My volunteering was in a school in Hanoi, Vietnam in February 2015. I was much older than most of the volunteers - 56 - although there were other older people at times. The "youngsters" were totally welcoming and friendly from the outset and I can't recall feel that level of inclusivity in a long time. While I drew the line at clubbing until 5am and getting up to teach the next day, I chatted, played games, had a laugh, went for a drink and loved the karaoke.
The teaching itself was a great experience. As a teacher in a further education college back home, I'm not used to being greeted with cheers in the morning, hellos all day and a round of applause at the end of the lesson!
The teachers provided lessons plans in advance for the first week and then fewer in the second week as they were happy for us to do what we wanted with the students. So, it was partly structured and partly our own choice of games and songs to liven things up, although the students do already play games. They work from a set book that builds on the same stories and grammatical structures year on year. I didn't have to teach any grammar - mostly worked on pronunciation. The children picked up correct pronunciation of words quicker than the teachers!
We taught from 8:20 until 11:00 and then caught a bus back to the volunteer house for lunch as classes re-start at 13:45. As I had prior teaching experience, I taught most of the classes myself with the teacher at the back; my colleague usually took the last 15 minutes of the lesson so,there some flexibility depending in your experience and confidence levels. I was so impressed at how confident and talented the young volunteers were.
We were invited to a wedding and, had we been there longer, would probably have been invited the teachers' houses. This was a short, two week stint but it did feel very full on as there are the buses and the terrible traffic to contend with 4 times a day and not much sleep due to various noises. We did ask for some time off so that we could maintain our enthusiasm and were given it, which did make me feel a bit guilty as the children go to school 6 days a week from 07:30!
I was very lucky indeed to have a great buddy to work with so we could debrief on how our classes had gone - celebrate the good ones and rationalise the less successful ones, sometimes over a glass of gin (and that was a difficult search in itself!)
I undertook this as part of much longer travels, as did most people. My husband came with me and went off go Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia while I was in the school. As predicted, the volunteering is likely to be the highlight of the whole trip as you are so involved with local culture and living, which is all so different from the normal tourist experience. I am now staying in five star hotels and missing the time I had with the crowd. Volunteering isn't always comfortable but it does get into your soul!
The staff at the house, many of whom are local volunteers, were excellent, supporting us all the way. Lovely people, every one and they work long hours to support us.
I have recommended this to my teenage children as a great way to enhance their CV and see their confidence grow. Just watching 18 year olds who don't drive at home boldly heading off through the crazy Hanoi traffic is amazing and makes them feel they can do anything!