We departed from Ireland during summer of 2019 and my destination was Vietnam, I was very honoured to be one of the chosen students to go represent Ireland in their partnering organisations in Vietnam, my project was to teach basic and intermediate English. I was filled with anxiety but I was filled more with the excitement of learning about Vietnamese people and their culture. When we arrived in Vietnam we were welcomed by the most amazing people, who were not just our mentors but also became our friends. Before departing Ireland I had a rough idea of the lifestyle and people in Vietnam so I came prepared for their culture, weather, exploration and learning more about Vietnam.

I stayed in a hostel, which we called the VPV House (Volunteer for Peace Vietnam), I shared a room with three other volunteers which was exciting because we got to learn about each other too. The following day was orientation day where we learned a little about the hostel and what was expected of us and a little about how things are done in Vietnam such as the correct way of using chopsticks, how wearing a white head band represents a death in your family, how to smile and say hello to the locals. All this information was really helpful and as the day passed I noticed some of the information given unfold. I began to observe many differences between Ireland and Vietnam such as air pollution, waste management, cultural differences, noise pollution and electrical wires hanging out in the streets. But I really found it amazing how people looked after each other and taking short naps after lunch.

We were also given Vietnamese lessons that helped us with basic communication, buying something or asking simple questions e.g. “bao nhieu tien” which means, “how much?” It became easy to navigate my way around and using Vietnamese to greet the locals and going to local cafés. The girls and myself took short trips over the weekends to explore different parts of Vietnam.

In the VPV house we also had meetings every Wednesday to plan our lessons and give recommendations about the school or the house. Different activities were also planned for us like movie nights, bowling, culture nights and cooking classes.

I worked with students ranging from 5-16 years old. The students were divided into different categories we had summer camp students, school children, community centre students and students who were classified as gifted students. The main part of my project was to make sure that I help the Vietnamese children as much as I can in improving their English. I engaged the students by creating a lot of interactive activities that will motivate them to communicate more in English with the teacher and other students in the classroom. My main focus was learning more about the students and the education system in Vietnam, the classrooms and how different they were in their own way and the different levels of learning styles they had and how to help each individual with improving their English.

Challenges were that the students didn’t speak any English and they tried hard to communicate with the teacher, some students were very shy and some didn’t want to learn. Once I got to observe and understand each individual it made the work easier, I knew from my teaching experiences back in Ireland how I could help. Quality education is very important no matter where you are in the world.

On the 12/07/2019 myself and another EIL Volunteer Mairead had the opportunity and privilege to be part of the TVT News Channel Vietnam, one of the local supporters was being followed and recorded by the news channel after winning a competition in the field of education. The news piece was to follow her daily routine. All the recording of that day was made in our classroom whilst we were teaching with her present, and this was going to be shown on television.

During my stay we had the opportunity to meet the Friends of Ireland and Mr Phuong who is the president of Volunteer for Peace Vietnam, he invited us to come and celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Friends of Ireland in Vietnam, and later to visit the Irish Embassy, the UN and to take part in the upcoming Irish culture and sports camp. During the friends of Ireland anniversary we got the opportunity to meet the ambassador of Friends of Ireland.

During our visit to the UN house we met a group of other volunteers who had finished their project in one of the villages in Hanoi, where we listened to their experiences. I learned about Vietnamese ethnic minorities from hidden villages and have no formal education and must educate themselves on how to live a sustainable life. Other effects on the villagers included climate change, they are dependent on the rainfall to grow their rice crops and some of this rice was sold so that they can make a living. The villagers lived their lives happily away from the big city e.g. they made their own clothes, grew their own food, made their own dye for clothes, and taught the Irish people how to mix cement in order to avoid waste.

Even though I have so much more to tell about my experience here in Vietnam, I can truly say that I have learnt a lot from the Vietnamese culture and their way of life. I’m coming home with a more open minded way of thinking, how the Vietnamese look after each other and greet each other when passing in the streets, the ladies will be combing and picking out white hairs from each other’s heads, you see many people holding hands on the road. Sometimes it is important to show love and care to one another.

During my stay I worked with all kinds of students, shy, confident, chaotic, calm. At first it was hard to quickly adjust to each child’s distinctive nature and their skill levels. But what made it more interesting was the lesson planning for different classes and observing the lessons while I teach and to be able to reflect on my improvement and improving the student’s levels in speaking and written English. It was wonderful to observe each student as they gradually progressed in their English speaking. I also genuinely enjoyed working with the staff at the VPV house especially interacting and mingling with different people from different cultures or just casual chats.

Overall I had the most wonderful time in Vietnam, the VPV house and as a volunteer teaching English. It was satisfying to make a difference for the students learning English in Vietnam. Most of all I’m so grateful for all the things I have shared and learned from the students, locals, other volunteers, school teachers and the staff at the VPV house. Another amazing experience was learning how to make spring rolls in the VPV house. I will also miss the curiosity of the locals who always asked me if I was from the Philippines or India because of the colour of my skin, it is an experience I will never forget.

By Elizabeth Emerhu