DAY TO DAY EXPERIENCES:
wake up, breakfast, teach, lunch, coffee, nap, teach/play sports/dance, coffee/motel chilling, dinner, teach 1 adult at night, shower/chill/watchmovies, sleep. everyday for 4 weeks in Duc Linh. that's what most of our schedules looked like.
- my fellow teachers. I love every single teacher that was in my group. yes, all 6 of them. we were all forced to get to know each other on our own (because there are no team-building group activities whatsoever) and we all got along really well from the get-go. we became such a close-knit group of teachers that it really felt like we were all family. 99% of my support came from my fellow teachers and I probably wouldn't have been able to see the end of the program if it weren't for these people. sometimes, we'd work together by combining classes or having class competitions. we all learned from each other and now that I think about it, we're like a support group.
- my students. it took a really long time for me to enjoy teaching my students because 1) I'm not Vietnamese, so I don't speak or understand anything and 2) my students' English level was really, really low so we were all kind of stuck in this limbo. after my co-teacher and I realized the what strategies our best for our classes, everything went uphill from there. even though I had to teach more basic things than I had expected, I really love my students and they made my experience in Vietnam worthwhile. they made me realize that teaching can be fun and I think they also contributed to my growth as an individual and as an advocate for education equity. furthermore, the my relationship with my students became so great that my students took me out one weekend and on our last week, we had a party at one of their houses!
- the community. almost everyone in that small town were really welcoming and nice. families of our students would invite us over sometimes. if you didn't have enough money to pay for a bag of chips, they'd tell you to pay them back later. sometimes they'd stop by and give us fruits or cake.
- cafe sua da. Vietnamese iced coffee. need I say more? 2 cups a day, sometimes 3. in fact, our last night was 4 cups!
- there's this ice cream man who sells ice cream for like 25 cents and it's one of the best things in Duc Linh! it tastes even better when you double fist!
- all the teachers in this new location had no experience in teaching and we were all basically just thrown into it with no support or guidance whatsoever. there is no formal orientation or training that takes place. you literally have to do everything on your own. the only kind of "training" that takes place is one that is done through Google Hangout before going to Vietnam, where you're given a fat curriculum folder and the rest is up to you. it may sound like a good idea for volunteers to make their own lessons and run their classes as they like, but for those of us who were new to this, especially in a place where the learning level isn't as advanced as the program is used to, it was one of the biggest setbacks of the program in Duc Linh this summer. it took about 2 weeks for all the teachers to finally understand the needs of our students and what is the best approach to maximize their English learning with the time that we had left. I think that this time could've been used more productively if the right steps had been taken by the program director at the start of the program because in the end, the students lost 2 weeks of what could have been English learning as teachers struggled to understand how to best serve their needs.
- the challenge mentioned above wouldn't have been prolonged if the program director had listened to the concerns of the teachers and actually did something about it. at the end of the first week, the teachers called for a meeting (yes, the teachers did) with the director (who never checked in with us at all) to share our concerns about our students and the difficulty we are all facing as teachers. the program director said he would hold more curriculum meetings and that he would meet each teacher individually to see what next steps should be taken. unfortunately, he didn't do any of those things, actually, he didn't even make an effort and I think that says a lot. the person who founded this program and has been running this program for 7 years now let his own volunteers down to the point where we all realized we couldn't even rely on him for support. ultimately, we had no confidence in him and we stopped asking him for advice, for materials, for anything at all, like there was no longer a relationship between the volunteers and the program director. this created a lot of tension, but the program director never addressed this tension himself and instead became passive aggressive and just started avoiding us.
- what's unique about these kinds of programs is that we're teaching in a place away from home, somewhere far and somewhere we all may have a chance to explore after teaching or on the weekends. unfortunately, because the program was in such a small and rural town, the teachers were very limited in what they could do for fun. there was not a single time that we were able to eat out because there was no where to eat. the only shopping we did was for snacks like chips and cookies. "town" was too far away for anyone to get there by foot and since we don't know how to drive motorbikes, we spent 50% of our time at the church (we taught here, ate here, played sports here, etc.) and spent the other 50% of our time in our motels. the town is so small that everyone knew where we stayed and we'd get spontaneous visits at our motel room at night. at first, you appreciate being in a small, rural place but for five weeks, it becomes really hard to do when you don't have the chance to do something different for once, especially in a beautiful place like Vietnam.
- for some reason, there wasn't enough money in the program so the teachers couldn't really ask for materials for our classes and we were forced to just wing it and make due with whatever we had.
- the motel we stayed at was pretty janky but at least it was ridiculously close to the church. our "mattress" was so uncomfortable, I don't even think it was a mattress. you should probably never ever step into the restroom barefoot. the motel owners only give ONE BLANKET per bed. sharing gets awkward sometimes. also, had to hand wash our own laundry because it costs $2.50 per load and only the motel owner gets to dictate what counts as a load so sometimes she'll split your load into 3 and charge you $7.50. there was a rat in our room. a wasp was building its nest and laying eggs in one of our restrooms. geckos mate at night in your room. you live out of your suitcase the whole time.
- fundraise for your plane ticket. it's totally possible if you're not lazy.
- there is no full-proof way to prevent mosquito bites. so, the best you can do is find the proper medication for it, like having anti-histamines so they're not itchy and swollen and make sure you have some sort of ointment for it
- there is no such thing as too much toilet paper. you should probably go to costco and buy a pack and bring it with you to Vietnam because in almost all of the places I went to in Vietnam, there was no toilet paper.
- nothing is ever as it seems so either expect the worse or expect nothing at all. this is the theme of Vietnam 2k13 in Duc Linh. and I say it again, nothing. is EVER. as it seems.
- if they still have the same program director, don't do it. I've never seen such poor leadership skills in my life (and trust me, I've worked with some pretty poor leaders). if trang (his girlfriend who seriously and whole-heartedly did all the things he was supposed to, but didn't do) is the new program director, then definitely do it because she is so kind and supportive. she will always listen to you and will always check in with you and provide you with constructive feedback that's actually useful towards your teaching. she puts her all into this program and really does her best not only to make sure everyone is happy and okay, but also that the students are having a great time too. and that's the kind of leader you need.