My EIL experience was the first of many milestones for me. It was my first time in Asia, first time voluntarily working abroad, and the first time to be apart from my friends and family for two whole months. Naturally, it was nerve wracking but exciting to live this part of my life that was entirely out of my comfort zone. From the moment we arrived in the VPV house, we were greeted by different nationalities from Vietnamese to French to Americans and more. I listened to international volunteers speaking about their culture, traditions and values in their home country. From the beginning, it became clear to me that this experience would open my eyes and my mind to the world around me.
At VPV’s culture night, the Irish girls and I spoke proudly about Ireland and everything it has to offer from green fields to pints of Guinness to famous landmarks, we ensured the people knew all things Irish. To give them a taste of Irish music, I played a few tunes on the tin whistle while the girls also taught them cúpla focal. Needless to say, we made our presence known. Hence, we were all learning and teaching each other new things about our home countries and it made me feel very fortunate to be part of quite a unique learning and intercultural experience.
When we began to work, it was easy to build relationships with the other international volunteers as we were all united with the purpose to educate children. Our fundamental aim was to expand the students’ knowledge and strengthen their linguistic abilities. To our amazement, our students in Vietnam had developed a very high standard of English. Their sheer determination and hardworking abilities were evident in the way they spoke and wrote. At every lesson, we tested their vocabulary on a wide range of topics such as food, animals, and clothes, and together they would remember a long list of words for each topic. It was incredible to see children have such strong linguistic abilities at such a young age.
This is surely testament to the fact that Vietnam recognizes education as a national priority. Twenty percent of the Vietnamese budget is used for education. Vietnam has high primary school completion rates, strong gender parity, low student/teacher ratios and a low out of school rate (Nguyen, 2019). The differences between Ireland and Vietnam were evident in the student’s linguistic abilities. In Vietnam, their first and native language is Vietnamese but typically primary school students are taught English and/ or French too. While in Ireland, reports show that pupils in Irish primary schools have strong capabilities in English and Maths but less so with our own language Irish (Ó Fátharta, 2018). However, there are minority groups across Ireland that would speak our native tongue daily. Although our approach to teaching Irish may not be the strongest, education in Ireland is world renowned due to maintaining high standards in a wide range of subjects.
It was evident that the international volunteers in the house were well educated as many of them spoke at least two languages. In this environment, it gave me the urge to start learning another language. I was not alone as some of the other Irish girls spoke about how they wanted to become stronger at Irish after hearing the others speak fluently in their native tongue. This highlights the importance of the environment around you as when you are surrounded by people who are knowledgeable, it encourages you to better yourself and to keep learning. This experience further proves that education does not need to stop when we leave an educational institution, we have an innate ability as humans to learn, develop and grow to better ourselves and the world around us as Nelson Mandela said “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Mairead Redmond, 2019, Vietnam, Access Winner
Nguyen, C. (2019). Enhancing the Quality of Foreign Language Learning Through Extracurricular Programs for Vietnamese Students. Education and Linguistics Research, 5(2), p.1.
Ó Fátharta, C. (2018). Concern over quality of Irish teaching in schools. [online] Irishexaminer.com. Available at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/concern-over-quality-of-irish-teaching-in-schools-466736.html [Accessed 6 Feb. 2018].