I spent the month of January teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. The decision to go to Vietnam wasn’t a spectacular revelation, nor was it a trip I planned on taking. Thailand’s bordering countries are Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Laos is a bit too untouched for me, Cambodia is a bit too underdeveloped for me, and Myanmar is pretty new to the whole tourist-scene. A trip to Vietnam came about because I figured I could assimilate to the country the best.
Before leaving, I spoke to a few people who told me about how comfortable the living could be in Vietnam if you spoke English, so I decided to look into it. I used Workaway, a website that you can find opportunities to exchange services for accommodations, food, and/or money to find a teaching position. After searching for about an hour, I applied to three positions and hoped for the best. I landed in HCMC and spent the first-week sightseeing. During that first week, I learned a lot about the Vietnamese war, and how strong and resilient the Vietnamese people are. One of the most exciting things about the country was seeing how far it has come while the 20-year war ended only 40 years ago. It was phenomenal to see the people and how receptive they were to tourism and how modern the city was. None of the people I met thought poorly of Americans, and many believed in accepting the past and moving forward toward a better future.
After my fourth day in HCMC I received an offer for a position in a homestay that housed young-adults who were studying or working. The students paid to live in the house and immerse themselves in an environment where they could live and learn amongst English speakers. I was offered lodging, meals, and excursions, all for the small price of teaching my native tongue. I was excited and nervous, so of course, the day I ventured to my homestay was hectic. If you read my last post, you’ll know this was the day I got dropped off and directed toward a dodgy alleyway. Well, once I arrived at the homestay, I couldn’t get in. After knocking on the door for 15 minutes, sweating through my t-shirt, and barely finding a pocket of cell service, I was able to contact one of the managers. He then contacted another manager who was able to let me in. When I walked in, the place was empty except for three students, it was eerily silent, there was no air-con, the wifi was spotty and the beds…oh my goodness. The beds felt like bricks wrapped in foam. Such a fake-out! They looked as if they would be soft, but when you laid on them, they were hard as a rock! If you can’t tell, my arrival wasn’t so great, but once all the residents returned from the camping trip, I met everyone, and things began to look up!
The students were so sweet, and the teachers were some of the coolest people I’ve met. I was chosen to teach the beginners English class because my voice is clear and easy for the students to understand. While I did have a few students who could barely speak English, most of the students could read and write in English. That was great because if a student was having trouble with a word, I could write it out to help them better understand. If I think of the best thing I learned from teaching, it was patience. I learned to have patience with the students because sometimes the language barrier was tough to deal with. I also had to have patience because the students were so eager to learn. I learned about determination because the students never gave up, no matter how frustrated they got. It was so rewarding working with a student on a hard word or phrase. Seeing how excited and proud of themselves, they would be once they perfected it was awesome.
But don’t get it twisted because I don’t want it to sound like my experience was all rainbows and butterflies. There were challenges, such as students coming to me during off-hours or trying to squeeze in late-night lessons. In regards to some of the challenges that came with living in a developing country, I could start by saying that I lived directly next door to people who bred cocks to a cockfight, and of course, the room I stayed in had french doors that opened up to the alleyway. So all day and all night I heard chickens roosting and screeching. To this day I’m not exactly sure how I was able to tune them out. People would FaceTime me and complain about it, and I wouldn’t even know what they were complaining about because I was so used to it! I guess there was also the issue of the Agent Orange rat that would come and go on the first level of the homestay. Yes, it was nuts at first, but then I got used to it. I ended up naming him Jerry and talking about him like a pet because if I didn’t, my mind and soul would not have been able to cope with living with that.
If there was one thing that made it all better (even though it really wasn’t that bad, I swear!!!!), it was the phenomenal food I ate and the people I met. The food in Vietnam was so good, you just have to get used to the we-eat-the-whole-thing mindset they’ve got going on. You know, meaning like eat the whole fish, or eat the entire animal, leave nothing behind. But alas, Vietnam was a fantastic experience, and I’m confident that I’m a better person after meeting Jerry and all the other new people in my life. It was phenomenal to see how other people lived and to see that life doesn’t always have to be pristine to be good. I learned a lot, and hopefully, I left a lot of knowledge behind, like how to correctly pronounce Kardashian and how to use the phrase “What’s up?”