May 19, 2016
First Week of Teaching English in Vietnam!
It has 10 days since I arrived at the Everest English Teaching Center in the Quang Ming village in the Me Linh district of Vietnam. Quang Minh is a small rural village about 1 hour outside of Hanoi center. It was a little bit of a shock when I first arrived, because I had really had no idea what to expect, but I am loving it and feel like I've been here for months already rather than just over a week!
I live in a volunteer house with six other volunteers, all foreigners from around the globe - England, Chile, Poland, USA, and France. I am the youngest here, but most of the volunteers are in their early/mid twenties and a few are in their thirties. The volunteer house doubles as the teaching center and has two classrooms. As this is a Workaway organization (free room and board in exchange for work), the conditions are very basic but I don't mind at all. We are offered two meals a day of traditional Vietnamese food and it is quite good. Everyday it includes a bowl of white rice with a side of vegetables and some meat.
The reason I was a bit shocked when I first arrived is that volunteers are expected to jump right in to the swing of things. I got in late last Monday night (after getting very lost with my taxi driver navigating the dirt roads in the dark) and the next day I already had my first class! The volunteers plan and teach all their classes on their own, but often have a Vietnamese assistant to translate any words if needed. There is somewhat of an order to the lessons but it is completely up to us to come up with lesson plans, activities and to create worksheets or homework assignments. It really helps that I tutored for years during highschool so I have experience teaching, but this is still a completely new experience for me! I love having so much responsibility and being able to craft each class exactly as I think best suits the students. I try to be creative with different games and activities to keep it interesting but it sure is more difficult than I thought.. I now have so much more respect for all of my teachers over the past 12 years of my studies!
My first class was teaching a group of Vietnamese adults at the local Special Steel Factory. Quang Ming village is surrounded by factories, including Panasonic, Canon, and many other material plants, so the vast majority of adults are factory workers. Every night, starting at around 6pm, we can see the few local bars filling up with uniform-clad young men and women going for a "Saigon" beer after their work shifts. I was a bit nervous before my first class but it couldn't have gone any better! After spending almost 2 hours with this small group of students, I felt I had really bonded with them. Although I've had some really memorable, authentic experiences with Vietnamese people while traveling the past month, none of them compare to the depth and closeness of relationships I have now been able to foster with my students. For example, at the Steel Factory, I taught a lesson with the theme of Memories. As a group, the students shared their favorite childhood memories and it was so heartwarming. They recalled listening to their grandma's storytelling before bed, sharing an ice cream cone with their father on their 10th birthday, and falling in love with the girl next door at the age of 7 and walking everyday to school with her. It is sharing personal experiences like this that makes one realize that no matter where one grows up or how different the life is, there are some things that are universally relatable. Of course, there are little things that bring me back to reality and make me understand the differences in these people's lives. I asked the man who fell in love with his neighbor if she is now his wife and he said that he stopped seeing her when he turned 8 because she stopped going to school to work.
I teach classes at 4 different schools, to students ranging from kindergarteners, primary schoo students, young adults, and middle-aged adults. I love having such a variety in my teaching schedule because it keeps day-to-day life interesting, as there is really not much to do in the village. That being said, the other volunteers and I do a good job of keeping ourselves entertained! We go for walks to the fruit market, play cards, hang out at the pub around the corner in the evening, take Vietnamese yoga classes (that requires a whole other blog post), and do day trips to Hanoi or the surrounding area.
My favorite thing to do though is to go for early morning runs. It get's quite hot by at least 9am so I like to head out as early as possible, usally at around 6am. The first time I went running, I explored for 2 hours and it was a magical experience. It was only my 3rd day at the center and I wasn't sure how I felt about staying here for 4 weeks, but after this run, I knew I had made the right decision. When I left, it was cool and the village was shrouded in a dewy mist. Already, the day had begun. Roosters crowed at passing scooters and bicycles, and in the field, a group of young men played volleyball. In the little streets, women set up their fruit and vegetable stands, and dragged raw meats ontop of planks of wood. I wandered down side alleyways, peeking in open front doors where families sat in a circle sharing their morning meal of rice porridge, and passing little children getting on their bicycles and being ushered off to school.
Everybody I passed stared at me and most of them shouted "HELLO!" in their loudest voice, which I am learning is just what they do to any non-Vietnamese person. I continued running along and a group of kids on their bikes passed me and yelled, "Hello Julia!" By coincedince, they were a group of students I taught the day before! That moment when they called my name was so strong. There is no changing the fact that I am an outsider here, but that moement made me feel it a bit less :)
What I like the most about living in Quang Ming is that it is real. The people that live here do not have simple lives. I've said that before - that life out in poor, rural villages is "so simple", but I take it back. That was my biased and foreign first impression, comparing dirt roads and huts to New York's sky scrapers, and street vendors and fishermen to bankers and doctors. The people here may not venture far from their home towns and most of them never leave Vietnam their whole lives, but that doesn't mean their lives are any less complicated or fulfulling. I see people working SO hard to survive, getting up before dawn and working past dusk. If anything, the Western lifestyle seems simpler at times!