Three weeks ago I began teaching. In Vietnam. This means that I started teaching for the first time as a certified English Teacher and it so happens that it was in Vietnam. Here’s an account of how I personally feel about living and working in Vietnam, while reflecting on this fantastic country, its people, its habits and its way of life.
With a brand new CELTA certificate in my pocket, years of backpacking under my belt and fully motivated, I started at EIU Language Center in Thu Dau Mot, just on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, in Binh Duong Province. Settling in my new apartment in Becamex Hotel, making my mark among my colleagues and finding a rhythm in my teaching schedule was not easy. After a few weeks I found myself doubting my adaptation skills, lacking confidence, missing my life in Belgium, and asking myself some important questions, starting with – why did I come here again?
My first class was an elementary class; my students only knew a few words of English – like, literally 5 words total – and didn’t know each other. It seems like we all started fresh that day. I’ll admit that our first few classes were a bit rocky as I had yet to get accustomed to the Vietnamese English accent which is absolutely horrendous, and they had to know me better too. At first I was horrified that they’d feel offended if I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say and I still do, every now and then, but I’m getting better at orally deciphering their gibberish.
Most first encounters are often a bit hectic, my encounter with my students was no different. We all had to get to know one another; and incredibly enough, after just three weeks of English classes together (2 hours, 3 times a week), they invited me to a Korean Barbecue Restaurant. Every student wanted a picture with me; me smiling, me making a face, me wearing a Halloween mask. “Teacher! Teacher! Cheers!” and tchin-tchin we went. They laughed as I made a face because what they called “no spicy” was definitely hell to me. They bombarded me with a million questions; “Teacher! Teacher! When you come to Vietnam? When you go back Belgium? Where you live? What floor? What room? Are you married? You want travel Vietnam?” And all of this under a minute or so. And of course, they all added me on Facebook.
I find this fascinating! They all came to the Language Center of their own free will, not knowing what and who they would find there, not knowing if they’d like the course or the teacher, and a mere three weeks later, the entire class as a whole invited me out to dinner. In such as short period of time, an understanding had settled between all of us, making it fun to teach and to be taught. I quickly figured out who the strong students were, which students worked well together, who would be brave enough to go to the board or stand in front of the others, just like they figured out how I work, when to repeat new vocabulary out loud, individually or together and what to expect from my instructions.
They’re a funny bunch, that lot! They are quick learners, have a great sense of humor and are very curious, just as most Vietnamese usually are. They love it when I do something unexpected, they love games and to sit on the floor in the classroom. Then they’ll call me to check their answers – “Teacher! Teacher! Finish!” The more I get to know them, the easier and the funnier it gets.
So maybe my first few weeks as a novice English teacher were a bit rough, maybe I just needed some time to find myself in my new country, and maybe at times I felt insecure, but my students definitely found a way of making me feel like I’m doing something right.