Hanoi Diary – July 27-Aug 8

Global Volunteers
Hanoi Diary – July 27-Aug 8

Millennium Development Goals Achieved by this Team:
1,980 students and 30 teachers taught English language skills

390 hours of English language instruction provide by volunteers

On our first work day, we gathered in a room where we met the headmaster and English teachers and Joe presented opening remarks along with the headmaster. Spirited music from the Bridge over the River Kwai and the theme from Rocky accompanied a video introduction to our new school. The staff and students are very proud of their school and want us to be happy during our stay. As honored guests, we were assigned one of only two air conditioned rooms in the entire school.

We were greeted in each classroom with smiles and open hearts that more than compensated for any temporary inconveniences. We enjoyed lunch served to us in the staff dining room with the best saved to the last – ice cream cones! Sheer luxury on a sultry day.

Thought for the Day: In New England, the settlers enthusiastically took to their new lands and started plowing only to discover to their dismay, large rocks in their way. They dutifully piled the rocks into walls surrounding their fields and continued plowing. Each season, there were fewer and smaller rocks and the plowed fields finally yielded to the crops for which they had been planted. Today these rocks have become the unique fences that charm visitors to the region and the plows upturn only pebbles. Be a plow. Start a legacy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
It’s the second full day of teaching and we are in the thick of it! Newness jitters are starting to fade and we are truly starting to operate as the team we need to be. It’s impressive to see how far this group of former strangers has come in such a short time.

Gone was the dread of the unknown – we knew we at least had a sense of what today would bring and we were prepared to face it, together. You could feel the increased sense of confidence in the air. Most of us then went off to teach – Rebecca and Leah spent two periods with the same students while Bob, Joan, Claire, Barbara, Norina and Brownson did their best to engage a group of VERY rowdy teenagers while Joe observed the classes, got to know the inner workings of the school and the teachers a bit better. We are feeling more in synch with local culture and this was evident during lunch/rest time. All the mats were filled with volunteers resting, while others relaxed on the desks. Still others spent the break preparing for the afternoon. Leah, Rebecca and Jessica had a detailed conversation with Ms. Ngoc, one of the teachers, really trying to understand more about teaching methods, and how we could help. Claire, Barbara and Joan held a strategy session on teaching the concept of volunteering – getting ready for the 11th graders that afternoon, with input and wisdom from Joe. Norina was deep in conversation with Ms. Hong, planning and sharing ideas.

The afternoon went by very quickly. Songs were sung, we danced, laughed with the children, taught what we hoped was close to curriculum and generally did our best. It was all about teamwork, and having fun along the way.
Thought for the day: “The high note is not the only thing.” Placido Domingo

The first week:
This week is supposed to be focused on “higher education”, a topic we tried to explain anew in each class. One girl said she wanted to be a singer after graduation and delighted her class and the Global Volunteers – Barbara, Norina and Claire – with her perfect American accent and stunning voice. We are learning that one of the best opportunities for communication with the students is simply be available in the hallways. They were very eager to take photos of us with their phones. Most of us are discovering the value of the noontime nap which really energizes us for the afternoons. While waiting for the van depart, Bob and Janelle played jump rope with the students to the delight and amusement of all.

In the spirit of environmental consciousness and conservation, the electricity is sometimes shut off in the afternoon. This gives us the opportunity to be flexible, with no electricity to make photocopies, use the CD player for music and songs, or cool our sweat-drenched bodies under the ceiling fan – just like in the good old days. The air-conditioned van and cool hotel rooms are a welcome relief at the end of the day.
Thought for the day: “The visitor might knock on your door, but you can choose not to let it on. You can decide to be happy or not to be happy. Which do you choose?”

The second week:
As we are now into the second week the days have become more routine, which is to say the scheduled classes for most of us are subject to change, and we adjust to the changes! A number of visiting teachers appeared to observe and learn, arriving from outside of Hanoi, I believe a place called Victory (??) having left at 5 am that morning in order to meet with us and our respective classes.

Leah, who teaches high school English in Washington, has been asked to teach a class of 40-50 students while about 10 English teachers observed. The students appeared enthusiastic and engaged, and the teachers intently scribbled notes during the class. My Quy later said her teaching was “excellent: and that the teachers learned much from her methodology and pronunciation.

We’ve been able to sample a new restaurant every day – several members of our group remarked that their clothes were starting to fit a little tighter than usual!
On Wednesday, we were picked up at 6:10 and taken back to the school for a farewell celebration hosted by the headmaster, Dr. Nguyen Van Hoa. What a lovely party. Tables were set up in the school courtyard and the school administration, English teachers and selected students were waiting to greet us. The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Hung, Mr. Hoa, Mr. Quy and the head of the English department, Mrs. Hong gave speeches expressing their appreciation to us in excellent English. Joe spoke on our behalf, expressing Global Volunteers’ admiration, respect and gratitude for their efforts to our hosts at Nguyen Binh Khiem school. Led by Rebecca, we then sang the customized version of “It’s a small world after all”. Our hosts graciously presented Joe, Dana, Brownson and Claire with flowers and the other volunteers with gifts. After many photos were taken, we sat down to a deliciously prepared selection of traditional Vietnamese food. It was a special evening and I think, a memorable experience for us all. Thought for the day: “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.” Vernon Sanders Law.

Thursday and Friday:
A fond farewell was bid to Claire, the perpetual volunteer who is headed off to her next Global Volunteers assignment in the Cook Islands.

Even though there was rain most of the day (on Thusday), the humidity did not adversely affect the weather and everyone seemed a bit more comfortable. After their arrival at school, and careful planning for their day’s schedule, Joan and Bob were separated into two different classes for their first period. Both were turned away at the classrooms for the second period, so they were able to receive an expanded lunch period and double nap times.

Janelle, Brian, Dana and Jessica thoroughly prepared for a full day of teaching but their teacher insisted there would be no class at the end of the day. Their students prepared a surprise celebration and feast with lots of fruit and gifts.

In the van on the way back to the hotel, several people expressed frustration with the discipline and decorum in many classrooms, particularly those with older children. No true solution was found, but everyone will maintain an open mind while agreeing that ALL 15- and 16-year-olds want to express themselves and rebel a bit.
Thoughts for the day: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
If you want happiness….
For an hour, take a nap
For a day, go fishing
For a month – get married
For a year – inherit a fortune
For a lifetime – help someone else!!
– Bob and Joan

While this group’s journey of waging peace comes to a close here, we watch while the world begins to come together in the spirit of friendly competition in Beijing.
The kindness and generosity of the people we worked with on this project and with the students we taught and learned from was remarkable. It will be my strongest memory and my greatest lesson. Thanks to everyone for all they did.
– Brian

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