I was part of the first round of volunteers for Trellis. I'm a military spouse from the USA. Unfortunately, I had to leave a month early to help a loved one recover from major surgery. Now that I'm not a full-time nurse, I've decided to leave a review.
The program begins with a crash course into teaching, including basic lesson plans and how to adapt lessons from a textbook. It focuses on the teaching aspect, not so much on the evaluation aspect. As a new teacher, I had to guess student's English fluency and try to make lessons to their level.
My background is education and biology, so I expected to do well in Trellis. However, the program was really difficult for me. When I first started, there were not as many lesson activities and resources as I thought there would be. I'm good at designing lesson flows once I understand how to incorporate activities, but if I don't fully understand how the activity works then it's harder for me to adjust it to a student's level. I asked for help and I mostly got it. At first I was mostly told to Google lesson plans. Most of what I found online tended to be aimed at kids. Maybe I'm not good at Googling. I was persistent in asking for resources and ideas on how to modify the activities, and eventually received more help. Trellis is a program where you have to advocate for yourself. If you're not comfortable asking for help when you need it, then this program may not be for you. If you ask for something and you're not getting it, then you have to be persistent.
In college, I was trained to have well planned lessons. I became a bit of a perfectionist by the time I graduated. I thought my attention to detail would serve me well in Vietnam, but it hindered me. Teaching in Vietnam is very different from America, it's more laid back. The expectations are low, to the point where teachers aren't really supposed to take the teaching part too seriously. I did, and I struggled because of it. Eventually, I learned that teaching there means focusing less on grammar and vocab and more on creating opportunities for them to practice. It took me a while to find activities appropriate to their fluency level, but once I did I used them in rotation.
Trellis provides transportation to and from the hotel, and volunteering is like working a 7am-4pm job. Most of my time was at the University, if not teaching then preparing lesson plans. I'm not someone who's good at "winging it," and I think that added to my struggle. I like having activities ready ahead of time and at least ideas for back up activities if students aren't at the level I think they are (and frequently, they weren't). Others could just grab supplies and throw things together, but alas I could not. At least, I couldn't until the end of my time there. Eventually I came to understand how each activity worked and how it could be adjusted, but a lot of what I learned came from trial and error.
As far as the country of Vietnam, it was really overwhelming to me at first. Growing up, my parents always pointed out certain parts of town to stay away from, especially since I was a girl. To me, most of Da Nang looks like the parts of town my parents told me about. It's a developing country, and I didn't really quite know what that looked like until I was there. It took me a bit to feel comfortable enough to walk and explore on my own. Once I gained that confidence to explore, I discovered that the locals are some of the most friendly and outgoing people that you'll ever meet. People approached me and invited me to join them frequently, whether it was at a coffee shop or for an early morning beach walk.
If you do go, I'd recommend getting to know the locals. One of the easiest ways to do that is through your students. I know, it's looked down upon to socialize with students in Western countries, like mine, so it can feel uncomfortable at first. But really, if you want to know the best places to shop, eat at, or just explore, they're probably your best resource. Most of them want to get to know you too, so take advantage of it and invite your class to eat out with you, or just go to the beach on a weekend.
It can also be tempting to want to stay with the group of other teachers (or other expats) because they're familiar. I didn't really get to know the locals until I ventured off on my own, and I'm so glad I did. I learned so much more about the country's richness and a surprisingly lot about myself. Unfortunately, right about the time I started adapting to life in Vietnam, I got some bad news about a loved one and had to leave early. I wish I could have stayed.
Although most of my time with Trellis was a struggle, I'm really glad I went. I don't think I'm the same person I was going there, I'm much more capable and confident. I'm handling the recovery of my loved one and the uncertainties of my personal life surprisingly well, and I think a bit of that comes from my growth abroad. I am grateful for my experience there. If you're up for a challenge, then I recommend that you go too.
(Also, ladies: options for feminine products are limited, so bring your own)