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A wonderful teaching experience in Viet Nam
20 April 2009
by Julia Haba Osca

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Julia (left) and students in the class
Using education as a vehicle (among many), UNV seeks to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals: eradicate extreme poverty, promote gender equality and equity, and encourage development.

I was a UNV university volunteer - English teacher at, Tra Vinh University (TVU). My job focused on improving students’ speaking and listening skills and I also helped with extracurricular activities, such as the English Speaking Club. Even though I worked in a rural area, it is still important for the young Vietnamese to learn foreign languages, because they may wish to work abroad or for an international organisation.

Three days after my flight landed in Vietnam, Thy Pham, who worked at the international collaboration office, came to pick me up in Saigon in order to take me to Tra Vinh which was four hours away by car. Since it was Friday she took me straight away to my new home, handed me a document filled with information about the university and introduced me to another volunteer – an American named Sarah McGowan. Afterwards, I was warmly welcomed by some of the Foreign Language department staff. TVU provided my accommodation (an adorable independent house inside the university campus), transportation (a bicycle – of course!) and an allowance (120 US $ per month).

I only had to work four days per week: from Monday until Thursday. Thursdays were really tough since I ended up working late due to the English Speaking Club. The club shared the same goals as the English class but its methods were based on having fun and encouraging oral expression.

Teaching English was the mainstay of my role: I co-taught with Ms. McGowan both first year university classes and then taught by myself Senior College students and Technical English for Economics professors, which later developed into a General Professors group. This last group was extremely hard to teach due to the enormous range of levels (from novices to advanced); and a sporadic attendance record which can be attributed to the rigorous demands of their workloads.

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Julia (right) teaching students
I was pleased with the progress of my university students. The improvement in their group work was considerable! When we started they had never worked in groups, they had done neither oral presentations nor debates, yet their confidence, and their presentation skills had improved exponentially only 6 months later. These students really used their time wisely. Our students have learned new classroom habits such as getting to class on time, handing in their homework without excuses or delays, working hard and sticking to their goals. Nobody asked me to do so, but I handed in a progress report that helped our students realise their weak points in order for them to improve before their final exams.

Working at TVU was a rewarding experience. I felt really useful and fulfilled there. There were a number of challenges, such as slow progress and low levels of English among the staff, but I enjoyed working there from day one because I was able to adapt and I had wonderful colleagues. They all had lovely words of comfort and support and were always smiling. The Vietnamese are known for their strong sense of self-improvement and I was able to witness and harness this ambition in my students.

Apart from one or two other foreigners, the vast majority of my friends were Vietnamese working at the University. They were all very kind and considerate, helping me with absolutely everything. I had a great opportunity to live among the local people and follow their rites and customs. Furthermore, the rector considered teaching Spanish as a future foreign language because there is no university in Vietnam that offers it and it has a broad future of possibilities due to the enormous amount of Spanish speakers in the world. I started the first steps by translating the website into Spanish and managing a mutual agreement with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, which was really interested in establishing a partnership with TVU’s Faculty of Agriculture and Aquaculture.

I was very lucky because I managed to travel a lot around Viet Nam as well as to other South East Asian countries. For example, UNV organised a workshop at Tam Dao mountains and one in Ha Noi and that way I managed to meet other UNV volunteers, particularly our Programme Officers Ida Munck and Sandra Veloso, and visit the capital of this wonderful country.

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Julia (in pink) with her students at Tra Vinh University

Living in the heart of the Mekong Delta countryside, surrounded by emerald green rice fields, throngs of conical hats riding bicycles, shrimp fishermen, flowing orange robes rolled around the fibrous bodies of Khmer monks, Viet Chinese still conserving their language and family business over many generations and the Vietnamese ambition for improvement, has been a real life experience. Thanks to the people I’ve met, this has been the best experience of my life so far.

This job has changed my life, perceptions and values. Every single day I had the feeling that I was like a sponge absorbing new knowledge, putting into practice the recently acquired knowledge, adapting and trying to promote small changes through training and education.

Even if we have such different cultures and are separated by many thousands of kilometers, I realise that all human beings are the same: we laugh, cry, love and suffer the exact same way. I really believe volunteerism is the key to a better world; and it should start with a high quality education to all the students no matter their origin, gender, status or religion.

 
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