The Joys of Living and Teaching in Vietnam

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Helen Winter

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Written by: Rachel Hutchinson

A Truly Incredible Life Experience

I could never understand people who were satisfied with remaining in one town all their life, never intrigued to seek alternative ways of living. I wanted an adventure.

I was accepted for a placement in Vietnam, teaching English in Hanoi at the University of Technology. South-East Asia was a destination that I had always been fascinated to visit. I was intrigued by its varieties of language and cuisine, and excited by the prospect of a climate and environment so different from ours in Britain.

I found that my teaching experience bore great similarity to a rollercoaster ride: full of ups and downs but ultimately exciting. My first lesson was particularly memorable, as during an hour and a half I experienced the entire spectrum of emotions.

The thrill of teaching my first lesson

Teaching English in Vietnam

As I stood in front of the large classroom for the first time my stomach began to churn as the nerves began to set it. Before the lesson began, a young, studious-looking male student called Khaí questioned me in very good English as to why I was writing so slowly on the blackboard. My confidence waned as I replied that it was the first time I had used a blackboard, as I had never taught before. I expected him to laugh, but instead he simply asked if I would like to practice the questions on him, before putting them to the class.

The lesson began shakily, as the students tried to convince me that there shouldn’t be a lesson as it was the first day back after their Têt (New Year) holiday! However, after explaining with a grin that it hadn’t been that long since I myself had been a student, and that it was going to be a fun introductory lesson, with a quiz about England. That suddenly won their interest. I left the class on a real high, with students calling my name, and waving their quiz sheets at me to mark, and the nerves were completely gone.

One of the most rewarding moments of my entire visit surprisingly happened whilst I was ill with a nasty infection and couldn’t teach. Khaí brought to my house a typed and bound A4 booklet about Ho Chi Minh. This was a task I had set the class during their previous lesson, but he had specifically requested to finish at home. Considering that most students turned up at lessons without so much as a pen, this effort was astounding! In my last month of teaching, I discovered that Khaí was never actually supposed to be in my class, but he came anyway as he really wanted to improve his English and enjoyed the lessons.

Students quickly became friends

Visiting Halong Bay in Vietnam

Teaching aside, as many of our students were a similar age to me, a lot of them also became friends. A really sweet girl, Mai, invited me to spend a weekend at her family’s house, and I was lucky enough to experience the authentic way of countryside life in northern Vietnam. I’ll also never forget the lesson when my students swept me away on their motorbikes to a girl’s birthday party! We all sat around on reed mats eating cakes and drinking tea, all taking turns to sing.

During our placement, there was a national holiday in honour of Ho Chi Minh’s birthday. As we were given a long weekend off, we organised a trip with all our volunteers and other friends to hire a boat in Halong Bay, which we cruised around on and visited Cat Ba Island. Watching the sun set over the jagged rocks from our boat is still one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It was a great bonding experience between everyone, although trying to co-ordinate a large group of people when we reached Cat Ba was almost impossible! It was a brilliant weekend, full of transport dilemmas, incredible scenery, jungle fun, sweat and laughter.

When I chose to explore Vietnam I am so glad that I decided to stay in one place and teach, rather than do a quick-paced backpacking adventure through the country. Although I saw less of Vietnam, the personal experiences, the friends I made, and the incredible opportunities I was given would never have happened if I hadn’t taken on a teaching placement. Vietnam offered me some of the most incredible months of my life and I can’t wait to back and catch up with all my new Vietnamese friends.

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