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Vegetarian in Vietnam

Greeting from Vietnam!

In this particular post, I would like to touch on the topic of having dietary restrictions and travelling abroad. For many of us, one of the primary reasons why we chose the country we are currently living in is due to the culture of food. Food is a substance that not only nourishes an individual internally, but it also nourishes the collective externally. It has the social element of bringing people together. However, at times it can feel as if food with respect to dietary restrictions can pull you away from people. Those who have diestray restrictions know how wary you have to be when travelling somewhere unfamiliar to you, let alone anywhere familiar to you about cross contamination and foodbourne-illness. 

Being a vegetarian in Vietnam has been relatively easy, but there have been some challenges in terms of misunderstanding and micommunicating. For instance, there are some conceptions that vegetarianism is the practice of eating as minimal meat as possible. Because of some misunderstandings and miscommunicatings that I have encountered, I wish to share a couple pieces of advice for those who may either be experiencing this momentarily or are concerned that they may experience this in the future. 

The first piece of advice I have is to search ahead of time where you can eat. A simple Google search consisting of "vegetarian food near me" can save you the time (and sometimes the headache) of figuring our whether or not you can actually eat somewhere with other people. The second piece of advice is having data on your phone. Although many places do have wifi for you to use, it's good to have data on your phone just in case there isn't. You can use the Google translate option to communicate with your waiter or waitress in case there is a language barrier. You can ensure that what you are hoping to receive is exactly that. My third piece of advice that was provided to me by other travellers I have encountered during my time in Vietnam is downloading allergen and dietary restriction-specific "passports" on your mobile phone. This allows the passport holder to have a digital copy of a document that includes both written and visual languages of what allergens and dietary restrictions they have that can be shown to the individuals who are preparing your food. 

Thank you reading. I hope this information is found to be useful to those who are either facing these difficulties or are concerned that they will. Safe travels and delicious eats to you all!

Pamela

 

 

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An Asian in Asia

“Same same, but different” - an expression almost ubiquitous in saying and in writing in S.E. Asia, especially around tourist areas. As humorous as it is to watch sellers convince foreigners that whatever they’re selling is “same same, but different”, I found that it resonated with me in a more profound way.

I left Calgary in early August so that I can travel around before arriving in Da Nang, Vietnam on September 1. The places, the people, the culture, the food, the WEATHER...they all felt—and continue to feel—familiar, yet foreign. I come from a Filipino family and was exposed to many other Asian cultures growing up, so there hasn’t been that big of a culture shock. Of course, I had to make adjustments but I was not at all surprised by the things I’ve experienced so far. Again, things are familiar, but unfamiliar at the same time.

Squat toilets, crickets for snacks, cockroaches under the sink, 40-degree weather...these are not surprising to me. But don’t get me wrong, the experiences I’ve had and the places I’ve seen so far were nothing short of amazing! I am always in awe of their rich cultures and overwhelmed with inspiration by the kindness and hospitality of the people.

Prior to my travels, I had a conversation with a faculty member from Werklund that, I suppose, help me anticipate the experiences of being an Asian in Asia. They had travelled and taught in Asia before. As someone who is visibly not Asian, they said they were treated a lot differently from their Asian-American colleague.

I got a small taste of this while waiting for the train in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. I was chatting with a backpacker from Belgium (in English, obviously) when several teachers and a group of students swarmed around him. They asked him if it was okay that the students ask him questions so that they can practice their English. My initial reaction was cool, awesome! Then I thought to myself, I speak English too!

Why didn’t they ask me? Ah, because I look like them. There have been numerous occasions when locals would come up to me and start speaking in the local language. I don’t know yet what I think of this. In time, and with purposeful reflection, I hope I can have a little bit more insight to my experiences in S.E. Asia.

On another, and equally exciting note, the TAB group in Vietnam have met our supervising teachers at the primary and secondary schools we will be teaching in. There is so much to learn; so many people to meet; so many places to see; and so many varieties of Vietnamese coffee to try!

I look forward to absorbing as much as I can during the short two months I have here.

 

Until next post,

Joyce

PS. Please tell me I’m not the only one a tad bit overwhelmed with starting the two online course + TAB commitments + adventuring in a new place + life. Also, I can’t believe how fast this program is going, we’re already in our final year! Wow!

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Chaotic First Week

My first week in Vietnam is coming to an end, and already I could not be more excited and grateful for this experience. After a wonderful and exciting 10 days traveling around Thailand, Pamela and I arrived in Danang last Sunday afternoon. After checking into my new apartment, eager to get settled in, I immediately went searching for a SIM card and a motorbike when suddenly, things took a scary and unexpected turn. Only a couple blocks from the bike rental shop, I got into an accident almost immediately, and I found myself in a Vietnamese hospital where nobody spoke English, getting my leg stitched up by a doctor I could only communicate with by using hand gestures. Talk about a first day!

The experience was initially terrifying, and extremely discouraging. I found myself missing Canada, with its well-maintained roads and orderly traffic. Danang is a chaotic city to commute in, whether by foot, motorbike, or car. There aren’t always sidewalks, and the streets are full of obstacles. Although I had familiarized myself with commuting by foot and motorbike in busy roads while travelling in Thailand, many of the streets in Danang are in rough condition, which was an unexpected challenge for me. As unfortunate as my accident was, however, it provided me with meaningful lessons.

Defeat is painful, but humbling, it reminds you that even when things don’t go your way, you hold the power to learn from it and move forward. I did a lot of research before coming here, and I felt so ready in every way. Although I knew I would eventually encounter challenges to some extent, I was confident that I could handle any problem with ease, and remain in control of my experience. The accident for me, served as a reminder that life will always find ways to surprise you with unexpected trials and tribulations, and no matter how much you prepare, sometimes you still get kicked down. As much as I would like to think otherwise, I can never be completely in control of the events that unfold around me, and I have come to accept that the only thing I can control is how I react in the aftermath of defeat. I have been treating my wounds carefully, and now I just have to be patient during the healing process and try to keep a positive attitude.

Having accepted and (emotionally) recovered from my accident, I set off to the primary and secondary schools where my fellow TABers and I will be working during our time here in Vietnam, which have just started their new academic year this week. All the students I have met so far have been so polite and genuinely excited to see the Canadian teachers, which has lifted my spirits and encouraged me to continue on this journey. The English teachers we will be working with have also been very kind, gracious, and welcoming, and I’m looking forward to next week, when we will be entering their classrooms and assisting in delivering lessons. Vietnam is quite different from Canada, and I have no idea what to expect at this point, but I already know this experience will prove itself to be so valuable to me, both professionally and personally.

Until next time!
-Claudia ^.^

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Getting Started

I am a little behind with this, my first blog post as a TAB participant because my time before my departure was consumed with preparing for being away from my home and family for such an extended period. I will admit I found that process considerably different than when one is leaving for a two or three-week holiday, as there were many more little jobs and details that needed to be sorted out than I had anticipated. Fingers crossed, I remembered everything that HAD to be done, and with the help of my husband can manage the others from here in Da Nang. I also chose to spend what spare time I had with my family. While I am very eager to take part in this experience, as a mother of two, I am also anxious about being so far away from my boys even though they are grown. I guess a mother never stops worrying!

Further, prior to arriving in Da Nang, my sister and I travelled for a week in Northern Vietnam. We landed in Hanoi, then went to Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, and Sa Pa before returning to Hanoi to then fly to Da Nang. We cruised, climbed, sailed, walked, biked, trekked, and overall had an amazing time getting to know this beautiful country and the kind and generous people we have encountered thus far. I will say, I am now even more eager to experience life and teaching in Da Nang after that week spent exploring.

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 Mural Street in Hanoi

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Ha Long Bay

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Mua Caves at Ninh Binh

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The view from our Homestay in Sa Pa

Then, I have gotten off to a slow start this week because I have been feeling a little under the weather. However, I am still enjoying the experience of getting settled in my little apartment, checking out my neighbourhood, and attending our first meetings at the schools where we will be volunteering.  I am finding that the language barrier can be challenging, and I know I have a great deal to learn, but I am very eager to adapt and understand better how I can address those barriers here in Da Nang and my future classroom. Right now, though, I am grateful to have the support and advice of my wonderful cohort here in Da Nang, and of course, google translate, which comes in very handy.

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This was taken after the opening ceremonies at the high school we will be volunteering at during our time here in Da Nang.

I must also say, another highlight for me this first week has been the opportunity to order a custom made áo dài to wear when teaching at the schools. Having studied apparel production and worked in that industry for the past 28 years, I would love to have the opportunity someday to pass on those skills to future students. Hence, I was like a “little kid in a candy store” as we were taken to pick out fabric and get measured for our garments, and I can hardly wait until we get to pick them up next week. Until then, I will continue to get settled, while also starting our courses, and try to find as much time as I can to continue exploring and this amazing place!

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Venturing Through Vietnam

Hello and greetings from Da Nang, Vietnam!

Collectively, the TAB Vietnam cohort has been here since the beginning of the week. The majority of us (no as a collective) have travelled through some parts of southeast Asia prior to our arrival in Vietnam. For the most part, we have all adjusted to the time, weather, food, and local customs and "rules" if you will. 

We have met our liason from the Science and Education department at the University of Da Nang and the school directors and administartors from both the primary and secondary schools that we will teaching, learning, and education alongside with for the next 8 weeks. There are a handful of mixed emotions, but eagered is probably the emotion that primarily ressonates with us all. 

Likewise, we are all eagered to see the experiences and exposures everyone else will be participating in during their TAB experiences wherever they may be!

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I'm not ready, but it's time to say goodbye..

It’s time to pack! I look back at the past 3 months and I can’t believe how this journey is almost over. It feels like not too long ago that I was preparing to come to Vietnam, and now I am packing to return back to Canada. I reflect on the time I spent in this country, and the numerous lessons I have learnt along the way. I wanted to explore Asia for a while, and TAB ended up being the perfect opportunity to work on my skills as a teacher, while also getting to know this country and its culture. Thank you Vietnam! For your hospitality, for the people, for the warm smiles, and for the beautiful beaches! I will never forget the crowded streets, with bikes and cars honking continuously, and having to look our around all corners when riding my motorbike to get to school. I will never forget the confused look on people’s faces when I tried to ask something in English, or the confused feelings I felt when someone would try to speak to me in Vietnamese. I will never forget the positive and uplifting attitudes of the people that had experienced hardships in their lives, but still chose to look at the brighter side. I will never forget the memories I shared with my roommate and other TAB members, and the way we supported one another. I will never forget my students and the lessons they taught me along the way.

I never thought I will be celebrating my birthday in Vietnam, let alone Sapa. I had the most authentic experience, surrounded by the beauty of the nature and fresh air, I couldn’t help but be appreciative for this experience. I joined tab with the intention to grow, explore the world and myself, and advance my practice as a teacher. I can say that, this experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone both personally and professionally,, whether that be having to create lesson plans to teach students who speak minimal to no English, to riding a scooter in between two massive trucks on my way to work during rush hour. I learnt to adjust, to be flexible, to be patient, and one thing I know for sure is: I am not leaving here like I came! 

(Picture of a few TAB members in front of Da Nang University)

(With a few students after our presentation on Canada at Da Nang University)

(Singing the Canadian anthem at Da Nang University)

(Presentation on Canada and its culture at Da Nang University)

(A few TAB members and our liason Jade wearing Ao Dai)

 

(Having fun taking pictures with our liason Jade in front of the Primary School)

 

 

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Differentiation in classrooms..

Teaching has officially begun! Immediately, I can't help but notice how the educational system here is different than Canada’s. The students were so excited to see us! One my first day of teaching, once I entered the classroom, the students greeted me by singing the “Hello teacher” song. They are excited to learn and have a great sense of appreciation for learning, unlike Canada, where education is often taken for granted. One of my Grade 3 class has nearly 40 students, all wearing white shirt uniforms with blue shorts or skirts. My specialization is English Language Learners (ELL). After observing the various classrooms, I noticed how no differentiation techniques are applied when teaching the content to students. Students have a range of learning levels and needs, all differing from one another. The lesson plans, however, are taught quite standardly, with the teacher delivering the information at the front of the class, and students being the recipients of such information. Due to a lack of technology, I had to rely on props, such as the use of puppets and the blackboard, to deliver my lessons. I also modelled exercises for the students before splitting them up into groups since an explanation in English often did not suffice. It was difficult to communicate with the students since their English levels were quite low, but they definitely did not lack the enthusiasm and excitement, which made the lessons fun!

The classes consisted of the teacher pronouncing conversational sentences, such as “How are you?”, “This is my friend Linda”, etc. and students repeating them over and over again. Students would memorize these sentences, but while doing walk-arounds and observing students, I noticed how some required the extra support and resources to be able to learn and understand English. I decided to speak to my partner-teacher about whether I could use scaffolding techniques to teach students. She said that, with classes being 40 mins long and the heavy content to be covered each time, she wasn’t able to cater the lessons to accommodate students’ various needs.

I couldn’t help but think of the educational system in Canada, and how, I am so grateful that in encourages differentiation to ensure all students are able to reach their maximum capability. My experience in Vietnam has helped me develop more empathy, patience, and understanding for English Language Learners. Students have skills regardless of whether English is their first language or not. It’s important to me to notice those strengths and use them to enhance their confidence. Teaching in Vietnam has been a great opportunity for me, and my students have taught me so many valuable lessons that I look forward to applying in my future classrooms.

 

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Oh, Canada

I am back in Canada now, greeted by my family at the airport (including dogs) and -5 degree weather I am happy to be home but already missing Vietnam a lot!

Although I exchanged 34 degree weather, flip flops, and sunscreen for snow, winter boots, and cracked & dry moisturizer; I must admit it feels good to be back home. I am writing this from my office with both my dogs laying on my lap, drinking egg nog, and wearing fuzzy socks. My journey home was VERY long, but also exciting; four flights, two 12-hour layovers, and one 4 hour layover. I spent the day poolside in Ho Chi Minh City on one of my layovers, walked nearly 20 kilometers in Tokyo on another layover, and on my last layover I fell asleep on the floor of the Denver airport. All in all, I think I made the best of a less-than-ideal ~50 hours travel time to return home; I'm honestly surprised I managed to have dinner and crawl into bed after arriving in Calgary.

Anyways, it is good but very strange to be home. I keep waking up at 3 in the morning due to jetlag, and slightly panicked with a feeling of dislocation, forgetting where I am. However, running errands at home and getting back to my gym has been wonderful. I am ruined for food prices forever though, food is SO EXPENSIVE here! I miss my Vietnamese cost of living for sure. It is also strange being somewhere that everyone speaks English! I keep having to remind myself of where I am whenever I hear strangers speaking, or customer service persons making small talk. It is still a little strange to me but an adjustment I will easily make. Another episode of reverse culture shock I am having is the feeling of space! There is so much empty space and excessively large things here! Not even after previously lived in Japan did I feel that our western communities are so large! I find myself critiquing spaces I pass through and wondering how the space could be better used, it seems awfully wasteful after living in a country where it seems every square inch is utilized efficiently. I also have to catch myself from jaywalking all over the place, as that is simply the way in Vietnam. 

I miss being so close to the beach and the cheapness of food the most, but I am happiest to be with my dogs and family; so I think overall, happy to be home. Although I did have to shovel today. I'm sure as we immerse into our field experiences, get ready for the holidays, and get out more in this city we call home it will continue to feel strange to be away from the country that I lovingly called home for these past few months. I look forward to reminiscing with my fellow TABers as the weeks go by so we can commiserate and share our experiences/difficulties with adjusting back to Canadian life. It seems strange that the TAB experience is really over, I hope to share tips and wisdom with next year's group and follow their journeys through this blog, about an experience very dear to my heart. Please see below for a picture of myself and my sweet dogs I keep mentioning, enjoy and thanks for reading!!

 

 

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Final Reflections

It’s crazy to think that my eleven weeks in Vietnam have come and gone. Coming into this experience, I wanted to pick the country that would put me the furthest from my comfort zone and way of life.

Going to Vietnam certainly accomplished that. Reminiscing over my first few days in Vietnam, where I walked the neighboring streets of Da Nang with Holly and Simona, I was overcome with emotion and walloped with an overwhelming sense of homesickness. But like many things in life, if you give yourself enough time and a little faith, you grow and adapt to your new reality. Before you know it, you develop new routines, make new friends, and discover new favorite hangouts and restaurants.

Teaching at Hyunh Ngoc Hue Primary School these past eight weeks have offered me greater insights into who I am as a teacher, and where I need to develop. Despite being a Secondary Physical Education specialist, this experience has me entertaining the idea of teaching in an elementary school. Being a kid at heart, I loved going into the classroom to teach the students in my own wacky, energetic way. That aspect of me was lost during my last practicum where I uncharacteristically ruled over the gymnasium with an iron fist. Going into this next field placement, I hope to find a healthy balance between these two teaching styles.

This experience has also made me appreciative for my life in Canada: the abundance of protein sources, free healthcare, sidewalks and to-go coffee cups to name a few things. But in all seriousness, being a Canadian citizen opens up innumerable doors and affords us unlimited possibilities. And for those who choose to venture beyond the expanse of this great land, it’s comforting to know that we will always be welcomed back with a big smile, fickle weather and a terribly mediocre but nostalgic cup of coffee. For that, I am truly grateful.

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Weeks 5 and 6

Last weekend we got to attend one of Jade’s English classes at her home, which was very exciting. She had around 20 students, and it was very similar to the way English Club at school goes. First, the students start off with a song or a game, and move on to learning words or phrases, and then practice them in conversation. The kids were all very excited to see us, so they were not as engaged in their singing and dancing. Jade said that usually they are very active and act crazy when their favourite English songs come on, but our presence had them shy and in awe, so they spent most to he time staring at us, which was pretty funny. The discussion activity for the day was talking to us in English. The students had a list of questions they could ask us, much like in English club, and we spent some time getting to know small groups of students by having conversations with them. After this we had some sort of delicious marzipan and rice jelly dessert wrapped in banana leaves, and I am hoping very much that I can find the same thing back in Calgary. If I am not able to find these delicious morsels of heaven in ethnic food stores back home, I will be very sad indeed. 

On Friday of this week our regular class teacher was away from school, and Adrian was at a meeting at the university, so I taught 5 classes of ~45 grade 4 students each, by myself. It was incredibly challenging, because by the end of the class it was impossible to get their attention, especially since they know that I do not speak Vietnamese. I tried my best to be engaging, animated, and fun, but by the end of each class >75% of the students were talking, even when I was loudly asking them to be quiet, or waiting in silence for them to quiet down. Teachers in Vietnam use a ruler or a stick to bang on the table to get the attention of the students if they are being too rowdy. I even tried this, but it still did not work. At one point, I smacked a ruler on the table for at least 30 seconds, and one of the girls in the class was also yelling “BE QUIET” trying to get her classmates to listen. However, it did not work. At a certain point the noise would get to a level where I could not talk loud enough for any students to hear me, so I could not even get their attention. The classes would all start off well, but any time the students were left to write something down or read from the textbook on their own, I would lose all control. At times, some students would even take out toys or crafts to work on in the middle of the lesson, and I had to start taking them away after several instances of the toys re-appearing after I had come over and asked them to be put away. Intrestingly enough, none of the students seem to mind when teachers take away their toys, talk loudly at them, smack rulers on tables, or even yell. It is as if they know that they are misbehaving, and they know teachers don't mean anything personal by trying to get them to behave appropriately - "it's just business". At the end of the lesson, the students were all very happy and cheerfully gave me high fives and yelled thank you at me. One girl saw how exhausted and sad it made me when I could not get the attention of the class no matter how hard I tried, so she gifted me a multi-coloured pen, which was very kind of her. Compared to my crazy day of classes, Jade’s Club lessons are very well managed, because she establishes class rules at the start of the year, and reiterates them in class when necessary. These rules include no yelling, no toys, no comic books, no running, speaking English, and being good friends. I have not seen similar rules be mentioned in any other classes during my first month here, and I think they are crucial to managing such giant classes of restless, excited, and noisy children. Yesterday was incredibly exhausting, and as a result I am now spending my weekend sick with a fever. 

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Weeks 3 and 4

Last week was very exciting, as we got to attend the mid-autumn festival at the primary school! The mid-autumn festival is a very big deal in Vietnam, with all schools celebrating the holiday. At the event, one of my grade 4 students told the legend behind the mid-autumn festival, and a group of girls performed a dance. Each classroom created an edible display, and the best display for each grade received a prize. The students were all very excited about the whole shindig! A group of professional lion dancers came to entertain the kids, and it was a great cultural experience. The elementary school we are at hosts a lot of events throughout the year to build community, and to provide students will the opportunity to perform and share their talents with the rest of the school. This is very similar to what school was like growing up in Russia - we had assemblies with performances of student-prepared songs, dances, plays, competitions, games, and all sorts of fun pastimes, usually once a month. This is something I always wished Canadian schools did more of after I moved to Canada, and it was great to experience it again in Vietnam. 

In the last few weeks we have actually started teaching English in classes. All of us have been put in partners and assigned to an English teacher who’s classes we will attend until the end of our time here. Adrian and I are teaching grade 4 classes, and the other two pairs of Canadian teachers are working with grades 3 and 5. The lessons we teach are very standardized. Every day we are given a page in the textbook we must cover, which lists 3-4 exercises we do with the students. These exercises are usually either repeat-after-me activities using a CD recording or a listen and answer using a CD recording. There are also fill-in-the-blank activities, and some simple discussions. Overall, I have been finding it very hard to feel like I am doing my job as a teacher, because I do not know if the students understand the material or if they are just repeating from the book without understanding what they are saying. The classes have around 45 kids in them, which also makes it impossible to evaluate the understanding of each student. The periods are 35 minutes, and this does not allow time to engage each student, or to give one-on-one help or attention to those who may require it. It seems that there is a vast spectrum of ability in our grade 4 classes, from students who can’t say more than their name in English, to those who can work their way through simple conversations, and the ability levels are not differentiated for in any way. It is hard not to feel disheartened, seeing as I cannot practice most of the strategies and approaches to education we have learned about in our university classes. I understand that there are cultural differences in approaches to education, but even Jade, our main teacher contact, is very honest about the shortcomings of the education system here. She says that the government ministers responsible for education do not do very much in terms of improving the system, and do not have the necessary credentials to elicit change. Jade remarks that as a result, the system is very inefficient and has become outdated on the global scene, but the teachers have very little wiggle room in the curriculum to make their own improvements.

Luckily, we get to go to Jade’s English Club on Thursdays and Fridays, which does not have a set curriculum, and is a lot of fun! Jade teaches the students fun rhymes and clapping games, and this is what we use to start the class off as warm-up. We play games and sing songs with actions. Usually each lesson has a specific conversational topic, such as hobbies, family, animals, greetings, asking for and giving directions, dream jobs, or dates and birthdays. She teaches the students the words and phrases, gives an example of a conversation between two people, and has students role play the conversations with each other and with us. She also provides students with lists of simple questions to ask one another about personal things like hobbies, plans for the weekend, favourite singers, and other fun topics of discussion! During club, students have a lot of opportunities to speak English to one another, and to us. We also go around the entire classroom, making sure to talk to each student once or twice, so that we know everyone has a handle on the content. The students are very eager to talk to us, and get excited to learn new games and songs. Jade also tells them riddles and shares funny stories from her life, which makes her not only a teacher, but a friend to the students. In my first few weeks teaching in Vietnam I have met several enthusiastic teachers, but as Jade says, the way the curriculum is structured does not allow teachers to fully show or utilize their talents, which is why she prefers teaching club. Next week we are going to Jade’s home to visit the English classes she hosts there!

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Scooting/Motorbiking around Da Nang

So you are thinking of riding a motorbike/scooter to get around Da Nang, Vietnam. Bravo! Here are a few benefits that may sway your decision:

  • Most time/cost-efficient mode of travel
  • Very enjoyable
  • An authentic cultural experience
  • Cool as heck
  • Driving down the road during a thunderstorm, your poncho flapping behind you, feeling like a superhero (See the previous point)

 

Assuming you have obtained the essentials, (e.g. license/bike/helmet) here are the personal tips and anecdotes I have accumulated over my time there:

  • Da Nang traffic is much less chaotic than it seems. There is a method and order to the madness and chaos.
  • Viewing traffic from the perspective of a passenger is much more terrifying than driving in it yourself. (Especially your first few days there)
  • Always wear your helmet! Protective eyewear is also highly recommended. Getting hit by a bug at 50kmh+ stings. Loose debris and gravel is also a potential hazard.
  • Vehicles in the left lane, scooters/bikes in the right lane, passing in the middle.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Drivers may be going down the wrong side of the road out of convenience. Red lights are sometimes ignored.
  • You need to be assertive but not stupid. When it doubt, brake.
  • Honking/beeping indicates other drivers of your presence. Use it when entering an uncontrolled intersection, passing other drivers, or simply when in doubt.
  • Drive defensively and as if you do not exist. Don’t drive beside motor vehicles if you can help it, and minimize the time you spend in another vehicle’s blind spot.
  • When changing lanes, always shoulder check! Faster moving traffic might be looking to overtake you.
  • Brake gradually. Other bikers are often following close behind you.
  • Don’t play chicken with motor vehicles. If you get into a collision with one, the vehicle will always win. Yield!
  • With the previous point in mind, other drivers are mindful of this. Use this to your advantage when entering a traffic circle or a left turn.
  • Another traffic circle tip is move with the large crowd of motorbikes. Other drivers will more likely yield to several motorbike drivers than the one lone bike.

 

Happy trails, and safe driving!

 

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Same same, but different.

Same same, but different. This popular saying in Thailand and Vietnam recognizes the commonalities between two things despite the differences that may exist.

During my first six weeks here in Vietnam, I’ve come to appreciate the nuances that make this country so different from Canadian culture. After dwelling so long on these differences (i.e. no McDonalds, excessive sweating), I have now come to notice and enjoy the similarities between these two countries as well. Let’s explore a few of these similarities I’ve documented between the two cultures:

In the gym:

  • The struggle to look good while resisting the temptation of delicious food lingering around every corner….
  • The sense of community that develops in an environment of self-improvement.

In schools:

  • The inherent sense of play that resides in everyone, especially children.
  • The class troublemaker that keeps the class interesting and entertaining
  • The spike in student investment and engagement when a little competition is introduced
  • The friendship/camaraderie that develops among the students and among the teachers

More fun comparisons:

  • Tim Horton’s coffee <=> Vietnamese coffee/cà phê đá 
  • 7/11 <=> VinMart
  • Starbucks <=> Highlands Coffee

 

Same same, but different!

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Settling in Da Nang and exploring Vietnam!

After 25 hours of travel, I finally reached Da Nang, Vietnam! I landed around 10pm and I surprised to see how hot it was! As I get to my apartment, my landlord informed me that Holly and Adrian (two other members of the TAB group) will be my neighbours. I felt tired but I was so excited to finally get there, that I barely slept that night. I woke up early, and although jet lagged and tired, I was ready to get the day started and settle in. I wanted to explore so Holly and I decided to explore the beach, which was only a 5 minutes walk from our apartment. A dream come true. I was just in awe with the beauty of the sea, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Our liaison got in touch with us and schedule a meeting to meet with us the following Monday, which meant we had a few days to explore the city, which is exactly what i did. I had a lot of energy with my and I was craving my independence, so I made myself a list of places to visit in Da Nang, and I began my adventures!

Having travelled to India before, I was familiar with the chaotic traffic and car/trucks/bike horns coming from all directions. I had moved from Italy to Calgary in 2007, so I felt I’d feel a similar culture shock. Well, this time it was a bit different. The biggest thing being the language barrier and inability to understand Vietnamese or speak English with the locals. I noticed how I quickly reverted to using my body language using Google translate when I trying to convey a message. I realized how, living in a Western and developed country comes with a lot of benefits. For example, when driving my car I know that traffic laws and regulations will protect me in case of any accidents. Vietnam, however, was different. I had to use all my senses, and make sure I was very careful when crossing the road, or trying to get from place A to B with directions other than English was also very challenging.

Traveling to different cities, such as Dalat, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Sapa really exposed me to the distinctive beauty of Da Nang. Each city was different, and it had its own art, culture, and history to offer. I realized how, I am so grateful to be living in a city like Da Nang, with beautiful beaches and things to explore, yet still not too overpopulated as compared to other cities in the South. I felt that, Da Nang is a city that deserves to be explored more, and I was looking forward to spending the remaining 8 weeks there!


                                                                                                            (In front of a building in Hue)

                                                                                                 (View of My Khe beach and Da Nang)

                                                                                                                       (Ba Na Hills)

                                                                                                         (Elephant waterfall in Da nang)

 

 

 

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Bye Calgary, Hello Vietnam!

When I applied for the Werklund Education Program, now a little over a year ago, I was thrilled to know they offered an opportunity to teach over exchange. I remember the very first TAB meeting I attended, and being instantly drawn to Vietnam. It had been on my bucket list to explore Asia, and TAB seemed like the perfect opportunity to expand my skills as an educator, while also growing on a personal level. I remember attending every single TAB meeting because I wanted to receive as much information as I could about the country from the previous years’ group.

Shortly before the TAB Showcase came along, our applications were due and we had to indicate our first, second and third country options, in case our first country of choice was not available to us. At the TAB Showcase, after hearing about the previous Tabbers’ experiences and stories I knew Vietnam was the country for me. I was so excited when, In fact, I was chosen to go to it! I remember creating a list of all the things I needed to do before leaving, and places I wanted to see when I’m there. Time seemed to fly by, and by the time I knew, the two weeks mandatory summer classes were over, and here I was packing my bags!

As I said goodbye to my family and friends, I feel a duality of emotions run through my body. Some had me excited and others a bit afraid. Whenever I felt a bit of fear peak in, I reminded myself of the intention behind this experience. To grow, explore the world, to get uncomfortable, and advance my practice as a teacher. As my flight was about to depart, I looked outside my window and said goodbye to Calgary’s beautiful sky! I will see you later!

 

                                                                                               (Picture of the Calgary sky in the evening)

                                                                                                 (Picture of the Calgary sky during the day)

 

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Adventure Travelling!

 

 

So now that my time in Vietnam is coming to a close I want to reflect on all the amazing experiences, how they have shaped me to be as I am now, and why Vietnam was the right choice for me. Vietnam is a crazy, busy, frantic, overwhelming, incomprehensible, keep-you-on-your-toes kind of place. If I didn’t like things that scared, challenged, and excited me Vietnam would not be the place for me. As luck would have it, I was up to the challenge.

 

 


 

 

 

 

CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s what living in Vietnam is like, just when you start to feel like you’ve got the hang of things it throws another curveball at you. That, however, is why it is wonderful.

 

 

 

There are many “types” of travellers, of course not everyone fits into one category, but I feel that the two main types of travellers are: adventure travellers and leisure travellers. I certainly can be one or the other on certain days but I LIVE for exploring, finding new places, getting lost, and then finding my way. I am an adventurer at heart. If you are not an adventurer, I don’t think Vietnam is for you, sure there is still a beach and lots of great coffee shops to relax and unwind in the space in between the chaos but to really experience the culture and country you just have to see it the way I have.

 

Hiking through jungles, up mountains, through rivers, and caves. Motorcycling through amazing scenic passes, navigating rush hour, and driving through mud, dirt, and sand to get to the best views you’ve ever seen. Getting bit by leeches, mosquitos, ants, and (nearly) snakes. Meet the locals who are sometimes shy to chat with you, at first, but are often so friendly and curious about your travels. Meeting friendly street dogs, cats, buffalo, pigs, chickens, and ducks. Swimming in caves, lakes, pools, and the ocean. These are just some of the amazing things that you can do while you’re here, get dirty, sandy, muddy, soaked to the bone, and then laugh like you’ve never laughed before when you get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and then another one 20 minutes after you get the first one fixed. Meet the locals who will help you figure out how to change a motorbike tire with the oddest assortment of tools you’ve ever seen when the mechanic is out of town and the next town is 30km away. Then maybe tomorrow sleep in and go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

My time here has been a whirlwind of adventure, going with the flow, and making amazing memories. Don’t go to Vietnam if you’re not an adventurer, but maybe go anyways and become one.

Constant vigilance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fly away home

Hello all!  I currently sit in the Hong Kong airport with Adiran as I write this.  Waiting for that long haul flight (11hrs) to Vancouver and then on our way to our final destination, Clagary.  My experience here has been absolutly incredible, difficult and a huge learning experience.  I have learned so much about this beautiful country, myslef and how I want to be as a future educator and experienced more than I could have ever hoped for from my time here.  Currently it is Saturday in Hong Kong, and we leave at 4:30pm and arrive in Calgary on Saturday at 5:30pm, smashing together a 30hr traveling journy into technically 1hr.  So yeah, we be time traveling! It blows my mind trying to comprehend the crossing of the date line and arriving in our final destination around the same time we left Hong Kong.  So weird.  ANYWAYS. 

Said goodbye to my cute classes on Thursday.  I will never get over how excited our students were to see us everyday and how grateful they seemed for us being there in their classroom.  At times the language barrier could be difficult, especially when trying to disicpline our students.  Though we seemed to manage quite fine after a while, once we were able to figure out how much English each one of our students had and how best to communicate with them.  The majority of the time I was teaching in a grade five classroom, which was full of engery and fun times, most of the time.  One our last day our students were so sad to see us leave, giving us cards and flowers, hugging us and not letting go.  

I am so grateful for this learning experience and for how friendly and accomadating everyone at the primary school we were working at has been.  Especially to our liason Jade, who made the effort to welcome us into her and her daughters life, inviting us into her home and making us feel like part of the family.  Last year around this time, I wasn't even allowed to go on TAB, until they decided that they would open it up to the Fine Arts specialization students, and I am so glad that they did!  It felt like I was meant to be here and meant to take this wonderful journey of learning and self discovery.  Okay I must board my plane now, see you soon Calgary! Over and out!

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Face to Face with Moo Moos

My time in Vietnam has been incredible and I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see many beautiful places here. Last weekend I was able to visit Sa Pa, a town located in the north of Vietnam in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains. The culture and day to day life there is much different than where I am located in Da Nang. The mountains are covered in rice terraces and as such most of the men in this area work in the fields. The people there look quite different than the people further south, they have distinct faces and I was often captivated by their beauty. The traditional clothing the women wear in the villages are very colourful and are beautifully patterned. They also wear unique head pieces that have bells or other metal bits attached to them. Even though we were still in a town in Vietnam, it felt like we were in a completely different country. It was magical.

 

 

We did a day trek through some villages and the rice terraces guided by a young woman named Di. She was able to offer a local perspective and educated us on the Hmong people who are native to this area. These people, like the majority of Vietnamese people, are extremely hard working. The women create beautiful textiles and sell them either in the markets or by walking down the streets. Di showed us certain plants that when you mash them up in your hands it creates indigo blue dye, which they then use to dye fabric. I tried it and my hands stayed blue for 3 days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another amazing thing about Sa Pa was seeing animals close up. There were buffalo all over the rice terraces! Since we were there after they harvested the rice, the buffalo were allowed to roam freely and graze the fields. The land was also populated with adorable pigs, chickens, and dogs. It was pretty surreal to be that close to a buffalo. The people in this area really appreciate their animals and take really good care of them. My entire experience in Sa Pa was unforgettable and I will hold these memories very close to me.

 

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Presenting: The Canadian Teachers!

 


These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of teaching, travelling, motorbiking, hiking, meeting new friends, and having a wonderful time. Recently we had beenasked to present to some students at the University of Education and Science here in Da Nang, Vietnam. The liaison we work with here is a wonderful lady who has been a great support during our time here in Da Nang. When she requested us to present to the students here, we were not given detail as to how long the presentation should be, how many students we would be presenting, or the English level of our audience. So, we were a little apprehensive but made a slide show containing our favourite customs, foods, and sights of Canada (and Calgary), as well as a presentation on our education practices and theories.

 

When we arrived to the presentation we were happy to see there was a modest gathering of about 50-60 students (one in our cohort had suggested it might be 200 people), all from the teaching, international, and/or English department(s). They first gave us a lovely and hilarious presentation on culture, history, and quirks of Vietnam. We then gave our presentation, discussing how one becomes a teacher in Alberta, our theory-based pedagogy, and classroom realities, as well as showcasing our beautiful home country.

 

 

After the presentation we took about 20 minutes to field questions from the audience, all of which were highly thought-provoking; to the point of one student asking us the meaning of our lives. Got a little side-tracked there, but the questions lead to a healthy discussion of teaching in Vietnam and how the students here felt about their education and opportunity. The students shared our views on many pedagogical theories and were asking for resources to read and discover more about certain topics we discussed. The biggest surprise was when the students told us they don’t get to step foot into a classroom until they graduate! Many students shared that they volunteer in churches, or other areas outside their school in order to get experience with children. I am very grateful that our University allows us to get experience with teaching prior to becoming teachers, I believe it is a relatively new part of Education training, so I hope that Vietnamese students will get this chance in the future also. The students we talked with after the seminar were delightful and friendly, I will be excited to give another presentation in our last week here! Oh and also the students asked us to sing to them; we sung the Canadian National Anthem, so that happened! (picture below)

 

 

 

 

 

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