Four-time Global Volunteer Connie reflects back on her volunteer teaching projects and experiences from Vietnam, Cuba and Portugal – comparing and contrasting them…
These words “rigid, fluid, and tech” describe three Global Volunteers tutoring experiences in Vietnam, Cuba, and most recently Portugal. “Rigid” curriculum and teaching structure in Vietnam contrasted to the “fluid” evening conversation sessions in Cuba, while “tech” dominated school environments in Portugal. My impression? Technology in teaching is today’s game changer, but face-to-face encounter is the ultimate winner.
“Rigid” Teaching in Vietnam
Imagine the year 2000, the US and Vietnam normalization of diplomatic relations only five years old, and there we were, Global Volunteers in the steamy Mekong Delta. Tutoring in the local hospital and evening language school connected us with eager learners. Structured “rigid” teaching techniques used Australian or British textbooks while repetitious dialogues defined English language acquisition for Vietnamese learners. A student wrote: “… you teach us to speak English. It is better than in tape. When you go back your country, you will remember us and we will remember you very much!”
Vietnam program volunteer Tam remembers: “I enjoyed working with a group of elementary teachers in Cao Lahn. They were very receptive to learning songs and games that would better help their students learn English.” While another member of the team Glen, recently reflected that the Global Volunteers Vietnam experience topped the list of his travel in 50 countries. Why? “Teaching conversational English was unquestionably the most rewarding of any of my trips.”
“Fluid” Teaching in Cuba
Fifteen years after the Vietnam encounter, what a contrast tutoring English in central Cuba! Our team gathered on hot and humid evenings at the church hall, a beehive of learning for generally seventy adults anxious to practice English. In the first session, a curriculum designed for the week quickly evaporated as the insatiable learners blew past the limited objectives. Fluid ‘organic’ discussions evolved as authentic learning worked in both directions, for Cuban learners Patricia, Ariel, his mother Rosa, and for me, the American volunteer tutor.
A Sancti Spiritus team member Erin said: “How quickly in two weeks things can change. Maybe that is the lesson and the hope for the people we meet and for us as well. The little exchanges each day have forged genuine bonds.”
“Tech” Teaching in Portugal
Then, a short year later, Portugal became my learning lab…
The times change, the desires change, and who we are and what we trust,
keeps changing with them; the whole world is composed of change’s rhythm,
forever shifting qualities anew.
Luis de Camoes, (1524 – 1580) Portugal’s national poet
Could Portugal’s 16th century poet even imagine “change” to mean from parchment and pen to smartboard and thumb drive? “Tech” in Vidigueira Portugal schools would astound Luis. It impressed me.
Each classroom in both the elementary school and trades high school equipped with projection equipment offered unlimited conversation opportunities by simply inserting a thumb drive into a classroom computer. Voila! Images from home gave students a view of my world across the Atlantic. Which images elicited what questions ebbed and flowed in each class. What diverse topics popped up!
Portugal team member Linda said it so well: “How truly profound human connections are and the lasting power it can have…one person encountering so many others in a brief moment can leave an impression of good will, compassion, genuine caring…this was the power of your presence…how truly wonderful it all can be!”
Some Things Never Change…
What an evolution of learning environments over the past sixteen years. But, what hasn’t changed are the learners – young or older, willing learners always anxious for more. Glen, fellow team member in Vietnam said: “Those young people were like sponges in their quest to learn conversational English.”
No matter which country, then or now, the core experience is the basic human desire to communicate face-to-face, maybe acquire some language learning along the way, but more importantly, to communicate by exchanging smiles without ever speaking a word.
Volunteer Teaching Projects Worldwide
In addition to Vietnam, Cuba and Portugal teaching projects, we also offer opportunities to teach conversational English in China, the Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Greece, India, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Romania and Tanzania. Use your native understanding of the language to practice pronunciation, create lively lessons, assist the local English teachers, and excite youth and adult students about learning English. Chat online with a Volunteer Coordinator to learn more!