After the relaxing time enjoying the celebration of Tet, coming back to class and our community service activities is a reminder of why we are here. My first response to the Agent Orange home visits is that I want to help everybody. Along with that thought I am aware of two things; first it is not possible for me to help everybody. There may be some things I can do that will help a few in some small way. Even if I can make people I know at home aware of what some people here in Viet Nam face every day, it is still only a small piece of a very large situation. The second thing I am aware of is that I may not have the best ideas about how to serve the people here in a way that works for them. So I am thankful for this program and to be able to help in this way. The families that we visited this week go through each day doing the best they can, accepting their fate, and moving on to the next day, and the next, and the next.
On our first night of English instruction I was very nervous. I was very concerned about doing it right and not making mistakes. I felt the pressure and responsibility to have something interesting for the students. Victor took the lead and the first night was mostly about all of us introducing ourselves and trying to figure out what will work in the coming classes. Toward the end one student suggested that we split the class into two groups, a beginner and an intermediate class. We thought that was a good idea and decided that I would take the intermediate and Victor would take the beginner class.
On that first night I had a lot of difficulty hearing students. My worry was that I would not be effective as an instructor because I would not be able to hear the students. I communicated my concern to Friendship Union staff, to our program staff, and later to the students themselves. Going into the second night of English instruction I was still feeling a lot of stress because of designing a lesson, doing it right, and my hearing issues.
The second evening I had about fifteen students and I later discovered that Victor had about 30. We hope to adjust some students so it will be more even and less stress on Victor. My plan was to talk about the different ways English speaking people might greet each other, and I had two different activities to do in small groups. It was my hope that I would be able to fill an hour and a half without standing there trying to think of what to do next. Once we got started with greetings and the students warmed up they began to really show their stuff. It was obvious to me that this group had some good skills with English and I needed to respect their skill level while gently inviting them to improve.
The exercises I had planned seemed to work well and they had fun once they got going. A thought about small groups and Vietnamese culture: the culture and the people are predisposed to working very well in groups. I was not thinking of this until Voung from the Friendship Union staff pointed it out to me later. All I was doing was trying to find ways to engage them so they were doing the talking instead of me talking at them. Don’t get me wrong, I love to hear myself talk and what I know is, this program is not about me it is about the people I am here to serve.
At the end of the evening I asked for suggestions from the group about discussion topics. After a long pause one young lady said she would like to talk about different cultures around the world. Wow! I said I thought that was a great idea. There were questions about what that meant and I explained that for example how Japanese, or Indian, or Korean cultures compare to Vietnamese culture. The class looked interested and nodded in agreement so we are set for our next meeting.
We went out tonight with a Buddhist monk and his friends for tea. These people are very funny and they seem to find Victor and I a constant source of amusement. Well It is a reminder for me to not take myself too seriously. We all have a good laugh with them speaking English and us attempting Vietnamese. Hey, come hang out with us.....next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
BTW if you would like to help.... http://danangquangnamfund.org