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Robert Parker - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Vietnam

Before arriving in Vietnam

Volunteer school in Vietnam

I signed up to undertake four months of teaching in Vietnam and was looking forward to the challenges ahead. I had previously been abroad to teach, in India and Cambodia, and so had some ideas of what to expect, but still the feelings of apprehension were with me before I was due to begin my placement, I was still not entirely sure of what to expect.

I arrived in Vietnam after spending three months in Cambodia, and I was intrigued to detect the similarities and differences between the neighboring countries. I was excited to be traveling to Vietnam, ready to explore a country as yet unvisited by me, a chance to discover the cultural and historical aspects of the country, and meet different people. I was ready for my placement to begin.

City sunset in Vietnam

My Teaching placement

For my placement, I taught English at Yen Hoa High School, a school for 11 to 15 year olds. Initially, the students were unsure of me, although it didn’t take long before they trusted and warmed to me; soon becoming a pleasure to teach, eager to learn and enthusiastic in lessons. Due to their good humoredness, the lessons were a lot of fun. In class they were relishing the opportunity of being with a native English speaker, and making the most of my time there.

It was satisfying to talk with these students who were both eager to find out about my life, family and home country, and equally provide me with details about their lives, families, and Vietnam. Seeing the students learn further knowledge, and to make improvements in lessons, was an incredibly rewarding experience for me, and I felt privileged to have made a difference in their lives. It left me with a feeling that I had been of use in the school.

Volunteer trip to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Vietnam

There were only two permanent male members of staff, out of a total staff of roughly one hundred. Needless to say, they were delighted to have another male working with them! During my time here, the teachers and I bonded incredibly well with each other, and they treated me more as a family member rather than a colleague. They were eager to learn from me, often asking questions about the English language, British traditions, and any personal information they wanted to find out about me.

Often, teachers would invite me into their homes to share meals with their family, and a group of teachers and I would go out for meals together on a regular basis. Many memorable times were had when we ate at local street vendors, sitting on plastic stools on the pavement. Types of local food we ate include frog lau (frog hotpot) and beef pho (a noodle soup with beef).

One Sunday, I accompanied around thirty teachers on a day trip to the north of Vietnam, near the Chinese border. During the journey up there we visited some pagodas. In one of these, a local female, who nobody in our group knew, asked whether she could have her photo taken with me, the only Western person there at the time. This incident led to much laughter between the teachers. I quickly learnt to get used to situations like this, and realized that the Vietnamese are very curious people who will look inquisitively, or stare, at you wherever you go. This is not done in an unfriendly manner, but simply out of curiosity. The Vietnamese are also incredibly friendly people and I made many friends during my time there.

Students and teachers even took time out during their weekends to go sightseeing around Hanoi with me, visiting many of the famous attractions together, such as the Temple of Literature, and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Acts of generosity like these shall remain with me for a long time and help me look back on my time at Yen Hoa very fondly.

Accommodation

 Volunteering placement in Vietnam

I was living in a Projects Abroad volunteer apartment with other volunteers. When I first arrived, they were able to orientate me around Hanoi, along with informing me of local customs and traditions, which was of huge benefit. Together, we explored parts of the city and walked around some of the many lakes in Hanoi, West Lake being a particular favourite. It was interesting to meet such a varied group of people and it was pleasing to be able to discuss with others the work involved at the placements and share views and experiences on living in Vietnam.

Leaving Vietnam

Volunteering in Hanoi, Vietnam

During the time I was away, I ended up applying to work for Projects Abroad as a member of staff in Cambodia, so I had to leave my placement after only one month. This was just as I was really starting to feel confident in my teaching and develop strong bonds with the teachers and students. I was incredibly sorry to be leaving the school early, but excited about my new prospects and challenges ahead.

I am very grateful and thankful for having been given the opportunity to be able to teach in such a friendly and welcoming school and country. I shall always remember Yen Hoa High School with the very fondest of memories. I plan to return to Vietnam, and to revisit the school.

All in all, this was a wonderful and life changing opportunity for me, and one in which I was able to learn more about myself and what is important in life. The attitude and the warmth shown towards me, both in and out of school, enabled me to leave with nothing but positive and memorable thoughts about Yen Hoa High School, Vietnam, and its people.

Robert Parker

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