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vietnam (83)

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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Week 2 in Vietnam Schools

This week we continued visiting the classrooms of the primary school, and made our first visit to the secondary school to observe the typical routines. The students are always very excited to see us, and we are followed everywhere by yells of “OOOOOOOOOHHHHH” and “HELLO TEACHER!!” and “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”. I have found that the noise levels of Vietnamese students, and Vietnamese culture in general, is much louder than that back in Canada. When outside, kids are always running around and yelling, and when in the classroom they only *sort of* stay quiet while the teacher is talking, but once they are asked to take down some notes or work in their books it immediately gets MUCH louder. Additionally, there are no glass panes on the windows in the schools, so the noise from outside is always filtering into the classroom. One teacher we observed used a microphone in class, which I believe is good thinking on her part. In lieu of a bell, when class time or break time is over, a man bangs really loudly on a big drum.

 

Most primary school students get dropped off and picked up on motorbikes by their families, so outside the classroom there are racks for helmet storage. Wearing a helmet when riding a motorbike is mandatory in Vietnam, but there is a silly rule that children under a certain age are allowed to forego the helmet, as it is commonly believed that the weight of the helmet will damage the neck of the child. I have talked at length about this with local westerners living here, and they say that most Vietnamese opt to not have small children wear helmets, even though the UN has done an extensive study on this and provided very clear recommendations regarding mandatory helmet laws for all passengers. Alas, just like in North America, pseudo-science based claims and common belief can be hard to change. And so, I find myself feeling nervous for all of the children riding on biked helmet less in the crazy Da Nang traffic. 

 

The secondary school is organized in much the same way as the primary, with the school itself making the outlines of a big square on the school grounds, with an archway for an entrance to the courtyard in the middle. While there is space to run around and trees growing in the yard, there isn’t really any greenspace. I have noticed that the physical education classed consists mostly of aerobic routines performed in every-day school uniforms, but I have also seen kids in what looks like gym strip, so I assume they must engage in playing some games or learning sports. With the lack of greenspace on school grounds, I wonder how many of the kids get a chance to run around in nature after school. Most of Da Nang seems to be developed and paved over, even though there are many potted plants. Even though Vietnam is very green, tropical, and full of nature, I have a feeling that kids here lack the opportunity to spend time in nature, just like kids back home. 

 

 


 

 

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Vietnamese Hospitality

Vietnam has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, the culture is rich, and the food is delicious. But the thing I’ll most treasure about Vietnam is the people and the hospitality they have shown to me. Throughout my travels here I have been treated like family at the various hotels I've stayed at. My most recent experience was in Cat Ba Island where I stayed in a family run hotel. From the moment we checked in I was made to feel important and valued. They invited us to eat dinner with more than 15 of their friends and family, serving us what seemed like an endless amount of food and making sure our glasses were always full. After dinner we wanted to head into town, so they let us use their personal motorbike. It was a small gesture, but it really meant so much to me. We had a tour booked the next morning and they made sure to wake us up and serve us a Western breakfast (which is somewhat rare to find in Vietnam). Again, seemingly small gestures but it made us feel valued and important.

This experience has not been uncommon for me here. One of the teachers that we work with at the primary school, Jade, has made us feel incredibly welcome and shown us such kindness. She’s invited us out to coffee and dinner, and even had us over to her sister’s house for lunch; cooked by her mom, her sister, and her sister’s friends. It was a very special afternoon. Overall the hospitality I’ve experienced here has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I think this is due to the fact that Vietnamese people really value their family and friendships. I love that. A big part of Vietnamese culture is eating together family style. It’s one of my favourite things about being here and I’m going to miss it a lot.

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I'll be there for you

I post this as I have less than three weeks left in Vietnam.  It has been an incredible journey in which I have learned so much and grown immensly.  Being here has shown me how important the people are in my life back home, and how important it is to have a support system here that you can turn to.  The people here have become incredibly important  me, starting with my roommate Adrian.  We started this journy together when we first decided to move in together while we were in Vietnam.  We traveled and faced many delays as Adrian proceeded to inform me that he is bad luck to travel with, and he was right.  We had flight changes, missed connections, delays, and a security hold up where I thought that I would have to bribe Adrian out of a Vietnam prison.

He has been a huge support system for me while being here.  Since day one whenever he leaves the house or goes anywhere, he always checks to see if I need anything while he is gone.  He cuddles me and plays sad songs when I just need to wallow, he brings me food and snacks, puts up with me when I get into my silly grumpy moods, he even bailed on his whole evening plan one time to go with me to the hospital when I got into a motorbike accident.  He is a star pal.  Get yourslef a friend like Adrian.  It is so integral to my happiness here that I am living with Adrian.  He is someone that I can go out with and have a nice dinner and nice conversation, or we can sit in complete silence for six hours and crush six episodes of The Haunting of Hill House.  He has been my constant companion here and I wouldn't have been able to do this without him  

Its also been important to have sisters, like these girls here.  Sure there has been arguemnts and we have needed time alone, but that is what you get when you live like family here, and thats what we have been doing.  We all came here hardly knowing one another, and we leave with these connections and bonds that will not break.  I wish that we could have gotten to know each other a bit more before we all came here though.  That is one piece advice I would have, for future tabers, is try to get to know some of your peers that will be going with you to your country.  They are going to be the people that you talk to when the culture frustrates you (which it will), you miss home and your poeple (which you will), and when you just want to have a silly night.

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Greater access needed

 

 

 

My weeks have been getting progressively more interesting as I’m learning more about Vietnamese culture, and noticing all the differences between Canada and Vietnam. One large difference that I’ve seen is access for people with disabilities. As I walk around the streets I notice large curbs without areas for wheelchairs to go onto, the streets are busy with vehicles that don’t stop for pedestrians, and small sidewalks full of parked motorbikes which are challenging even for an abled bodied person to navigate around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The schools we teach in are 3 storey buildings with no elevators or ramps. I’ve also noticed that I don’t actually see physically disabled people around, and there are no students with physical disabilities at the schools we’re at. I find myself wondering where these individuals are. I know that these people are highly valued here as I have had conversations with locals and they speak of disabled people in a very loving way. There is a coffee shop near my apartment that employs blind and deaf people, and I know some shops and museums employ agent orange victims, and proceeds of bracelets or other items that kids have made go to support these people. I know that persons with disabilities are cared for, respected and appreciated so I’m assuming there is a lack of access because it would be too expensive to add additional infrastructure to the already existing buildings in this developing country. I have a lot more questions about these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m really curious as to what uniquely abled people here do in order to navigate these spaces. It’s possible that they have specific schools for physically disabled students, but the fact remains that the sidewalks and streets would be next to impossible to go down. I hope to learn more about how persons with disabilities are supported through these environments, and also have the opportunity to meet some students with disabilities and ask them firsthand how they find traversing through streets and buildings with limited access.

 

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Tradition and family stays

I have just a few more weeks left here, and I have become quite accustom to the lifestyle here.  I have my routine in the mornings that involves coffee and sometimes reading my book on the beach, routines that differ from my more faced paced life back home in Calgary.  We have started a joke amoung us that everything hereis on "Vietnam time", because unlike home, everything happens when it happens here.  People don't seem to rush, which I love, I love doing everything at liesure and not rushing through my day.  While living my life here, I have met so many of the local people, including our liason at the primary school whose name is Jade and whose daughter we teacher.  From my interactions with Jade and her daughter, I have learned so many things about Vietnam and the way of life here.  

 

This past Sunday we had the pleasure of being invited into the home of Jade's sister to have lunch with her and her friends.  It was a pleasure to be invited into their home and see how these strong women interact and live together.  I noticed such a wonderful sense of family, with three generations of women living together under one roof, it shows just how important family is here in Vietnam.  They made us feel so welcome and apart of the family, I felt so humbled to be a part of it.  

Not onyl have I noticed a sense of family here, but I have also seen that their is a sense of tradition and simple living.  Though there is tourism and gentrification that is going on in every city that I visit, there is a relentless sense of culture and tradition that lingers amoungst the rise of modern living.  I have never seen this commitment to the simple way of things as I have in Vietnam and I find it truly beautiful.  Above is a photo of an older woman in a traidtional bamboo fishing boat on her way to hunt for soft shelled crabs.  Although Vietnam is not untouched by the modern world, its people truly believe in family and the traditions of their culture, and I am so happy that I have had this opportunity to emerse myself and learn from this way of life.

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