Colin Ruijssenaars - General International Development Projects in Vietnam
I recently embarked on one of the biggest adventures of my life. A couple of months before, I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad for six weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam. Being that I have always stayed in the European Union and never travelled to Asia before, working and living in Hanoi for six weeks sounded like the journey of a lifetime. My departure from Amsterdam to Hanoi finally arrived after weeks of rejoicing but I could not help feeling both enthusiastic and nervous. The nerves probably came to me, because I finally realised that I was about to travel to the other side of the world for almost two months all by myself. Upon my arrival, I found that there was really no need for me to be nervous while working with the amazing Projects Abroad staff.
Arriving in Vietnam
Because of the great communication between my volunteer advisor and myself, I knew exactly what would happen after my arrival in Hanoi. The moment I arrived at the airport a Projects Abroad staff member picked me up and brought me to the volunteer house. The next day I had my induction at the Projects Abroad office and got a tour of Hanoi from another staff member. He showed me where I could find the best restaurants, bars, travel agencies, museums, theatres, ATM-machines and everything else I needed to know during my stay. The day after my induction, the staff then introduced me to my placement and the people I would be working with. The kindness, helpfulness and great care from the Projects Abroad staff during the first few days really took away my worries. Everything was perfectly arranged and I immediately felt welcome.
My accommodation in Hanoi
During my stay in Hanoi, I stayed in a house with the other volunteers. I was surprised by how welcoming and friendly these volunteers were and how quickly they included me in the group and the activities they had planned for the next few days. We went out regularly to enjoy the city together whether it be going for dinner, drinks or sightseeing. The other volunteers really helped me adjust to the city of Hanoi, the Vietnamese customs and practices, and the volunteer life in general. I really had an amazing time with each one of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to meet all these wonderful people and that I was fortunate enough to experience the city of Hanoi with them. I can honestly say that a few very close friendships were born.
My International Development Project
While volunteering, I worked at a local NGO. This organisation supports and helps disadvantaged adolescents, who had been the victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, extreme poverty or different forms of physical and mental challenges. The NGO supports these adolescents by providing them with a free education in the catering and hospitality industries, computer coding and graphic design, or an education in hairdressing. I had two main tasks: my mornings consisted of helping the English teachers with their lessons and teaching the students English, and in the afternoons, I would help advertise the NGO, their events, fundraisers and social enterprises.
I have to say that I was very surprised by what I encountered during my first few days. The youth I worked with had been through tough times but they were the most enthusiastic and friendly students I had ever met. From the first moment I entered the door of the classroom, the students welcomed me with such enthusiasm and asked me everything about my hobbies, my family, and my hometown in the Netherlands. Some of them even invited me out for lunch in the following weeks. I had a lot of fun teaching these students English throughout my stay and I genuinely felt they appreciated and enjoyed me being there.
Besides the students, the staff at the NGO was truly amazing as well. On my first day, they welcomed me and were very enthusiastic about meeting me. We had lunch together and everyone really wanted to get to know me. I was surprised at first, because their English was perfect. Imagine my surprise when they told me that most of them learned English on the streets while talking with foreigners and tourists. Throughout my time at this placement, I really felt like I was part of the staff. I had an amazing time helping the English teachers in their classes and supporting the other staff in communication and advertising. I learned a lot at this placement and I feel fortunate that I had the chance to meet and work with all these wonderful people.
Free time in Vietnam
There is a lot of leisure time during the evenings and over weekends for us to enjoy the city of Hanoi, the city’s surroundings and the rest of Vietnam. During the evenings, myself and the other volunteers visited Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Lotte Tower (the biggest tower of Hanoi), the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Women’s Museum, the Military Museum, Lenin Park, The French Quarter, different temples and pagoda’s, the cinema’s, different shopping malls and many more. There is so much to see and do in this wonderful city, that even I was not able to see and experience it all. This gives me a reason to come back in the future!
Although we spent some weekends in Hanoi, most of the weekends we left Hanoi and visited different cities in Vietnam. We were able to book some wonderful trips in Northern Vietnam. Myself and the other volunteers booked several trips to Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue. These trips were amazing and made for a few unforgettable weekends.
My overall trip to Hanoi had a great personal impact on me. My work at the placement really opened my eyes to a different side of Vietnam, one that you would never experience while visiting Hanoi as a tourist. I have learned a lot while working with people from different cultural backgrounds and if I had the chance, I would do it all over again. My stay in Vietnam really broadened my mind and made me a more open person. It truly was the trip of a lifetime.
I will never forget all the wonderful people I have met throughout this journey. Volunteering in Hanoi with Projects Abroad is an experience I really recommend to everyone. It feels like Hanoi has become my second home and I cannot wait to go back there in the future. I would like to thank the Projects Abroad staff one last time for their amazing care, kindness and helpfulness. I will never forget you and I hope we keep in touch in the future. Thank you!