vietnam (107)

TAB, thank you.

I always think of the best thing to say in an argument after the fact. Often, the eureka moment occurs in the shower two days later. In the same vein, it is taking me more than a week to absorb and make sense of my TAB experience in Vietnam. I am missing the country terribly, the people, the food, the beach, the liveliness of Da Nang, the students and teachers, my apartment, my motorbike, and the warm weather! I am back in Calgary now, and well underway in my third practicum placement at a middle school in the city. When I arrived back last week, I did not want to be here. I have never really liked November in Calgary. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s gloomy. I wasn’t prepared to deal with the post-TAB blues and November blues at the same time. But life goes on and there is fun to be had and more things to be learned as I dive right into the remaining months of my Education journey!

The nine weeks in Vietnam had their moments of amazing highs and lows. And in between the calm (i.e., strolls along My Khe beach) and the chaos (i.e., end-of-October madness with finishing group projects), the mundane and routine of waking up at 6 am, putting on an ao dai¸ riding a motorbike to the schools, and going to Bac My An market and Lotte Mart for groceries seem to be the ones I am missing the most. Earlier in August, I was chatting with someone who I consider a mentor and we talked about how traveling can be a transformative experience. Did my TAB experience in Vietnam change my life? No. I quickly fell back into my routines and habits shortly after arriving back in Calgary—though a bit of a challenge with the jetlag! I am still either taking my sweet time or rushing, I am still driving my car to school, and I am still missing breakfast. It wasn’t life-changing in that I am still the same person that I was before my departure in August. But what TAB did was it gave me a change of perspective. I am a little more aware, a little more grateful, a little more present, and lot bit more open to embracing uncertainties.

As I read my letter-to-me I wrote during our last pre-departure workshop, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment because I really did what I hoped I would do. For instance, I wrote, “Moments, both the extraordinary (going on trips, presenting at the university, interacting with students and staff) and the mundane (going to the market, eating at a restaurant, walking by the beach) have taught you valuable things you’ll bring back to Canada. I’m sure Vietnam was full of surprises. It must have been exciting, scary, wonderful, and so beautiful!” I did go on weekend trips (Saigon, Dalat, Hoi an, & Hue); I did presentations at the university and at the schools; I religiously went to markets; certainly ate local foods; and unwound at the beach! Vietnam was definitely full of surprises, it was everything I hoped and said it must have been and more!

Settling in the Grade 5 classroom I am placed for Field Experience III has also been a smooth transition post-TAB. The two months of teaching elementary and high school students in Vietnam has made it easier to get into the swing of things such as in lesson planning and establishing a teacher presence in the classroom. I know that I will always refer to my TAB adventures because they would only enhance my future teaching experiences from here on in.

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Xin cảm ơn,

Joyce

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Final thoughts about my TAB journey

So, I’ve been home about 30 hours now and here I sit in my basement apartment in Calgary, it's 2:40am in the morning and the jetlag has me thinking it is midday, and the temperature outside is a balmy -3C but feels like -5. In comparison to where I was just a mere 2 days ago: I was in a 4th floor apartment with a nice balcony in Danang, it’s 3:40pm there, and the temperature is now 24C. It all feels like it was some sort of a crazy dream and I can’t believe how quickly the time went. There were days where it dragged but looking back on things in hindsight I cannot comprehend where the last two months disappeared to!

It’s funny how the universe works, and I think back to how I first heard about TAB. I’m a server part time at a restaurant and one night in late November I was chatting with one of my tables and we got onto the topic of the future. I had just applied to go back to school for my Education degree at Werklund and was quite excited for the next chapter in life and it turns out they were both students at the U of C and so were super happy for me. The conversation paused as I had to go do something for another table but when I got back, we continued our talk. Turns out one of the two ladies had just returned from doing TAB herself and so then we really got into it. She had nothing but positive to say and mentioned the travel grants and funding to make it more affordable. I told them I would think about it because at the time I was just focused on making enough money for my first-year tuition. The seed was planted though and from that day on the idea percolated. Fast forward to first year and the info sessions and my mind was made up- I was going to do TAB no matter what! And fast forward again to the here and now, and what can I say?

TAB was truly an amazing experience that I will look back fondly on forever. There were some challenges and times when it wasn’t so sunny but all in all it was super beneficial. It was almost like an additional extra two months of Field, but without the support and guidance of a Field Advisor and not really the same feedback from partner teachers. It was more of a trial-and-error experiment where we got put into a lead position in an ELL class and told what to teach, and then were left on our own to figure out the how. It was a steep learning curve but by the end we had it dialed in pretty good!

And then on top of the teaching experience there was the cultural immersion and exploring a new landscape on the other side of the globe. Vietnam definitely tops my list for countries I’ve visited, and I see why all my travelling friends say the same. The people, the food, the scenery, the inexpensiveness of it all. The coffee. Oh my, the coffee was good! I could go on and on and I’m sure all of the other TAB students from around the world feel the same about their host countries and their time abroad. We all made memories and had experiences we will cherish for a lifetime and I can’t speak for everyone else, but I would recommend TAB to anyone thinking about options during their time at Werklund. What an amazing adventure! Thanks to Cindy, Claudia, Pam, and Joyce for sharing some of the adventures with me. What a ride!

And putting the experience into the big picture of me as an educator moving forward, my time abroad in TAB will definitely enhance and affect how I approach my students and my teaching/learning in general.  I will continue to be humble and look to them to help guide me because there is a lot I do not know. When I was in Vietnam there were many times where I reached out for support, be it other TABers in Da Nang with me, or family back home, or locals who knew enough English to help translate in to Vietnamese for me so I could get what I was looking for. We are all learning and growing through life together and we cannot do that alone. The more we look to each other, the better able we will be to meet the challenges of our chosen profession. It’s going to be tough, it’s not all going to be sunny, but if we plant seeds and support one another in making things happen, it will work out and the time will continue to fly by!

 

 

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Saying Goodbye

Reflecting on my journey now, after the date has passed when I was supposed to return home, I must acknowledge that saying good-bye to the partner teachers and students at the schools was also one of the hardest parts of leaving Vietnam. I am not sure if that is because I had to leave early or not? Although one would think more time would have just made it harder. Of course, I also miss the hot sunny weather (although I hear it has been rainy lately), the beach, exploring the beautiful sites, the friends I made, and, as I talked about in my last post, my TAB cohort. The gratitude, enthusiasm and acceptance I felt at the two schools I volunteered at in Vietnam, was incredible, and is sincerely missed.

In my second blog post, I wrote about a few of the challenges I encountered, while also noting some of the similarities and differences I found between the schools I experienced in Vietnam and at home, and how I was enjoying making those discoveries. However, in the end, it was the wonderful teachers who worked at the schools, and their enthusiastic students who made my time at the schools truly special. I was impressed with the relationships the teachers had with each other, and their students, as well as how eager they were to include us and ensure we felt welcome. The students were also delightful and for the most part very respectful, although some were a little shy about speaking English.

Furthermore, in our studies with Werklund, we have been reminded numerous times of the importance of forming positive, caring relationships with the students and coworkers at our schools. It was evident that the teachers in the schools we visited in Vietnam valued that importance as well, which is a significant similarity. Hence, the fact that saying good-bye was so hard, and one more reason why the TAB learning experience was well worth the time invested, and why the relationships that were made, will be valued for a lifetime. 

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 Saying goodbye at Hoang Hoa Tham High School.3701831907?profile=RESIZE_710x

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Post-Vietnam Reflections

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My time in Vietnam was not “easy” by any means, but it was so rewarding. I was constantly pushed outside of my comfort zone, especially with the language being so different. Even with Google Translate, communication can be difficult, especially when teaching. Thankfully, much of the communication here is indirect, using facial expressions and body language, so I found that even if I wasn’t able to verbally communicate with someone, there were ways to get my point across and connect. Being in such a different culture definitely makes you feel like a child again, constantly exposed to a different language and alphabet and way of life, especially with the lack of regulation that exists in the country, it’s challenging, but it teaches you a lot. I have learned so much from the Vietnamese people, they are so hardworking, forward-thinking, optimistic and kind. As a culture, they really value family and community, which is a big contrast to the individualism we value in the West. Whether you’re in a school, company, or family setting, the individual always comes second to the group, because the Vietnamese are highly collectivist. Humility is respected, and showing off and egoism is looked down upon. There is a strong sense of duty and sincerity that permeates the culture.

I think what I valued most about my time in Vietnam, is something that I value about travel in general. It is the opportunity to develop your identity away from home, and discover who YOU are, without the context of your home, social groups, family, etc.

If you are debating going to Vietnam for TAB in the future, I think this is a wonderful place to come if you are seeking exciting adventures, and are looking to grow as an individual. You will be challenged, and pushed outside your comfort zone, so make sure that’s what you’re looking for.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and I will miss this beautiful country so much!

-Claudia

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Favourite Memories of Vietnam

I wanted to dedicate a blog post with pictures to show the most memorable moments of my time in Vietnam!

Visiting Hanoi
Hanoi is Vietnams capital city, and is rich in its culture. Its streets are narrow and crowded, and I have never seen so much traffic in my life, but it is an absolutely charming and interesting city.

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Hai Van Pass (Overcoming my fear of motorbikes)
I ended up renting a motorbike after being convinced I wouldn't, because I got used to Vietnamese traffic and I became familiar with my neighborhood and its streets. Even though the motorbike accident I experienced at the beginning of my trip was terrifying, part of my decision to come to Vietnam involved overcoming my fears, and I felt it was important I overcame my fear of driving. After taking some time to get used to the bike I rented, I took it on the pictureresque coastal highway of Hai Van Pass, and it was one of the most beautiful days of my entire life!

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Exploring Son Tra (Monkey Mountain)
I got to see such beautiful views, hidden beaches, hiking trails, and monkeys! This mountain is located just north of Danang, and gives you great views of the city.

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My teaching experiences
The students I worked with were so sweet. Teaching was challenging at parts, because of the communication barrier, but I was able to form wonderful relationships with my students.

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My Khe Beach
I think out of everything I got to experience, what I will miss most is living so close to the beach!

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The Importance of “Family”

I am home now from Vietnam and missing it terribly. I had to return early because, unfortunately, I had some medical issues, and my travel medical insurance pushed me to return as soon as I could travel, or risk not being covered further for any issues related to my illness. I had become sick on October 5 and went to a clinic for assistance on October 7, at which time I was admitted because I had dengue fever. I was extremely dehydrated, and the doctors at the clinic put me on IV fluids for several days to ensure that my condition improved and did not reach a critical stage. While that may seem scary to those of you who are reading this, I will assure you I received excellent care at the clinic, which had English speaking staff, much appreciated support from Dr. Dressler, and more importantly I had the help of my TAB cohort who rushed to be with me as soon as they found out I was at the clinic. That is why I wish not to focus on my illness, but on the relationships, you can form during the fantastic experience that is Teaching Across Borders.

I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful group with me in Vietnam and do not know how I would have managed without them. From day one, we had open, honest conversations about how we were feeling (sometimes when it came to issues we had with something we ate maybe too open but…that was all right), and we were there to assist each other when needed. When I became sick with dengue, not only did they come to visit me, two of them insisted on staying the first few nights to make sure I was all right, they helped me with groceries and other errands when I was released but still required to rest, and they brought Thanksgiving supper to me to make sure we could all celebrate together. I will forever be grateful for everything they did to help me when I needed it. As much as I came to love Vietnam, and especially Da Nang, for its beauty and the wonderful, kind, and generous people I met there, I will have to say, I came to love my quirky little TAB “family” just as much. This was not a part of TAB I had given much thought, as I was focused on the time spent at the schools and what I could learn there; as well as finding time to explore Vietnam to gain as much insight into the culture and history as I could before returning home, but in the end, it was one of my favourite parts of the experience.

That being said, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for the opportunity I was given, to participate in TAB. The learning, the experiences, and as I expressed, the relationships will never be forgotten. Even though my experience did not have the best ending, I would do it all over again in a minute. Being home is nice, but incredible experiences like TAB may not always be available, so I would urge anyone considering it, if you have the means, go for it! Moreover, although I had looked forward to TAB since my first year as a student in the four-year community-based stream (in other words, a long time!), I confess I had second thoughts about applying last fall. I had some concerns after reading one blog post that said, “don’t apply if you are not very adventurous,” which I am not as a rule, so I was concerned whether I should attempt to take part in TAB. Reflecting now, I think I provide a great example of someone who is not overly adventurous, who has never been away from home for more than two weeks, who successfully navigated the TAB experience even with setbacks. I will say again; I have no regrets, other than I had to come home early. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that, if possible, should not be missed!

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Vietnam TAB group at the primary school.

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Thanksgiving supper at my apartment.

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My last supper in Vietnam, overlooking the Dragon Bridge with some of my favourite people.

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School Happenings

Note: I started writing this blog post in the middle of October on my phone, as I do when I just want to jot down some notes. My phone, however, broke—it got submerged in water while doing laundry. I was without a phone for about a week, which I wouldn’t normally fret about if I was back home in Calgary, but I used my phone to navigate my way through Vietnam, both literally and figuratively!! Thankfully, I got it fixed. Then, as I was riding my motorbike from the university back to my apartment, rain poured and water got into my phone yet again, messing up its capacitive touch screen! It has been a whirlwind of emotions with my phone as you can imagine! (I highly recommend future TABers going to Vietnam to bring one of those splash packs for your phones!) But here I am, back at it with this post as I wait for my flight out in Saigon.

 

The past two weeks were filled with teaching and schools events, group meetings to plan learning tasks, some rain, and a little bit of mosquito paranoia.

In my previous blogpost, I had mentioned that my number one goal for my last month here is to strengthen the relationships I have built with teachers and students. The school events that we’ve attended certainly facilitated this, providing us the opportunities to plan activities with teachers and to interact with them more frequently. I would also like to note that it isn’t just the relationship I have with teachers and students that is strengthening, but also my relationships with my TAB cohort. We all live in our own apartments and though we live relatively close to one another, we don’t get the chance to see each other everyday. I feel like we’ve only just begun and that we’re just starting to get to really know each other...and we have two weeks left.

For this post, I’d like to focus and share with you the different school activities I facilitated and the events I attended. There is no question that these were meaningful experiences. They allowed me to get a glimpse of the “real” Vietnam in terms of local food, student life, and teacher life.

 

English club October Session at the High School

The high school once again held an English Club session earlier this month. During the September session, Darren and I presented about Canada and shared some cultural and geographical information about our country. We also briefly discussed about the education system in Alberta (pictures included in my previous post). This time around, the students took on the lead and presented about various aspects of Vietnamese culture in groups. This wasn’t just a regular presentation in that they didn’t just tell me about local foods, they actually brought some for me to try! What an experience! After each group’s presentation, I was requested to ask question which allowed students to further practice their conversational English.

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English Conversation at the University

The University of Science and Education — Danang also hosted an English Club session in the afternoon after the event at the high school. Student representatives from different faculties, as well as our university liaison, we’re in attendance. Similarly, it was an afternoon of cultural exchange. The student president of the English club presented and talked about Vietnam and we about Canada. Darren even brought some maple fudge for the students to try!

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English Club Competition at the Elementary School

The elementary school held their own version of English Club a few days after the events at the other schools—it was a busy week for us! Our partner teachers at asked us to plan and facilitate competitive English games for students in Grades 4 and 5. It was organized so that there are three teams of 15 made up of the best-performing students from Grades 4/5. The remaining students were also in attendance as part of the audience cheering their classmates on! We came up with three activities for the students to partake in: a category relay race, trivia questions, and word make up. The event was a success! Students really got into the activities that the board fell over at one point because they were writing so much!

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Women's Day Celebration

Vietnam celebrates Women’s Day on October 20. On this day, women are given flowers! Flower stands come out on the side of the roads for people, young and old, to buy flowers for the women in their lives. On Saturday, October 19, we were invited to attend a Women’s Day celebration at the elementary school. Teachers put on dance performances, participated in a cooking competition, and sang karaoke. We were asked to judge the dancing and the cooking competition which proved to be challenging as everything looked and tasted so delicious (see photos below)! This event gave me a glimpse of teacher life in Vietnam. I saw a sense of community, camaraderie, and familial closeness among the teachers which, we discussed in our cohort, we’ve never observed in Canada. This was a remarkable experience I will treasure!

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Sunshine and lollipops

TAB has been, and I will always remember it as, an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade for the world!

The opportunity to spend two months in a different culture and get some extra experience in the field before becoming a teacher myself has been extremely fulfilling. I’ve met some great people, seen some amazing things, and had many great adventures during my time in Vietnam. All that being said though, it has also been tough at times and I want to touch on that for this blog post.

As much as I want to paint it ALL with rose coloured glasses and nothing but awesome, there have been times where it has been hard, and I wished I was back at home. Close to loved ones and friends, not to mention the comforts of home. My fiancé. My mom and sister and her family. My dog. My bed. I just want to be honest and upfront for anyone who’s reading these blogs looking into what the TAB program and traveling away from home for an extended period of time is all about. I personally didn’t read any of last year’s blog posts before coming here and I’m curious now to know if any of the writers last year touched on the negative aspects of their trip. And sorry Mike and Dr. Dressler if this goes against what you were hoping we’d use our blog space for, but I think it needs to be said.

I’ve travelled lots in the past, often for close to a year away from home, but in hindsight most of those trips were with a partner.  As I’ve aged, the importance of connections with those who are close to me has grown and so this time doing a trip ‘solo’ has been a challenge. My TAB family was (and is!) great and were definitely there for me but still….. Maybe it’s getting older and wondering how many more days I have to share with my loved ones, I don’t know?? It for sure had to do with just getting engaged this past summer and being away from face-to-face time with my partner. It sucked let me tell you! Bless the internet and video calls but nothing beats being in a room with someone and having all of your senses engaged. Could just be that I’m at a different stage in my life and I’m starting to ‘settle down’. I don’t know. I guess I’m just saying that it was challenging being on the other side of the planet from my people. Something (if you’re a new traveller) you should keep in mind. But again, let me reiterate what I said at the start, the positives WAY outweighed the negatives and this TAB experience is one that I will always cherish. Hands down. I’ve tried to live my life jumping at opportunities and this trip has been no different. I have lived it to the fullest, both the good and the bad.

 

I guess I just want you to be warned, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops.

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(Bon) Voyage, Vietnam

Hello fellow TABers!

Goodness gracious! Where has the time gone?! It feels like I have only been in Vietnam for 9 DAYS, not 9 WEEKS. 

Aside from the demands of our school work both online and in-class, I believe two elements have resulted in the time flashing before my eyes: familiarity and comfortability. When arriving to this beautiful country 9 weeks ago, I looked around my immediate surroundings and felt absolutely lost. I had no idea exactly where I was (both physically and emotionally), and I had no idea when I was going to be found. It was equally exciting as it was absolutely terrifying to be so distant from the people, places, and things that made me feel familar and comfortable. Part of the reason I wanted to pursue this opportunity was to be far removed from my comfort zone and allow myself the chance to expand those dimensions through experience. After taking the first few days to involve myself with my new surroundings, I began to feel those senses of familiarity and comfortability once again. This process started slow, but it had grown and evolved into something I could not of imagined it to be.

Through this physical and emotional expansion of my new environment, I had begun to realize that Da Nang is quite similar to Calgary. The land occupancy, population, location to natural resources and tourist attractions, and layout of certain areas of the city continuously reminded of two things: home is not as far away as I once thought it was and home is not a place, but it's a feeling. Yes, I had mentioned in my previous blog post that I was situated 11,492km away from home and I felt waves of homesickness, but I am beginning to brace myself for a homesickness from my new home. As quickly as I have moved into Vietnam and called it home, I have to move away from it and return to my other home.

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This image was taken during a hike in Bach Ma National Park during the last weekend in Vietnam. The image, for me, represents many contrasting metaphors I have felt and experienced during my time in this beautiful place: lost and found; aware and unaware; tranquility and anxiety; near and far; knowing and unknowing (to name a few).

Vietnam, you have been my best dream and my worse nightmare (at times). You have pushed me beyond the limits I never knew existed. If this was a test (and trust me, there were instances where that felt to be the case), then I passed with flying colours. You have helped me grow emotionally and spiritually as a person. You have significantly altered the ways in which I perceive and conceive of the worlds around me. I cannot thank you enough for what you and the lovely people, places, and things contained within, have done for me. I will not forget you.

Now, time to pack up and make our way back to Canada in the next 48 hours ... Until we meet again.

Pamela

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A few notes on the Teaching Styles of Vietnam

So for this post, I want to touch on the teaching aspect of my time with TAB in Vietnam.

 

I have taught ELL in Asia before, in both South Korea and Taiwan, and so have been exposed to the teaching styles and pedagogies over here so it didn’t come as a surprise to me. I knew what I was getting into and so I shared that information with my fellow TAB cohort when we first arrived because two of my fellow TABers are taking ELL as their concentrations. I thought I should give them a heads up as to what to expect.

I find the teaching approaches and strategies used here to be quite challenging, to say the least. It is a very traditional approach where the teacher is the focus and ‘expert’ at the front of the room and especially being a native English speaker, this tends to be even more the case. Classrooms are set up with desks in neat rows and columns and there is little room for movement or alternative setups. A reality of the physical space classrooms hold here. And there is little room for a student to express themselves and share their unique experiences and thoughts.

 

When I previously taught ELL in Asia, I tried to increase understanding and further an actual knowledge transfer by expanding on the texts and scenarios used in the English workbooks used in class. That failed miserably! My experience the first go around was that school administrators and parents wanted to hear their children ‘parrot back’ phrases and sentences from the workbooks but did not want to make sure there was actual understanding of what was being said. And I can relate to what students may be feeling because when I moved to Ottawa for the start of grade 7, I took core French where we were conjugating verbs in past participle tense. I had no idea of the words themselves, but I knew if it was je, I added …ais, if it was tu, I added …ait, and so on. It wasn’t until grade 8 or 9 that I learned parler was the verb to speak!

 

And so, I find English teaching here to be a challenge. You can’t stray from the text in the box. Many students have no idea what they’re saying but can make the sounds and words. It’s a lot of repeat after me. Perhaps if I were to stay for an extended period of time to see the development of language in students over the course of years, I would feel better. But not knowing effective approaches to use for ELL teaching and having to follow a specific page in a workbook that I only teach from once a week regardless, I don’t see that growth.

 

Not to scare anyone off from coming to Vietnam for TAB because it has been an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, but just so you know, repeat after me is key!

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Settling in

          Wow! What a country. The first couple of days I was hit by a wall of heat and humidity and that took quite a while to get accustomed to. Not sure if I will become used to it or not but going back to Calgary at the beginning of November will be just as much of a shock to the system as adjusting to the climate changes coming here have been.

            It took me some time to get settled and used to my new neighborhood, but I’ve settled in quite nicely. I am approximately 3 km away from the other TAB students here and in the first few days I contemplated moving closer to them. I only booked my AirBnB for one night during my overnight layover in Hong Kong while enroute to Vietnam. September and October are not the tourist season here so there is no shortage of places to stay. Having travelled a lot in the past, I was comfortable not knowing exactly where I would end up and placed greater importance on getting here and assessing the ‘vibe’ of where I wanted to live. I am happy with where I have chosen. It isn’t as in the thick of the expat and foreigner section of Danang like where the other TABers are. There are other Caucasians I see in my area, but we are most definitely in the minority. And my neighbourhood is a little older than where the other TAB students are, so I’m not inundated with the noise and clamour of construction every day. There’s a charm and cultural immersion that I feel I’m getting more experience to here. But everywhere is great.

            This country is beautiful, and the people are open and welcoming. The food, the prices, the weather, the sights. I can’t complain! The time is running too quickly and I’ll be home before I know it. I need to stay focused and experience as much as I can while I’m still here. Keep posted.

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Views of the Visitors in Vietnam

Hello fellow TABers,

Wow! Where has this month gone?! It's crazy to think that we are entering the last two weeks of this wonderful opportunity! 

Lately, I have been feeling an array of emotions. I have been feeling both happiness and sadness in a couple of regards. I feel happiness because Vietnam is such a beautiful country. The people are so generous and warm-hearted, the food is absolutely delicious, the weather has been (for the most part) in our favour consisting of continuous sunny and summer-like days, and the sights that have been seen will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am also experiencing happiness because I am looking forward to seeing my dearest friends and family upon my return home. Participating in this experience has required me to be the farthest and longest away from home. In total, the trip has (only) been 74 days and 11,492 kilometers away from home respectively (but who's counting?!). It was something I knew very well to be the case prior to my departure, but I am forever grateful I decided to take that leap out of my comfort zone and participate in this experience with this wonderful group of people.

Equally, I am feeling sadness for the same reasons that I am feeling happiness. It saddens me to think that in two week's time, we will be leaving this beautiful country with all of its' exquisite features. We will have to take the time to adjust back to Canadian life: the temperature, the cost of living, and the convenience of being walking distance from natural and public resources just to name a few. It has equally sadden me (at certain points) that I have been so far away from home for so long. During this prolonged absence, two events have taken place in my life that I experienced for the first time away from home: my birthday and Thanksgiving. Although I wasn't with my immediate friends and family to enjoy these experiences this year, I was extremely grateful to have been with with four other individuals whom I have had the great pleasure of spending my time with and getting to know very well over the course of this journey.

As a collective, there have been some hardships and adversities that came our way. From getting into a motorcycle accident, to receiving a high-risk fever, feeling waves of homesickness, and being extremely overwhelmed (and confused) with our online coursework, we came together and helped one another when it was needed most. I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for these individuals. Thank you kindly for everything that has been done for one another. It has certainly eased the most difficult of times that have been experienced.

Here, I have some images of us visitors in Vietnam. Although there have been events that were not experienced by the collective during this opportunity, a few of my most memorable events were shared with this group: 

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This was the first day we wore our traditional dresses after they were tailored. Everybody was excited to see us in this beautiful attire. We had received handfuls of compliments from the teaching staff at the primary school. Many teachers and administrative staff wanted to equally take pictures with us and take pictures for us.

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This was (one of) the first dinners we had as a cohort. This dinner was held at a restaurant that was in direct view of the Han River (the river that separates the mainland and the "island" of Da Nang). The view was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the company was excellent.

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This was our Thanksgiving dinner. We (attempted) to have dinner on the rooftop patio of Cindy's apartment that had a tremendous view looking into the mainland, however mother nature did not want that to be the case. It began to torrential down pour in a matter of seconds, so we had to (quickly) relocate indoors for this meal. Aside from our clothes, everything else (ie. the food) was saved from the rain. 

It has been a bit of a rollercoaster at times, but I am glad we were all riding in the same cart. Thank you once again TAB Vietnam 2019. You have made this experience one I will not forget!

Pamela

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Culture

The halfway point of our TAB experience has come and gone, and while I have already engaged in a considerable amount of cultural learning, I hope to continue to acquire even more knowledge and understanding during my last month here in Vietnam. Up until this point, I have had the opportunity to experience the culture and learn about history in a variety of ways. Whether it be from visiting four of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and numerous other temples, museums, and architectural sites, to everyday activities such as visiting the markets, eating the incredible food, travelling through the crazy traffic on the back of a motorbike (I use Grab bike because I am not brave enough to drive myself), or of course, experiencing teaching and learning in the schools; I find myself immersed in the culture here in Vietnam, and I am growing to appreciate this amazing place and the kind, generous people who live here more every day. 

The UNESCO sites I have been to are incredible, and they include three cultural sites, Hoi An Ancient Town, My Son Sanctuary, and Trang An Landscape Complex, which is listed as both cultural and natural. Hoi An Ancient Town is a well-preserved South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. It contains a fusion of Indigenous elements, religious buildings, and European influences. Similarly, My Son Sanctuary provides a thought-provoking example of a cultural interchange that occurred from the 4th to 13th century CE between the Indigenous Champa civilization and external cultural influences such as Hindu art and religion. We are very fortunate that Hoi an and My Son are both very close to Da Nang, making them easily accessible during our TAB placement. Trang An Landscape complex is located farther away by Ninh Binh, but it is also an incredible location to visit, to learn about the early humans who inhabited that area and view the amazing natural beauty of the tower-karst landscape. Then, the fifth cultural UNESCO site I had planned to visit was the Complex of Hué Monuments, which is only two hours from Da Nang as well. Hué was the capital of Viet Nam, and a major cultural and religious center under the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 until 1945. It contains the Hué citadel area, pagodas, and several tombs of the dynasty’s emperors that are all open to visitors. If you wish to know more about any of these UNESCO sites, or Ha Long Bay, which is another natural site I visited, and the three other sites in Vietnam that I, unfortunately, will not get to visit on this trip, you can visit: https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/vn to read more. 

As stated, I have also visited several museums and temples, in addition to viewing the incredibly diverse architecture that is seen here in Vietnam. While Da Nang is a little more modern city that is growing very fast, you can still see the Asian influences as well as that of the European colonizers. Taking tours to the different sites with some of the areas great guides, who are willing to share their knowledge and insight, has been another great way to learn more about the culture here. However, living here and just experiencing all the everyday occurrences for the period we are here is probably providing me with the most understanding, as lived experiences are always the best way to learn. It is for that reason that I will keep trying to “live” life here in Vietnam to the fullest, to absorb, and learn as much as I can before it is time to leave. 

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 Monkey Mountain

           

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      So, here I am, writing my first blog post related to how I was feeling pre-trip in anticipation of heading to Vietnam for 2 months.

 

     Looking back on it, I was quite excited to get back to Asia as I have had previous experience teaching ELL in both South Korea and Taiwan. My first trip is almost 20 years past and the second was more than a decade ago so needless to say it's been quite a while since I've been in southeast Asia! And in recent years my travels have only been a week or three in length so I was quite excited to be gone for an extended period of time. I feel trips of only a few weeks don't give a person the chance to truly experience and learn about the culture in which they are traveling. Being here for 2 months will definitely give me ample opportunity to delve into the culture and get a sense of what life is all about in Vietnam.

      Coming into my trip, one thing I feel is a blessing as well as a curse is the advent of the smartphone. The last time I explored Asia there were only cell phones and so there was more of a sense of the unknown and mystery in traveling. There were Lonely Planet type guide books but I often found myself wandering in kind of the right direction but armed with only a vague map of a giant area. And then not speaking the language often meant hand gestures and charades were the main tools in getting what you needed or where you had to go. There was magic in being put back into the feeling of infancy where you can't talk or communicate well and you're seeing things as if for the first time. There is definitely still a sense of amazement but with apps like Google translate and maps, some of the mystery has disappeared. Nonetheless, before I left I made a vow with myself to explore as much as possible and put myself out there without the reliance on technology to 'hold my hand' every step of the way. Another promise I made was to truly experience the culture and interact with locals as much as possible to enrich my cultural experience. A city like Danang has exploded with foreigners in the last decade or so and it would be easy to stick to familiar foods and scenes and people. But that isn't what I want this experience to be. I want to try and feel what existing here would truly be like. A tall order for a short 2 month stay but something I aspire to!

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Traffic In Vietnam

I can’t believe we have already gone past the halfway point in our placements. I have been completely enjoying Vietnam, immersed in my new routines way of life, and already I am leaving so soon. For today’s blog post, I wanted to share what I have learned about getting around in Vietnam.

First, getting around in a motorized vehicle. Most people use motorbikes to get around here, although there are still plenty of cars around. The Vietnamese drive on the right-hand side (for the most part) but the driving is nowhere near as structured or regulated as in Canada. There are hardly ever any traffic lights, or stop signs here, so virtually every intersection is what we would call in Canada an “uncontrolled intersection”. Right of way is determined intuitively, instead of by rules. Typically, people just drive/walk wherever they need to go, and merge and flow with one another without ever stopping. It seems chaotic to a non-native, but it’s actually rather harmonious, and it works! I haven’t seen a single traffic jam in my time here, drivers will slow down and weave around each other, but they rarely come to full stops. Watching large intersections, especially traffic circles, is fascinating because although there's 100 or so people going in different directions, drivers and pedestrians find a way to move fluidly around each other, regardless of the direction they’re going in.

Since I have not rented a motorbike (and instead use GrabBike, the local motorbike taxi app for long distances), I find myself walking frequently. When I first got here, I thought being a pedestrian was impossible, due to the busy roads and lack of sidewalks. If you stand off to the side, and look at the road, it seems intimidating to walk on, due to the flurry of motorbikes and occasional cars, whizzing by and taking up the entirety of the road. I’ve come to realize, however, that being a pedestrian is totally possible, just not as common as using motorbikes. Although there isn’t always a designated path for pedestrians, you just have to make your own! Whether you’re crossing the street or walking on it, it is important to keep an assertive, and steady stride, creating your own lane on the road. No one will hit you, and the road is just as much yours as it is a motorized vehicle’s. I have learned to not fear taking up space, while being aware and mindful or the people around me. I usually walk on the far right hand side of the road, and people adjust their trajectory accordingly to avoid a collision with me. It’s a little scary and intimidating initially, but once you get the hang of it, it starts to come naturally and easily.

Of course, another thing to get used to about Vietnamese traffic is all the honking! Everywhere you go, everyone is beeping, and it’s worth noting that this is perfectly normal here. In Canada, beeping is rarely used, and it’s mostly used passive-agressively, when a driver feels you have inconvenienced them. If honking in Canada was a spoken phrase it would probably be “seriously?!?!” Here, the beeping is used as a cautionary announcement that you’re about to pass someone, that you’re switching lanes, that you’re about to move forward in a traffic circle, etc. If beeping was a spoken phrase here, it would be more like “Coming through!” Given that the traffic is so hectic, and there’s dozens of people around you going different directions, the beeping helps keep everyone safe, it gives an auditory announcement of your intention to come through with speed, and lets everyone know what direction you’re coming from. So don’t take it personally if everyone if it seems like everyone is honking at you when you first step on the street here, they’re not honking at you, and you’re not doing anything wrong. They’re just giving you a helpful warning they are coming close to you, and want to make you aware of their trajectory.

That’s all I have to share for now, thanks for reading!

Now back to making the most of my last 20 days here...

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Where did September go? It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through our TAB journey, it seems like it was just yesterday when we were attending our pre-departure workshops with excitement, worries, and everything in between.

I am fortunate to have partner teachers who are welcoming and encouraging to my ideas, while still constructive in their observations and feedback. Having partner teachers who are understanding (and don’t demand too much) eases the work load (and stress) associated with our TAB commitments. In terms of my teaching experiences so far, there are many things I have had to remind myself repeatedly. Herewith are two examples:

  • English teaching abroad is different from teaching English language learners in Canada. This is where the distinction between EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESL/EAL (English as Second Language/English as an Additional Language) really presents itself. There are times (many times!) when I feel like I have no valuable contribution to the English learning of my students here. I largely draw from my experiences supporting immigrant and refugee youths back in Calgary with their English language development for teaching techniques. However, the same techniques don’t seem to be effective here. As an English language teacher, it is important to note that the very short time in the day I have with them is the only time they are able to use English. The opportunity to immerse themselves in the language is very limited compared to English language learners in Canada where English is ubiquitous in their surroundings. So, how do I deal with this? Slow down, repeat, smile, be patient. Did I mention repeat?
  • People have different reasons/goals/motivations for learning English. I came into these classrooms with my strong belief in the communicative purpose of language learning. And this belief presented itself in my approaches and methods: encourage students to just speak, don’t correct pronunciation/grammar (as long as I understood them), teacher talk less & maximize student speaking time. This did not match the students’ goals. In their English classes, there is heavy emphasis on accuracy (as opposed to fluency) and grammar—because this is what they are tested on in their university entrance exams. So, what was I advised to do? Correct pronunciation (I had to brush up on my IPAs!), stresses, and grammar. Through this, a question emerged: how often should I correct? I welcome advice and suggestions!

An indication that I feel at home is when I know my way around a grocery store (what they sell, where things are, etc.). And I am happy to report that I definitely know my way around Lotte Mart—a sign that Da Nang is starting to feel like home! Now that I’ve established a routine (sort of) and have gotten familiar to my surroundings such as navigating my way through traffic and knowing the fastest routes to get to the schools, my goals for October is to strengthen the relationships I have already established with teachers and students, and really make the most of the remaining time I have here. This means working harder to remember students’ names, engaging in meaningful informal conversations to get to know them more, checking-in, asking for feedback, and planning purposeful lessons.

To give you a visual update of what I (and the 2019 TAB Vietnam cohort) have been up to, I’m going to leave you with some photos to end my post. Enjoy!

3648760336?profile=RESIZE_710xDarren and I joined the high school's English Club's September session. We talked about Canada's geography, landscapes, FNMI, education system, student life, holidays, sports, and other things!

3648764568?profile=RESIZE_710xClaudia and I are partnered up to teach English to Grade 2s and Grade 4s at the elementary school. Here she is playing hangman with the Grade 4s to review the vocabulary we learned in the previous lesson. They learned the names of different countries and nationalities.

3648768630?profile=RESIZE_710xPlanning our interdisciplinary learning design at Cindy's apartment building. It has a rooftop patio!

3648770313?profile=RESIZE_710xGrades 2s working on their activity book. We are reviewing the letter 'O'.

3648771377?profile=RESIZE_710xDiscussing our interdisciplinary learning design after dinner. Darren couldn't meet in person so we had him on video call!

 

Until next post,

Joyce

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Vehicles in Vietnam

Hello fellow TABers!

Congrats! We have made it to the halfway point of our adventures! I hope everyone is having an excellent time so far!

In this post, I would like to share some of my experiences with respect to vechiles in Vietnam. 

When driving in Vietnam, there really only seems to be two rules: don't let others hit you with their vehicle and don't let vehicles hit you. The culture of driving in Vietnam is NOTHING like it is back home. There are indicators such as driving and walking lights for drivers and pedestrians, however they appear to be mere recommendations and suggestions to primarily drivers. The experiences you have being a pedestrian and being a passenger in Vietnam are polar opposites. For instance, when you a pedestrian, you do NOT have the right-of-way when it comes to crossing the street. It is your responsibility to wait for your break in the road in order to get across and dodge any vehicles that may be coming your way. However, when you are the passenger, you must put your trust into motorcycle or taxi driver that they will not side-swipe or hit any other vehicles or pedestrians on the road. 

For those who are planning to travel to Vietnam, whether it be for Teaching Across Boarders in the future, for future employment opportunities, or for leisure, I have a couple of pieces of advice for you. First and foremost, be assertive and confident when crossing the street. This can be accomplished by waiting for your break (no matter how small it may be) and walking at a steady and consistent pace when crossing the street. The second piece of advice is to be trusting of those who are the drivers taking you from your locations. Given the chaos on the roads in terms of the quality and quantity of drivers, it may be a little difficult to feel at ease the first couple of times you are a passenger (especially on a motorbike). These drivers are well-trained to ensure that you will arrive to your destination as quickly and as safely as possible. Finally (and most obviously), ensure that however way you want or need to travel, you are being safe. This includes wearing a seatbelt in a taxi, wearing a helmet on a motorbike, and wearing appropriate clothing and footwear while crossing the street to minimize the likelihood of tripping, falling, and losing anything on the road while you commute.

Thank you for your time. Continue to enjoy your adventures. I look forwward to hearing, seeing, and reading all about them!

Pamela

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Xin chào (Hello)

It is hard to believe I have been in Vietnam for four weeks already because the time is passing very quickly. Even so, I will admit I am missing my family a little. This is the longest I have been away from home (other than college), and I find some days are harder than others, especially now that the workload for our courses is increasing and everyday tasks need attention because I am no longer in tourist mode. However, I am striving to find a balance between work and play, even though it does not come easy to me, and I will continue to work on that skill so that I can continue to explore this wonderful place that is so very different from home, but also in many ways quite similar.

The similarities, for example, are very apparent in the classrooms I am volunteering in here in Da Nang. I am excited to be working with students in grades three, five, eleven and twelve; and even though the class sizes are larger than what I am used to, the instruction we are providing here is very teacher-centred with little to no technology available, and the students all stand to greet me, and say good-bye, in every class I enter and exit (I already know I will miss that); the student's personalities and interests still remind me of every other classroom I have been in at home. Moreover, while I am still finding that the language barrier can be quite challenging for me because I lack experience in working with ELL students, I am very grateful for the experience I am obtaining here, and I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to get to know the students. Fortunately, the students have also been very understanding and helpful, and just like at home, appreciate when you give them the opportunity to teach you; whether it be speaking some Vietnamese, informing you of what Vietnamese foods to try, or encouraging them to provide you with advice as to how you can improve your ability to assist them.

Therefore, with that assistance from the students and my partner teachers I hope that I can continue to make progress in all the areas I wish to develop, to build my confidence and find my voice, as well as strengthen my pedagogy so that when I return home I will be even better equipped to address the needs of all my students' in the future. In addition, I hope to continue to find time to explore this very different, but similar, remarkable place before I return home in November.

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Crab fishing in a traditional bamboo boat on the way to a cooking class.

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The setting for the cooking class just outside Hoi An.

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Hoi An

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The beach that is only a five-minute walk away from my apartment.

 

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21 days in, 21 things I've learned

Hello, hello!

It has been three weeks since I arrived in Da Nang and I am learning something new everyday. In honour of the 21 days I’ve spent in this beautiful city, here are 21 things I’ve learned so far:

On education:

  1. Education in Vietnam is divided into 5 levels:
    • Preschool: pre-K – Kindergarten
    • Primary: Grade 1 – Grade 5
    • Secondary: Grade 6 – Grade 9
    • High School: Grade 10 – Grade 12
    • Post-graduate (higher education): university/college
  2. Students take an entrance exam for high school in Grade 9. Their score in this test determines the school at which they can enroll. Basically, the higher the score, the more prestigious the school. In addition, students with high scores are placed in “advanced” classes, whereas average-performing students are placed in regular classes.
  3. High school students in “advanced” classes get more subject-specific class times. For instance, in the high school I am teaching at, advanced students get 4 periods of English a week, compared to the 3 periods regular students get.
  4. Students either go to school in the morning or in the afternoon and get about 4.5 hours of school time a day. At my high school, morning school hours run from 7:00 – 11:30 am and afternoon students have classes from 12:30 – 5:00 pm.
  5. Students attending state-schools in Vietnam wear school uniforms. Uniforms are the same throughout the country.
  6. Teachers have impeccable handwriting.
  7. Female teachers wear traditional dresses, called áo dài (pronounced ow y-eye). Male teachers wear office-appropriate clothing. 3597411443?profile=RESIZE_710x                                                                                                   TAB students and our partner teachers at the elementary school.
  8. The country’s Ministry of Education and Training creates all the textbooks students use. This means all students in Vietnam learn the same content. 3597427028?profile=RESIZE_710x                                                                                                 Grade 4 English workbook (left) and Grade 2 English workbook (right).
  9. Like in Canadian classrooms, teachers implement different techniques to discipline students. Here, the stick is still present.
  10. Nothing beats the big smiles and enthusiasm of the students (both elementary and high school) once they see us enter the classroom. Their eagerness to learn and their excitement to be able to practice their English with native speakers is so motivating.
  11. The end of each period is signalled not by a school bell, but by the banging of a drum located at the centre of the school. This may not be a Vietnam-wide practice, but this is the case in the elementary and high schools we are teaching at.
  12. Teachers pay (out of their own pockets) to photocopy student handouts. At the end of the semester, students pay the teachers back.

On life in the city:

  1. Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is a nightmare. Because Da Nang is not as big as these two major cities in Vietnam (3rd largest city by population), traffic is not as chaotic. Still, traffic is an organized chaos. Which brings me to my next points:
  2. Crossing the street is a whole another adventure. It requires skills and (a lot of) practice to master.
  3. NEVER change your pace while crossing. Drivers and motorbike/scooter riders anticipate your location to avoid hitting you.
  4. Motorbikes. Motorbikes everywhere.3597705253?profile=RESIZE_710x                                                                                                                                              My ride for the two months.
  5. Riding or scooting? Better stay in the right lane.
  6. Mì Quảng or Mỳ Quảng. Forget pho (I’m only kidding, pho is delicious), this is Da Nang’s local noodle dish. Rice noodles, various herbs and meat nestled in a small amount of turmeric broth. Trust me, it’s delightful.3597721910?profile=RESIZE_710x
  7. The district we are living in boasts hotels, apartments, and restaurants. It is the foreigner district after all. And it isn’t done yet, there is a lot of construction. On the bright side, the noise is my alarm clock in the morning.
  8. Grab (like Uber, Lyft) has monopoly in the country. Need a cab? Grab. Need a motorbike to ride? Grab. Need a driver for the day? Grab. Need food delivery? Grab.
  9. Da Nang is a gem. You got the sun, the sand, and the sea. You also got the mountains. What more can I ask for?
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Hello everyone! Time has flown by and I am having a blast here in Vietnam! I have been keeping busy, and getting into routines. When I’m not teaching, completing coursework, or sightseeing, I am spending every minute of my downtime at the beach, soaking up the sun and playing in the waves. I’m only a five minute walk from the beach! It’s very easy for me to enter a trance-like state watching the waves crash, and I feel so relaxed being able to start my mornings and end my nights with oceanside meditations.

 

I have recovered rather quickly from my motorbike accident, swimming in the ocean definitely helped me heal (saltwater is a natural antiseptic), and I have found a yoga studio near me, where I have been able to get back in tune with my body, and started using my muscles again. I’ve decided to not rent a motorbike while living here, because although it’s the easiest and most popular transportation method here, it’s also very affordable to get around using GrabBike (it’s like the Asian equivalent of Uber, except they pick you up in motorbikes instead of cars!) Now I don’t have to worry about driving in the chaotic traffic, and maneuvering around the crazy construction and broken roads in the area I’m living in. I have learned that Vietnam is currently the fastest-growing economy in the world, and Danang in particular is seeing plenty of growth. The city aims to accelerate economic growth from 7.68 per cent to 12 per cent, hoping to turn it into an investment and tourism destination. That explains all the construction on the roads in my beachside neighborhood (and all the businessmen I have been seeing, constantly celebrating and cheering at the local restaurants, business is good!) It seems like in every corner, there’s a new development, and with new developments come upgrades to septic systems and road maintenance! I bet this city will look completely different 10 years from now. Many of the locals and expats I have talked to have said that even in the past year, Danang (especially the beachside areas) have grown and changed rapidly. 

 

It is not at all surprising to me that Danang is growing so quickly. From the beautiful beach, natural sights, gorgeous temples, to the abundance of fresh and delicious food, I have fallen in love with this city. Every morning, I get fresh-squeezed orange juice from a roadside stall for only 10k dong (about 60 Canadian cents). Another delicious treat I have discovered is iced coconut cream coffee, which is basically all-natural coconut shaved ice with strong Vietnamese coffee poured over top. It’s the perfect treat on a hot afternoon, while working on my assignments.

 

Teaching at the local schools was initially a giant shock. Classrooms here look very different than they do in Canada, as the schooling system, much like Vietnamese culture in general, is very traditional. English lessons consist of asking students to listen, repeat, and chant vocabulary words, while sitting in their desks the whole time. I have been working with Joyce as a teaching pair, and we have been able to find ways to incorporate our Canadian-style activities into the more formal, structured way of Vietnamese teaching. I think we have found the right balance of following the textbook, and adding fun little activities, to make English learning more engaging and entertaining for our students. It’s a nice fusion of different styles of teaching, and I have grown to appreciate the structure and order that the more traditional classroom designs here provide.

I look forward to the rest of my time here, I want to explore more of the nearby sights and cities, and I’m going to try to make the most of my numbered days here. I also found a local photographer that collects film rolls and takes them to Saigon to get developed, so I was able to get some of the sights I’ve captured on my Kodak scanned, and I’ve posted them just below, check them out!

 

-Claudia

Local temple details:

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Some nighttime beach aesthetics:
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Hiking shots:

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And finally, some good ol' iPhone pictures of our cohorts' riverside dinner, a daytime beach trip, my orange juice, and coconut coffee (respectively):

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