Remi Nemeroff - French in Vietnam
I feel that it is appropriate to begin my story by stating that volunteering in Vietnam with Projects Abroad was the best experience of my life. I decided to travel to Vietnam the summer before I entered my final year of high school, in an attempt to learn about the teaching profession and to engage in volunteering abroad. In all honesty, I could not have picked a better programme to participate in. I returned from Vietnam with a new, global and cultural outlook and an appreciation for the many charitable actions that all of the volunteers in Projects Abroad are responsible for.
Living in Vietnam
My accommodation in Hanoi, Vietnam far exceeded my expectations in the best possible way. I had the opportunity to live in a local neighbourhood not too far from the Old Quarter, the main tourist destination in Hanoi. As you enter our residence from the main street, you must walk for about five minutes through winding alleys until you find our door. Inside of our house, we had a spacious living room, a pleasant kitchen and plenty of room to relax.
The entire house consisted of five floors, with 2 bedrooms on each floor, except for the roof, which had our washing machine and clothes line. The house was spotless in terms of cleanliness and we had a fantastic cook named Tuyet. She would prepare a variety of Vietnamese local dishes, but would also make the world's best lasagne! She tailored her cooking to my individual likes and dislikes, which was so kind and considerate of her. Each bedroom has an attached bathroom, so you only have to share it with one other person. The air-conditioning worked great, which is a big plus in hot weather and 90% humidity!
Additionally, one of my fondest memories of the trip revolved around the other volunteers living in the house. We happened to be only girls in the residence throughout my duration in Vietnam (one month) and I quickly became good friends with all of them. We represented six different countries, and we all could not have been happier to be volunteering with Projects Abroad in Hanoi. When we were not working, we would explore Hanoi and travel to nearby vacation spots on weekends. Some of our weekend trips included visits to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to Sapa, a minority village near the Chinese border. In its entirety, the residence was fantastic.
My Teaching Placement
My placement teaching French was at a Vietnamese public school, about a fifteen minute taxi drive away from the volunteer house. Every morning, I would take the same taxi driver to work (who would always be waiting for me!) and then I would take the bus home in the afternoon. I worked Monday through Friday from 8am to around 4pm, and would typically assist the principal teacher in the morning, and then had my own class in the afternoon.
The first week was quite difficult to adjust to: the differences in education style initially shocked me. However as I became more accustomed to their method of learning and as the children learnt that they needed to respect me as their teacher, things quickly ameliorated. By the middle of my trip, I was beginning to see progress in the children, which was a terrific feeling.
The afternoons were also a great experience because I had an entire class to myself. I was able to prepare my own lesson plans for the afternoon sessions, and could direct the class in any particular subject matter. In addition, I was also particularly impressed by the level of French of the students in my class. Some of the students were almost fluent! This made it even better, as I able to aid their improvement in French beyond "Bonjour, comment ca va?"
On my last day, all of the children cried when I told them that I was leaving. It was a very emotional, sad day. As I write this, I wish I was back in Vietnam. I really did get attached to the students in my class."
A little bit of advice for future teaching volunteers would be to prepare to teach discipline the first week you are there. This was the one struggle that I had to overcome. Once the children learn that you are their teacher and should be respected, they will calm down and start to listen. I also brought decorative pencils to give to the students when they would receive full marks on their written essays or if they engaged in French conversation in front of the class.
As for the Projects Abroad staff, they were always available and would respond to any problem, question, or concern within fifteen minutes. Whenever I would call with a simple question, they would spend time explaining the answer to me on the phone in great detail and were eager to continue discussing if I needed any other information.
They also organised group volunteer clean-ups, such as cleaning the local orphanage, and group volunteer outings, such as a trip to the Hanoi waterpark. In addition, I also wanted a tour of the local hospital while I was in Hanoi, and they were more than happy to arrange that and I even had a tour guide!
The staff were easy to talk to, always available, very welcoming, and take the time to show you how to navigate Vietnam. On my first day there as a volunteer, I was introduced to everyone at the office at an induction, and then the manager and I, along with a few other volunteers, went out to lunch and then for a tour of Hanoi. All in all, my trip to Vietnam was fantastic, and I plan to volunteer with Projects Abroad next summer in a different country!