Today I had my last class, and it’s possibly the last time I’ll ever teach in Vietnam, although my gut feeling says that I’ll be back at some stage. I’ve been teaching full time for 10 months in public schools, and it’s been in a small town called Nam Dinh.
Connecting with kids
I’ve loved and hated this experience. It’s been a testing experience, in regards to my physical strength and mental capacity to not just break down into a steaming pile of dog dodo’s. Sometimes I absolutely loved it, others I hated it but I’d say the overall experience was good, great in fact. The kids and Vietnamese teachers have been great, and sometimes even though kids would swear at me verbally and with their fingers, I’ve still loved them.
I think I still need more time to reflect, as I say I only finished teaching about four hours ago, but I’d say one of the greatest achievements is actually connecting with the students. You know that feeling when you pick up a baby and it stops crying and smiles at you… well it’s sort of like that. It’s a feeling of “yes! This kid likes me!” It goes beyond the usual barrage of hello! and hi fives you get, it’s more like understanding each other even though we don’t speak the same language. Some of the younger kids would blatantly just speak Vietnamese to me not realising I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but through the way they said it and their body language, and the fact they’re pointing to something, you get a good idea of what they’re on about. I just answer back in English, and try and help the kids, and it’s great.
In the past I’ve never really known what to say to kids because I’ve never interacted with them, apart from a smattering of music students several years ago. Now I feel pretty confident around them, the answer is simple: just be silly with them, respect them and their needs and be fair with them.
They all love and know the same stuff
I’ve noticed lots of things about the kids here, and I’m still trying to figure out if some of the things I’ve noticed are cultural things, or if it’s just because their English is limited.
They all LOVE k-pop. BTS is very popular here, as is Son Tung M-TP. They all know Katy Perry or Taylor Swift and other famous people or characters like Barack Obama, Trump, Mr Bean, footballers Ronaldo and Messi and Norwegian DJ Alan Walker. But if you were to say “do you know Michael Jackson?” or “do you know Tom Cruise?” they would say no 99% of the time.
I know crazes go through countries and certain age groups, but I’m still wondering why it’s these people they know. Once in a grade 8 class I wanted to teach them different feelings so I played different types of music and asked how each made them feel. I played The Great Gig in the Sky by Pink Floyd, the Last March of the Ents from The Two Towers and dance song Resurrection by PPK. They pretty much disliked them all and most of the comments I got were ‘it makes me feel sad’ or ‘I don’t like it’. I’ve never heard one kid of any age talk about any other artists or musicians apart from the ones listed above, I find that odd and am still wondering why. Despite that I still find the kids intriguing, they usually always seem so happy and I’ve never seen any bullying in the classroom or playground. They seem to just get on better, or maybe they’re just being nice because I’m around. They’ve taught me things and also shown me how lucky I was to have the education I had. They don’t get a bad education here, but some of the classes are big and the facilities aren’t the best, so we do have a it a bit luckier in the west.
It’s worth it
I feel it has all been worth it, and although I’m not officially finished as I need to go to a closing ceremony at 7am tomorrow morning, I’m starting to let my mind wander out of teacher mode and back into traveller/explorer mode. I feel a sense of pride from what I’ve done, but I need to allow myself time to let it all settle in, rather than my normal ‘ok that’s finished now what?’. I want to savour this, and I want to let the feelings settle how they settle, I’m already starting to feel more whole as a person as the reality of what I’ve achieved sinks in.
I’ve written many times about teaching, so you can read in great detail about what specific things have been great or have nearly killed my spirit. Such as being a knackered and overworked English teacher, or the pros and cons of teaching and what even happens in an ESL classroom?
Come and visit Vietnam!
For one final class I had an idea to make a video with students telling you why you should visit Vietnam. I hope you enjoy it and visit this wonderful country. Try teaching too, it’s a experience and you’ll learn more things about yourself, I guarantee it.