Volunteer Review: Gina Reynolds – Teaching in Vietnam
The first thing that attracted me to Projects Abroad was the efficient communication right from my first contact with the company. For the months leading up to my trip, I was able to find answers to any questions I had either via email or on the website. The pre departure checklist was particularly helpful for avoiding any last minute panics!
This being my first journey outside Europe, I was a bit unprepared for the length of the flight. For anyone in the same position, make sure you try to get plenty of sleep before your journey and don’t rely on being able to sleep on the plane. I certainly arrived feeling very tired, not having slept for more than 24 hours! When I arrived in Vietnam, it was really reassuring to be met by somebody from the Projects Abroad team, who then took me to the volunteer house.
Arriving in Vietnam
My first couple of days in Vietnam were quite overwhelming, due to the jet lag and culture shock. Hanoi is a very densely populated city and the number of people and amount of traffic is not something I was used to. I can imagine anyone traveling here for the first time will experience the same thing, but my advice would be just to take things slowly, stay calm and patient and ask for help if you need it! Also, it’s a really good idea to keep an open mind and don’t be too fixed in your expectations. The other volunteers I met who enjoyed their time the most were definitely those who expected things to be different and were enthusiastic about new experiences.
There are two things you should not be scared of – crossing the road and getting on motorbike taxis. As long as you keep a steady pace and don’t panic, crossing the road is not too bad. Getting a motorbike taxi to work every day was great fun! I can also recommend the ‘grab’ app for booking car and bike taxis. It’s free to download and is really cheap, quick and reliable (the best thing about it is that you can check the cost before your journey).
The induction day was also really helpful for alleviating the first day nerves and for getting to know a little bit of Hanoi as well as becoming familiar with the Projects Abroad office and resources. It was great getting to know another volunteer during my induction as we got to experience a lot for the first time together. I was also able to talk to my project coordinator about what to expect from my placement.
My Teaching Project
The first couple of days at the placement itself were slightly overwhelming. The school I worked at is very big and it was quite easy to get lost. The staff was very friendly and welcoming though, and by the end of the month I felt that I had developed a good working relationship with the other English teachers. I was working with a number of different classes across grades 3, 4 and 5. This was a great opportunity to work with a wide range of children and teachers and experience different learning styles.
Comparing my placement to teaching in the UK, I would have to say the biggest differences are the class sizes and the children’s behaviour. Classes of 50+ children were certainly quite intimidating to begin with and I lost my voice quite quickly (I used a microphone for the rest of the month!). However, the children were very eager to learn and were respectful to the teachers. I really enjoyed coming up with fun games and activities to help the children practice their English and I felt that my efforts were appreciated both by the children and the teachers. I can certainly recommend competitive games and any activities involving actions and movement – the children responded so well to these. Stickers are also a very valuable resource to have with you – they are always welcomed as rewards for good work.
Free time in Vietnam
I felt really lucky to have met some wonderful people who I plan to stay in touch with when I am home. It is really worth participating in the social activities as much as possible and making plans to explore the area with other volunteers over the weekends. I can definitely recommend trips to Ha Long Bay and Sapa for some truly amazing scenery. In Hanoi, the Old Quarter around Hoan Kiem Lake is a great place to spend the evening. The coffee shops are fantastic (definitely try egg coffee and coconut coffee). Haka coffee shop is somewhere I kept going back. There are also many restaurants to suit everyone’s tastes. Minh Chay restaurant is completely vegan and Aubergine café offers a good range of vegetarian options. This was my favourite place to eat in Hanoi.
As well as the social events, it is really worthwhile to participate in the language lessons offered at the Projects Abroad office. Learning Vietnamese is difficult but we had so much fun practicing together and it’s really rewarding when you can say and understand a few words. I’m going to keep learning at home so I can come back as soon as possible!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.