I can’t believe it has only been 2 months since I last posted on my blog. So much has happened since then! When I last wrote I didn’t even have a teaching job secured and yet, here I am, over a week into my teaching stint in Viet Nam!
I have had so many conflicting emotions since I arrived here. I wasn’t sure what to expect and had no expectations, which in hindsight is good, because it was such a hardcore culture shock as it was, that if I had had expectations, the conflict would have been more huge than it was when I got here.
The first major change was the weather of course. All the locals here think it’s freezing and are wearing jerseys and boots and things – at a mild 25 degrees I am in my element and embracing it as the temperature and humidity here apparently soar to unbearable heights. The weather is already not doing anything great for my hair but at least now I don’t even have to TRY and straighten it because there is just no point. Curly is my new state.
Not knowing anyone and not knowing how to get anywhere was a real challenge in the beginning. I am not teaching at a school but rather at an English centre which means the English being taught is extra English for the kids. So I teach every day but only in the evenings for one or two hours and the majority of my teaching takes place over the weekend – Saturday and Sunday are really busy and at the moment I am teaching 21 classes a week ranging from 4 to 12 year olds. The teaching is going well! I am putting a lot of effort into lesson preparation which takes up quite a bit of time. But time is something I have so much of at the moment! Because I only teach in the evenings my days are free. Because there is no such thing as public transport here and the language barrier is just that – a complete barrier to any understanding between me and the locals, the only exploring I can do at the moment is on foot. It took me a week to find the actual supermarket where there are tills and everything but it’s a 2.5 km walk one way and while this is doable now, while the weather is still mild, it would be pretty much suicidal to try and attempt this once the temperatures start rising. So I do need to invest in a scooter (even a bicycle would be silly in the heat) so that is something I need to organise. Everyone here rides scooters and it’s amazing to see. Women in high heels and smartly dressed ride their scooters. Families of 5 all manage to organise themselves onto one scooter and everyone rides around hooting merrily. You can imagine my shock at all the hooting when I first arrived. No-one hoots in London, and if they do, it’s seen as very impolite. But apparently here it is the norm and completely acceptable. So is going through a red light if you are turning apparently. They actually have the green man light for pedestrians to cross but woe betide if you just cross – it’s still a dodge-ems game no matter what the lights are telling you. However, no one drives fast and it all seems to work.
I am living in a massive house with one other person, who, surprise surprise, is also South African. He is 24 and has been teaching here for over a year. I feel like I was told there was going to be 4 teachers living in the house (but that could also have been a lost in translation thing) and so was a bit surprised to learn that it was only going to be the two of us. We are literally the only non-Vietnamese people for miles around. He works at a few other centres (he has a scooter and can get around) and because he has been here for a while has a support base. I have met some of his friends once so far and I am sure will again but he is often out of the house on his own mission so a lot of the time I am in this big old house on my own. Well, not entirely on my own. I have seen a few rats, loads of gheckos and there is something living in the cupboard downstairs that sounds like it’s a small child trying to get out!! (Trying not to think too much about that!). I am hand washing my own washing at the moment because the lady he goes to lives too far away for me to walk to and at this stage I don’t know of anywhere closer.
My room is about as big as my little house in Noordsig was – it’s enormous! So I have started a new daily regime. First of all every morning Dan and I Skype. The time difference is 5 hours so when I am waking up he is going to bed!!! If he goes to bed at 2, that is 7 my time which is perfect. We Skype for an hour then he passes out and I get up and start my day. Which as of 3 days ago starts with a peaceful 30 minutes of yoga, then a 30 minute cardio session followed by a meditation session that lasts as long as I want it to. After that I have breakfast, go out for supplies if I need to, and then settle in to some lesson preparation. I panicked at first thinking I would be bored but I’m not. I am loving the quiet solitude and space and warmth that is allowing me to get healthy again.
The food here is cheap and interesting. I have had some amazing, tasty food and I have also had some dishes that I could not stomach due to the consistency and lack of taste. Most things are cheap here! 0.60p for a beer or R10 (not even sure if that is cheap in SA anymore but it’s certainly cheap in the UK)! Cigarettes are extremely cheap at around £1 for a packet (not that I’m smoking but my housemate does) and so is eating out. Eating out is an experience. First of all you can smoke anywhere here and when eating out people just throw their butts on the floor along with anything else that forms part of the meal. We had a clam chowder dish the one night and I was told to throw the shells on the floor. Beer cans too. Once your party is done they just come and clear it up!
The people are super friendly and I have become quite the local already as I walk my route to the supermarket most days. Everybody shouts out hello (unfortunately that’s where the conversation ends) but I do feel like quite the film star here as people do stare and wave and smile.
Working at the centre was also very challenging at first. Even though its an English centre and all the teachers can speak English, their English is not great (and I see now why they employ foreign teachers to help out because the kids would not get far learning English from their Vietnamese teachers). Their pronunciation is SO different and often it takes me ages to understand what they are saying and vice versa. But I am learning to speak slowly and everybody just takes it in their stride when the communication is lacking. We all just try and try until the penny drops. Teaching the kids is different every day. Some days the class goes SO well and I really feel like they enjoyed it and I made a difference. And then other days it’s just mediocre. But I put so much effort into preparing each class that I am not beating myself up about it when it doesn’t go well. There is a syllabus they are following and some days no matter how hard you try, you cannot make it interesting – especially when you are covering the same content for the 5th time! The younger kids are by far the hardest to teach as they don’t understand and they get fidgety quickly but they are so cute! Luckily the Vietnamese teacher stays in the class so they often explain to the kids when I can’t get through to them. It requires a lot of thinking on my feet and it’s very challenging, especially when the kids don’t want to participate, but it also feels like I’ve been doing this for a million years and I am on such a high each evening after classes are done!
I can see why teachers need so many breaks though! I am SO looking forward to my first break which is in just under a month’s time. Also because I can use that opportunity to go and explore a bit of Viet Nam. But more about that in a future post.
For now I am just so grateful that I am settling in and starting to see the positives in the space that I am now in. I am going to embrace it and use this time to be the best teacher I can be, and the best me I can be. Last year I felt I was becoming a very negative, angry person and I can already feel that this environment and all the positives I will be putting into my life and my health, will only benefit me and put me on the road to being the positive, at peace person I want to be.
P.S. Because transferring photos from my phone and laptop to WordPress is such a nightmare I won’t be posting many pics here but mainly on Insta – you can follow me there – mariafkyle.