Having been prototypical tourists much of our time up Vietnam’s coast, we decided it was time to mix things up a little bit in Hanoi. A couple days before our arrival we hopped on HelpX.net to evaluate our options.
To be honest, I was expecting more of the farm-related opportunities that are so frequent elsewhere in the world – maybe we’d help with a rice paddy? I had no idea.
But that was not to be – there were actually very few listings at all, none of which had anything to do with farming. The ones that were available were in a field in which we had approximately zero combined experience – teaching. Specifically, teaching English.
Fortunately we were pretty versed in the practice of this topic (at least from a speaking standpoint…grammar is another story as we would find out). Teaching not so much, but how hard could it be right??
So we messaged a couple of the listings, heard back from one in south western Hanoi and signed on up! Yeehaw, Hanoi here we come!
Slight tangent – our bus arrived in Hanoi a few hours before our HelpX crew was available leaving us some time to wander the area. We met another couple on the bus and nabbed a bowl of Pho and a coffee with them. Their names are Sacha and Ana (from Germany & Kazakhstan) and they were badasses. And not just because of Sacha’s awesome mustache.
They had bicycled from Prague to Turkey over a 6 month span (yes, bicycled), had just finished 6 months in India and were heading up to Russia mostly via hitchhiking. This after quitting a comfortable lifestyle in the Czech Republic to venture out on their own. It’s hearing stories like this that, even on a long trip of our own, continues to inspire us to keep exploring, keep pushing our limits.
But back to HanoI! Shortly after breakfast we were introduced to our hosts/coordinators Jackie and Lotus, a brother/sister duo who had worked together to create EcoPlus – the language learning center where we’d be working.
We spent the afternoon sipping sweet tea and getting to know both of them – they filled us in on their aspirations and how they thought we could help. It was immediately very clear to us that these two were extremely well-intentioned and kind-hearted individuals and that we had fallen into a good situation.
That night, as would become a nightly ritual, we enjoyed an amazing meal whipped up by Lotus (with the assistance of aspiring chef Jenna). She was determined to have us try as broad a menu of Vietnamese cuisine as possible and over the course of our stay she succeeded. We ate all sorts of chicken, fish, pork, springs rolls, hot pots, noodles, rice, veggies – it was unbelievable. It was fortunate that naps were custom after meals because I needed them…badly.
The next day would be our first teaching so we asked our hosts where we could find the lesson plan they wanted us to teach. Their response: ‘No lesson plan, just pick a topic and teach English’.
We had decided previously that I was going to take the old class (20+ years) and Jenna would take the younger kids – mainly because kids scare Jenna and putting herself through exposure therapy seemed like a great opportunity for character building. Traveling is all about throwing yourself into uncomfortable situations, so here we were.
After having some initial nerves about the whole ‘no lesson plan’ thing, I was immediately relieved upon meeting my absolutely wonderful students.
First thing to know, this was a voluntary English class, meaning they were there on their own accord. This alone says so much about them – they are staunchly determined to better themselves and are willing to take several hours each night out of their busy schedules to do it.
It also certainly makes a teacher’s life more enjoyable if the students want to be there 🙂
Quickly I’d like to introduce my class because their individuality makes it worthwhile (I’ve listed their English names because an attempt to remember the spellings of their Vietnamese names would be embarrassing)…
Nicky – one of the most kind-hearted and determined people I’ve ever met, so determined to improve his English
Alex Barbara – Nicky’s secret girlfriend ;), astute businesswoman with great pronunciation!
Hoa – incredibly infectious smile and positive personality, spent lots of time with us practicing her skills
Belly – an extremely bright and enthusiastic learning, such a positive, happy personality
Scott – Belly’s boyfriend, extremely intelligent and determined to learn as much as he possibly can…about everything. Will be an English teacher for sure!
Lisa – such a sweet girl who was newer to English than the rest of the class, but saw incredible improvement during our time together
Jena – another extremely intelligent girl with an passion for learning, improved her pronunciation greatly
Hayley – a new addition to our class, but at 14 years old she pronounces English words better than I do; amazing skills!
Emily – our newest student (and Lotus’ niece) who made great strides in her first couple classes – such a bright future for her!
During our classes we covered different topics such as job interviews, giving and understand travel directions, talking about hobbies plus even more vital topics like how to sing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Best Day of My Life. These kids are not only talented in language but in vocal skills as well!
It was an absolute pleasure helping them improve and refine their English speaking skills but I fear I may have forced them to regress in the grammar category. They would ask me questions about proper sentence structure or punctuation and I would have no idea what the correct answer was. I would be Google’ing the inquiries mid-class.
Shows how much more there is to a language outside of speaking it on a daily basis!
Jenna’s class was an entirely different animal – although I wasn’t present she told me about the challenges of teaching English to a bunch of 7 year old Vietnamese kids who have the attention of a goldfish.
Fortunately, lessons consisted of 30% work and 70% fun and games. English vocabulary was mixed with lots of songs, screaming, movement and competition. We’d hear the class across the hall and see the kids covered in sweat at the end of each class. By the end of the ten days the kids were more confident in their English, and more importantly, masters of Simon Says and Duck Duck Goose.
Not bad for a rookie teacher and 10 days! Jenna also developed (dare I say it) a soft spot for the “booger eaters” by the end of it.
We also fortunately got to spend time with all the students outside the classroom too. Including a visit to a local orphanage, a private museum tour with Scott and Belly and one delicious ice cream shop with the entire crew. It was great to see them in different situations putting their intelligence and compassion on display.
In particular the orphanage where the students had developed an entire show for the orphans to enjoy which included songs, dances and one really poorly performed ‘Heads, Knees and Shoulders’ rendition by the two visiting Americans. It was overall a really, really touching experience.
Our 10 days went by faster than we could have ever imagined and it was time for us to go (our visa was about to expire…we had to go). We shared what was not a goodbye but rather a see you later with our students because we will without a doubt be back again to see the wonderful things they have accomplished.
So until then, we send our love and best wishes – and we will see you soon! Thanks for an such amazing stay!