Marianne Volunteered as an English Teacher in Vietnam
First arriving in Vietnam was an absolute shock for me. I’d never been out of Europe before, and so just wasn’t prepared for how radically different it would be in every sense. For a start, there’s the climate. Coming out of the airport, that was the first thing that hit me. Hanoi in summer is extremely hot and humid (temperatures upwards of 40oC), but I eventually got used to being constantly sweaty, although I can’t say I really miss it! Other than that, the language was quite difficult to get to grips with; Vietnamese is a tonal language and so the same word can have several different meanings depending on how you say it. The language barrier got me down a few times, but thankfully I managed to learn some Vietnamese and most people spoke English anyway. Besides, it made me more resilient.
Living in Hanoi was a pleasure. I really miss it. The Old Quarter is charming. Narrow tree lined roads snaking into alleyways, ochre coloured French colonial style buildings with balconies and shutters and a surprising amount of greenery and, generally, colour that I’d never imagine could be in a capital city. I got a real feel for the place, more so than you do travelling; I got to know all the good cafes (where you can drink café sua da: iced black coffee with condensed milk, to which I’m now addicted), street food places (bun cha, barbequed pork with noodle soup was amazing) and activities (water parks, swimming pools, cinemas, shopping…)
One of my favourite memories of Hanoi is, whilst wandering around looking for a bookstore, asking some patrolling policemen for directions and, as well as later being given a lift there, being invited to sit down with them for lunch on the street on the small stools so common in Vietnam. So, I accepted and they offered me all sorts of weird and wonderful dishes. They even offered me some shots of straight vodka (perhaps a bit out of character for police), which I politely declined.
You can sit by Hoan Kiem Lake (the centre of the Old Quarter) but you won’t be on your own for long; Vietnamese people just love practising their English on tourists.
This way I met quite a few Vietnamese people, some of whom became good friends; one, Hanh, showed me his university accommodation halls, took me out to restaurants to try such specialities as fried frog and even taught me to speak basic Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese generally loved that I’d taken the trouble to learn their language; once, whilst waiting for a friend by the fountain, I struck up a conversation in Vietnamese with a post card salesman and the old women sitting nearby were so impressed they gave me some free iced green tea.
Altogether, I had about 20 classes a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. I would have the same classes week to week of kids as young as 3 to teenagers as tall (and taller) than me. There were English textbooks from which to teach, but most of the lessons centred around speaking, spelling or drawing new words on the board, games and songs. This might sound like messing around, but was actually quite tough; you try keeping the attention of 20, quite talkative and lively, children for 50 minutes straight. It involved much jumping around and gesturing which was tiring, but also a lot of fun.
The time eventually came for me to leave, I got a real high from the teachers telling me that the children would miss me because I was ‘funny’ (hopefully they meant comical and not weird) and that they loved me.
One of the teachers bought me a dress as a leaving gift. One class wrote ‘My class love Marianne!’ (remember, I wasn’t teaching them grammar) encircled by a giant heart on the board, and drew a picture of me captioned ‘She’s Marianne, pretty and young!’ Others bought me gifts of chocolate, pens or, oddly most commonly, Pokemon notebooks. It was really fun, and although I was sad to be leaving, I knew it was time to move on.
Discovering Vietnam and how radically different it is from England(I really did fall in love with it) has also made me want to travel more and explore the world and all it has to offer; I will try to do this by undertaking electives in different countries. I would never have been this adventurous had I not been on this placement; it’s really opened my eyes to the world.
I’m really grateful for the funding I received from Lattitude Global Volunteering as otherwise I just wouldn’t have been able to have such an amazing trip. If the funding hadn’t been available, I probably would have stayed working the whole summer, rather than taking what was nothing short of a life changing experience.