Stephen - English Tutor in Vietnam
Stephen discusses his Vietnam gap year adventures:
Jordy - English Tutor in Vietnam
Harriet - English Tutor in Vietnam
It was dinner and meeting the family. That was all… I thought. So Miss, my student, picked me up on her motorbike, the typical Vietnamese way to get around, I hopped on the back with my bag of fruit for her family. I only expected to be out for a couple of hours.
After one hour on the back of the motorbike and leaving the city far behind, I found myself in a little village of rice fields.“Did you bring a toothbrush?” Miss asked, as if I knew the whole time this was not just dinner.
“Err… no.” I replied, a little confused.
“We’ll buy you one!” She responded with her typical Vietnamese chuckle.
We got to her house, perched right on the side of the red river. It was small and basic. We sat on the floor to eat rice, noodles and the chicken Miss’ mother had killed especially for me. After our meal, Miss took me out to the village to meet her sister and of course sing some karaoke. We continued on down the narrow road covered in hay and stopped at a little hairdresser’s house, so I could get my hair washed. I could have fallen asleep as the very pregnant hairdresser scratched, massaged and pounded my head, and then my face! We walked to the next village for some yogurt and then back to Miss’ home. I noticed the stars that dotted the black sky and the silence. There are no stars in the cities, and certainly no silence. I felt calm, and so glad that such a misunderstanding could turn into such a remarkable night.
We woke at 5am the following morning to the crowing roosters. I was glad when it was time to get up; off the hard platform they called a bed, still in last night’s clothes. Early morning in the country was stunning. Ladies in their conical hats cycled past carrying baskets full of lush green leafy vegetables, as the orange sun rose over the glowing green rice paddies. Miss and I stopped at a little concrete restaurant for a steaming bowl of pork noodle soup for breakfast. An old man sitting on one of the small plastic chairs at the plastic table with us, asked if I spoke any Vietnamese. I tried to impress him with “Xin chào (hello), tôi tên là (my name is) Harriet”. But he didn’t seem to understand my bizarre accent, so he frowned and offered us some tea instead.
Sitting on the back of the motorbike and riding out of the village at dawn gave me time to appreciate the picturesque town, where I had a truly unique and completely accidental cultural experience.
Submitted by: Harriet Burnham
Cath - English Tutor in Vietnam
In the last 6 six weeks since arriving in Hanoi, Vietnam; I have realised something:
I have never committed myself to do something that I had no idea how to do.
When I arrived my 20-25 year old, mostly male college students, could say ‘Hello’ (they like this one and use it frequently as I walk down the halls), ‘How are you?’ (with the echo of ‘I’m fine, thanks’) and ‘Goodbye teacher!’
I could say less in Vietnamese.
Put those two facts in together in the class room and say ‘TEACH!’ and you’ve got yourself a challenge.
Being a westerner at a university or school in Vietnam is like being famous. You walk out of your room and the students lean out of the four story high yellow building to wave to you with their friendly ‘hel-lo! Hel-lo! He-lo!’. I will never forget the first time I walked into a classroom by myself; the look of excitement as it dawned on them they would have me as their teacher.
Coming to Vietnam and taking this on is truly one of the hardest things I have ever done, just this morning I had a class who looked at me as though I was teaching ancient hieroglyphics rather than ‘How much is this?’. You have your great days and your hard days, and then you have those hilarious moments that make it all worth it.
Like the moment when a class of 20 year old boys get so into a game of English naughts and crosses, that they are pushing and screaming at each other to get out the way. Or the point where they realise instead of saying ‘I’m wearing a shirt’ one of their (male) classmates has declared he ‘likes to wear skirts’ and they roll around like hyenas as you demonstrate, and the joke breaks the language barrier.
But better than that, is the feeling of when they finally understand, and just smile and wait expectantly for more.
I’m not the only one teaching though. Vietnam has taught me some crazy life lessons.
I’ve learnt to cross the road Vietnam style – basically shut your eyes, ignore the traffic and keep walking. I’ve learnt to say ‘No thank-you’ in Vietnamese to the street sellers (and to run away when they don’t give up!). I’ve learnt to navigate the tiny streets of the old quarters and to stop and just look when I see a building or something curious that interests me, not just rush past to the next destination.
I’ve learnt that I’m not a local yet and I don’t understand the culture, but that I want to.
Yesterday when I walked into class tired and, not going to lie, a little grumpy, my students all stood and presented me with a huge bouquet of pink lillies for Vietnamese Women’s Day.
Me to Vietnamese teacher: Did you organise this?
Teacher: No. I don’t know about this.
Almost six weeks in I realise that even though I’m not a local yet, and I’m still pretty lost – I have become part of their lives.
Submitted by: Cath Shelley
Mitch - English Tutor in Vietnam
I undertook a Lattitude placement in Vietnam for five months last year as an English Tutort. During my time there, I was able to understand and appreciate the diverse culture in which the amazing and wonderful locals live.
When I first arrived at my primary school in Hai Duong, I was amazed to see the entire school waiting outside for me on a freezing cold morning to greet me. They kept asking me about home and why I came to Vietnam to teach.
I often wondered afterwards why they went to so much effort in freezing weather to welcome me; I’m not that special! I was curious and asked one of the students one day why they waited for me outside in the cold, stormy weather that morning. He said “Mitch you have come all the way to see us and help us get a real job, to help us succeed in the future and to help us have a good life”.
From then on I knew that what I was doing in Vietnam was worthwhile. I think I finally found myself that day and realised that I was making a difference in a developing country. Hearing those words come from a local child was the most amazing feeling in the world. I have so many memories of that student as I knew he was the one who would help me through my placement. I wrote down what he said, and any time I doubted myself afterwards I’d look at those words and feel reassured that my efforts were worth it.
That was one of the most amazing experiences I had in Vietnam.
Submitted by: Mitch Gray
Lauren - English Tutor in Vietnam
Arriving in Vietnam I was overwhelmed, the heat hit me as soon as I stepped out of the plane and new, different sights and smells were everywhere. I was greeted by a chorus of beeps and toots and the traffic was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. In fact, it took me a while to realise that in Vietnam they drive on the right-hand-side of the road!
I think that for me it is the little things that made this trip memorable for me, the little old lady on the bus feeding me pieces of mango, the kids gving me drawings and cards and people greeting me with the one word of english they know ‘Hello’ as I walk through our town.
The Vietnamese people are friendly, generous and welcoming and I looked forward to walking into class every morning to my kids smiling faces. While the language barrier made things difficult, my pupils took it upon themselves to teach me as much Vietnamese as I taught them English.
Teaching in Vietnam was an amazing experience in an amazing country, and the memories I have and friendships I made made the trip something I would recomend to anyone.
Tayla - English Tutor in Vietnam
Hi there, My name is Tayla and I am from New Zealand !!!
I departed Wellington Airport on Saturday the 25th of August to travel to my new home for 4 months, the amazing Vietnam! I have only been here for two weeks but the lifestyle here compared to home is absolutely amazing and life changing.
For the first week I took part in a teaching course in Ho Chi Minh City along with 15 other volunteers that completed my life (4 others from NZ, 8 from Australia and 3 from the UK) where we learnt how to become a bunch of amazing English Teachers. We gained a whole lot of new skills and the week was a lot of fun. Getting to know the group and exploring what Ho Chi Minh City had to offer was an awesome experience!
Once the tecahing course was complete all the volunteers were split up into pairs and sent off to their new destination, mine being the beautiful city of Vung Tau. I now live in room in a University with my new Aussie room mate Gillian! We recently jazzed up our humble abode to make it more homely.
We are so lucky over here, the food is absolutely amazing (if you like seafood and meat then you’re sorted), its super cheap, the weather is amazing so you can get a tan and I have been told by my new local friend that you CAN’T get fat in Vietnam!! At this current time i haven’t yet taught a class at the University that I am placed at but during the week teaching course we got to teach a bunch of adults a couple of times a week. It is honestly so much fun and worth every second. Everyone over here looks at you and stares but its only because they are interested in you and when you try to speak their language they giggle and smile. Most of the time im pretty sure im saying it wrong but they seem to understand.
In our free time Gill and I have had the chance to visit the local markets (where you get to argue prices with sellers and get the price down if they are super nice), ride on the back of motorbikes (WITH HELMETS ON) on the crazy Vietnamese roads and we got the chance to walk up to visit the giant Jesus Statue in Vung Tau which has an amazing view of the city and is bigger than the statue in Rio De Janerio! Oh and squat toilets are rather fun to use to!
Even though I have only been here for a short time, I am loving life so much and am making the most of every opportunity that comes my way. Vietnam is a country that offers so much for someone who wants to step out of their comfort zone and experience a whole new culture. If you are planning on volunteering and travelling with Lattitude next year come to Vietnam, I am telling you now you wont regret it and it will be the best decision you have ever made… Trust me!
Jessica - English Tutor in Vietnam
It was almost midnight but I could not settle, despite my exhaustion, I was tossing and turning. A thousand thoughts and memories were racing through my mind and it was really starting to hit me that this was it, in just a few short days my time in Nam Dinh will have come to an end.
I sat up for a bit, dismissing for the moment the thought that at 7am I had to teach and took several deep breaths.As I sat in silent recollection I reflected on my very first week at Le Hong Phong High School. I remember nervously walking out at Monday morning assembly to talk to the students for the first time and being greeted by cheers from 1500 students.
Teaching my very first lessons with classes I have now come to love so much and being greeted by endlessly smiling faces and what seemed like a million questions. Back then I hardly fathomed the remarkable impact that this placement would have on me. Looking back at the experiences, the challenges, the laughs and the wonderful people I know this time will always hold an exceptional place in my heart. And now only one challenge remains and it is by far the hardest one of all; it is finally time to say goodbye.
The morning was a whirlwind of laughter, games and goodbyes as I taught several classes for the very last time, and the excitement was contagious. I felt a sense of revelry doing my best to enjoy these moments, planting them in my memory where I can fondly look back on them in years to come. At the end of each period the drum would sound and my heart would sink just a little. Students enthusiastically clamoured for photos, serenaded me with Christmas carols and presented me with beautiful gifts.
As I finally left the room shouts of “we love you” and “we will miss you” echoed down the halls behind me and a smiled and waved and felt a slight lump in my throat and so smiled even more for fear that otherwise I might start crying. The whole experience felt somewhat surreal and I found myself hoping each moment could last just a little longer.
At the end of each lesson, in between the sadness and the excitement, I felt a sense of achievement. I think about the students I am leaving behind and I wonder what impact I have made by coming here. There have been days where being in the classroom felt amazing, but some days I doubted my ability to succeed.
Looking back I realise I have been measuring success in all the wrong ways. As I recall my fond classroom memories of hysterical laughter filling the room during role plays, the eagerness of students cheering so loudly during games that another teacher came to check nothing was wrong, and as I look back at all the hundreds of photos, one thing is consistent; the smiles are endless.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words but a smile is worth even more and fifty at once really is the greatest feeling ever! As I stood watching my students smiling and giggling I knew I had succeeded; all the hard days and challenges felt absolutely worth it because my students were smiling.
These students affected my life and changed my perceptions of the world around me in ways that they could never imagine, and I could hardly believe it was time to say my goodbyes. It wasn’t always been easy living there alone, some days I found myself simply searching for a smile… but it seemed that over the next few days as I said my goodbyes I certainly didn’t have to look very far- even if they were through tears!
Submitted by: Jessica Horner