Seven–time Global Volunteer and Colorado retiree Rene Moquin employed his legendary optimism and enthusiasm to captivate students at Nguyen Binh Khiem School (NBK) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Through skits, music and personal charm, he urges them to “dream of new possibilities.” In these journal entries, Rene reflects on his singular experience and offers personal insight to other new Vietnam volunteers.
By Rene Moquin
After a weekend of orientation, I was off to my first class at Nguyen Binh Khiem School (NBK), a private school of 3,000 students which has been in operation for more than 25 years. Classes are 24 or more students. Jeff, our team leader, and I were given a tour of the school by Sarah Bregman and Miss Huong of the school’s Bi-Lingual Department. Sarah is a graduate of Harvard University and is developing an International Leadership Program at NBK. I also met with Ms. Mai Huong, my primary contact at the school, to review my teaching schedule for the first week.
I know that teaching English in Viet Nam will not solve all the world’s problems. It is just a tiny step. But, I am grateful that it is a step I am able to take. I feel lucky to be here, doing a little bit of work to help a country and a culture that I have admired. Ha Noi is a large and challenging city, but the people are welcoming. I’m a little nervous about teaching, but excited and curious too.
“Hopefully, this experience will encourage some of the students to dream of new possibilities, both academically and otherwise. I will give it my best shot.“Rene Moquin
My fears were allayed upon arriving on the school grounds. My first two classes were high school juniors. All students wear uniforms. Even with all the shouting and excitement, I knew I was in my element. It is impossible to describe the varying stares from these beautiful Vietnamese children. An American is in their classrooms. At that moment, what is racing through their minds? What does the future hold for them? Could I have an impact during the next two weeks? I decided to just jump in and give it my best. Initially, I focused on teaching greetings in an effort to engage the students and gain their trust. As I have expressed on other service programs, teaching conversational English is important but clearly not as important as building relationships between cultures. In the next two weeks, I will be exposing students to new words and perspectives. Hopefully, this experience will encourage some of the students to dream of new possibilities, both academically and otherwise. I will give it my best shot!
Getting Comfortable; Giving Encouragement
One of the benefits of teaching internationally is surprises. Allow me to give you a couple of examples. It is customary for students to rush up to me before and after class to share greetings and ask questions. One such boy approached me. The conversation went something like this: He reached out his hand to shake mine for which I responded. He then asked for my second hand. Upon grasping my two hands he said the following, “We should always respect our elders.” Where did that come from? Is it a family value that he is honoring? The bottom line, it is an encounter I will never forget.
I realize that many of these students have a better grasp of English than displayed. However, conversational English is not readily available. In one exercise, I gave each student a word and ask them to come to the front of the room and create a story around the word given them. In this case a boy had the word “corn.” Here is his story. “This is a story about a legendary corn. This corn was found in the toilet and it was radioactive. It had exploded and killed a family of five. Anyone who touches it will die.” What can I say? This boy at least has imagination.
“To the extent that I can, I remind them of my story and that they should never give up on their dreams. If I can do it, they can.“Rene Moquin
As I reflect on my teaching role here, I think of my own academic history. I was a “B” student throughout high school and was given no encouragement either by teachers or my parents that I should even consider going to college. I came to believe that I should pursue other routes. After going to college in Boston for one year followed by working at a bank, significant others came into my life and urged me to go on to college. I followed their advice and years later ended up with three degrees. I know for a fact some of the students that I encounter here face the same lack of support to pursue their dreams. To the extent that I can, I remind them of my story and that they should never give up on their dreams. If I can do it, they can.
The World is a Bigger Place Now
Soon it will be about goodbyes. As a teammate expressed, instead of doors closing, so many doors have been opened. I have gotten to say hello to literally hundreds of Vietnamese students, to their teachers and other helpers, and of course to my teammates. My world is so much bigger after the time I’ve spent here. I hope that some of these new contacts will be lasting, and I feel so enriched and so fortunate to have had the chance to spend time with all of these wonderful people. Hellos and goodbyes do not have to be a beginning and an end. They can be a circle – an ongoing process of welcoming people into your life, then moving on or watching them move on to something new, but then having the chance to welcome them back again, even if only in a memory. I will not forget the time I’ve spent here and I will not forget the people of Vietnam to whom I have said goodbye and hello.
“My world is so much bigger after the time I’ve spent here.”Rene Moquin
Work with us and change the arc of a student’s life in Vietnam! Chat with a Volunteer Coordinator today about how you can share your skills with teens and adults.