Why did you decide to volunteer with Global Volunteers in Vietnam?
Dugan: I decided to volunteer because I knew, from my many travels throughout Asia and living abroad (primarily in Europe) experiences, that only by immersing yourself in the life and activities of the people does one really absorb the culture. It was a great way to delve into a country.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Dugan: However, teaching was a new experience for me and, looking back on it, it was either a very brave or very foolhardy decision to try this, especially in a new country. I admit to being totally stressed out the first week trying to invent a class program for 4 different classes of students without any idea of their level of English. I had taken a one-day class in ESL and fortunately brought a few workbooks along with me (when became a precious commodity for the other groups facing the same problems). I was too tired by the end of the day the first week to do much more than collapse after I figured out what I was going to try the next day. By the second week I was getting in the swing of things, not necessarily getting more proficient, but relaxing into it.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Dugan: As I am a retired cross-cultural trainer/writer, I would not say the experience impacted me professionally, but personally yes. The best lesson I got was to let go of my own American-bred preconceived ideas of how a class should be conducted, students regulated and, instructed, and order maintained. It took a while to recognize and appreciate that the Vietnam way is different from what I was used to. I also learned that adolescence trumps culture: teens are teens in every culture. Ya gotta love 'em! but gotta give them some slack. When I stopped being the teacher and began to ask them what they would like to learn from me (mostly about America and American life) I began to be effective. A third week would have been best.
Obviously the travel opportunities before and especially after the program were fantastic. But even the free hours at the end of the school day, braving the streets, dodging the thousands of bikes, experimenting with the wonderful food, just walking the markets, made every day an adventure. The more I think about it, the more I want to go back.