The View From Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam.

Nov. 28, 2008

As our first week of teaching came to an end, we enjoyed another beautiful, sunny day.
Millennium Development Goals: Primary and Secondary Education
14 volunteers, 490 hours instruction; 4,100 students impacted

Tim, Jim and I had a wilder than usual taxi ride to Foreign Trade University this morning. Tim and I spent the morning in a 2.25-hour literature class assisting Ms. Huong and her 70 first-year business students. The topic was esssy writing, and Tim and I had the opportunity to brush up on our rusty knowledge of style, tone, rising action and phrasing. Many of the students have an impressive command of English, as one asked Tim and me the difference between “discrepancy” and “incongruity.”

Tim, Jim and I had a brief 35-minute lunch of noodles and beef from styrofoam takeout boxes, while Mr. Tri, our Director at FTU, solicited our advice on the English language greeting to be included in the University’s annual Lunar New Year greeting card. The pressure was on.

I spent my afternoon in Ms. Hue Chi’s 2.25-hour marketing class for first-year international business students. I taught alone straight through the period. We asked each other many questions and discussed various topics. They taught me Vietnamese history and culture and are fans of Michael Phelps, Britney Spears, “High School Musical,” and most things American or British. I told them about American education, politics, driving and traffic, geography and Vietnamese-Americans. One student asked how she could learn to think in English. Another wondered if everyone’s vote was worth the same in the U.S.

Before returning to the hotel after our afternoon classes, Mr. Tri wished to further discuss the greeting card. I’m sure we will continue working on this Hallmark moment next week before it will be presented to the President of the University for final approval.

When I return home, I look forward to standing at the end of a crosswalk as six lanes of traffic part and I safely walk across the street to enjoy a big bowl of pho. I believe I can now join my fellow fun-loving team members as a veteran Global Volunteer.
– Donna Young

First Week at the Foreign Trade University:

The week went well. The students are friendly and enthusiastic, and the reception by the program director was well-organized. Other reflections: Big thrill riding on motor bike; young professor took me to her favorite dress shop — helped economy by having six dresses made for women in my family!
Saturday, we needed R&R after a busy week. Most volunteers headed for Ha Long Bay, and Mary, Donna and I take the City Tour. Most noteworthy was the lake where (John) McCain crashed. Water puppet show; two pagodas also visited; Ho Chi Minh masoleum probably was the highlight. Our tour guide gave us a thorough history of Ho. Donna arranged a photo for me with an attractive bride at the memorial. (Young man to email photo tonight to my wife.) My previous emails home described “hardships” for volunteers doing their work….oh, well!
We’ve now seen Hanoi as tourists and are ready for our final work week. Dinner last night as the only man with three lovely women was fun! New expression coined: “Fox and the turtle.”
– Jim Wilson
Tuesday, November 25th

Day Two with our service at Mguyen Bing Khiem High School, Hanoi University, and Foreign Trade University. After a full, confused somewhat stressful day of adjustment on Monday, we felt more confident in our teaching skills when we arrived at our mission on Tuesday eager to give of our time and talent.

The van was a bit late due to traffic congestion. We have to be on time because of the van blocks the flow of traffic on an extremely Narrow congested street. Horns blast continuously as motor bikes, cars, pedestrians slip thru dangerously narrow spaces. There are no rules to the road except to keep moving slowly and steadily without stopping.
We arrived at the school having enjoyed a 20 minute ride thru interesting Hanoi. The Van passed thru iron forged gates into a court yard where the kids were playing badminton but mostly fooling around. They were waiting to learn how to play baseball with Leo and Dick

School has five floors, no elevators and it is a challenge not to forget any teaching items.
The team congregated in the teacher’s room where we pooled our materials and resources.
A computer sits on the table next to the printer waiting for a cable and connection to the internet. A huge flat screen TV hangs on the wall playing some “action movie.” Mr Quy, our director, is most helpful and grateful for the team’s flexibility with the programs and assignments. Figuring how works is is another challenge but going with the flow seems to work
The students welcome us enthusiastically. They are eager to have us entertain them with our English and humor. I wonder how much they really understand. We try to be simple and make it fun..

Lunch is served at 11:15 in the basement of the school. We join the students at the tables after we are served rice, soup, fish fry, chicken, noodles, stir fry veggies and ice cream. After clean up, we return to our conference room for a nap. The entire school takes a nap until the gong is bonged..A cacophony of sound occurs, chatter, yelling horsing around, pushing shoving, talking, yelling as this massive student body of 2400 kids move to their assigned classes.
We do our thing….we try to represent a positive image from our country as ambassadors of good will to the Vietnam people..

At the end of the day we all exhausted and spent for putting forth 100% effort. Our desire to bring awareness and understanding between the two different cultures.. to build a positive relationship as we bring good will, friendship to our good neighbors. At three we pile into our van, quietly going over the day, sharing little vignettes of the day.
Everyone felt this day was a good one and how special to share our time and talent. Each day bringing about a closer bond with the Vietnamese people and team members.
-Amelia McKenney

Monday, November 24th, Hanoi, Vietnam

Our first day of real work. The pink-hued clouds and clear blue accents signalled a change — not only in the weather but in our lives as volunteers and with hope, those of our students — as we start our service in Hanoi.

Ruth Ann inspired the team with a quote: “To the Man of Goodwill, All the World is Home”, Socrates.

And off we went to universities and high school waging peace and encouraging conversations.

Donna, Jim, and I headed to Hanoi’s Foreign Trade University to support the faculty of the “English for Special Purposes” department. Our first large class of at least sixty represented the highest achievers in the English entrance exam process. They are 18 adn 19 year olds beginning their four-year journey towards specialization in Business Administration, Finance, or Economics.

A lively group of articulate students, eager to ask questions (with some prodding) and offer insight into their view of life in Vietnam and Hanoi. We encourage questions about our lives in the states as a springboard to questions specific to Vietnamese life. The students explained that most families consist of parents and two children. We also learned that time abroad is a common expectation in completing their BA education. Australia and the UK are the most common destinations.

Of course American movies and television have colored the student’s conception of our reality and Donna and I attempted to ensure them that Los Angeles is not the violent world of Hollywood blockbusters!

I believe our time while short, can be a catalyst to encourage greater understanding and a willingness to explore the English language.

It is almost unworthy to mention that Global Volunteers has again maintained the alias “Teach ‘n Eat” with the great food consumed overt times of fun and laughter. A noble start to our Adventures in Service. – Tim Cunniff
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