionate about. Because of this, I struggled to bring myself to work and present lessons that are meaningful. I am sure everyone has days when they stare at the clock and think about going back to sleep. However, if there is one thing my education has taught me, it is that everything is interconnected and it our responsibility to connect the dots.

So, I am still not passionate about my work and it is still a struggle to go. But if I can somehow incorporate the things that I do care about, then I can change the relationship I have with my work. The moment I started assigning creative writing tasks and facilitating open-ended discussions regarding global issues, teaching became exponentially rewarding. In return, my students started showing immense progress.

When I was a university student, I naturally believed that I would land the perfect dream job that incorporates all my academic and personal interests with a high salary after graduating. How naive! I now know that a vast majority of graduates will not be doing exactly what they want, at least not immediately following graduation. I know for sure that I am not doing exactly what I want.

But every situation has potential to become a valuable experience if you commit to making it so. Maybe in a few years I will quit teaching and move into corporate. Or I might go back to school. Whatever I choose to do, I know I have the tools to personalize my work to my interests. Learning how to make changes in any situation has been one of the most empowering takeaways from this teach abroad experience.

What made this teach abroad experience unique and special?

Going to Malaysia! I am very biased because I have not been to many other countries yet but that place is so special to me. In the span of one year, I have visited Kuala Lumpur five times - every page in my passport has a Malaysia stamp! It is such a fascinating place. The population is so diverse and it is often hard to tell who is a foreigner and who is a local, a fresh change from being in Vietnam where the lines are very clear.

Malay cuisine is amazing. It is good that I don't live there because I would gain so much weight from binge eating that country. And I have not even been to Penang yet, Malaysia's food capital!

I am also fortunate to have close friends who grew up there so I get to see a really unique side of that country. It is really great to have them so close to me because I am physically far from home so it is tough dealing with unexpected struggles. Reconnecting with them every visit allows me to charge my batteries and pick myself up when I am in a rut. I am definitely looking to expand my travels to other countries but I know for sure that I will be going back to Malaysia many more times. Give me any excuse and I will be there!

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering teaching abroad in Vietnam?

Riri: Leave all your expectations at home. The less you bring, the more you will grow. Regardless of whatever reason you choose to leave home and immerse yourself in a new environment, personal struggles and challenges will manifest. You might not like some of your colleagues and dealing with people who don't speak the same language as you will be frustrating. The bottom line is, you can't expect what will happen. However, I hope that when you are in such situations, you can be open and accept them as learning opportunities.