Today we enjoyed our second and last day working at the Christian Brothers charity school in Ho Chi Minh City. We started by getting dropped off by our bus driver and following Mr. Hue through the maze of alleyways that you need to walk through in order to get to the school. When we arrived, the students instantly filled with excitement and you could tell by the way the volume rose inside the building. The kids fondly remembered each of the volunteers that had spent time in their classrooms the day before and we were approached with smiles, hugs, high fives, bows, and peace signs.
Today I got a chance to spend time in a classroom with a more advanced group of kids (I will guess Grade 3). The reason I say “more advance” rather than “older” is because I came to the realization that grade levels are not based on age like they are in the United States. They are based on academic level instead. For example, a sixteen year old could technically be in the same class as a six year old if they are starting school for the very first time. I taught in this class with Mariela and Juli (with Mike quietly observing in the back of the classroom). I would say that out of the five total sessions that I taught, this was the most organized and productive—we were a great team!
We started off figuring out what English words they knew and were presently surprised at how many animals, numbers, body parts, and etcetera that they could correctly name! We then moved on to show them how to make paper cranes out of small pieces of colored construction paper. This project was intended so that the students would have a small reminder of their day with us, but in the end most of the students ended up giving us their cranes as gifts. Finally we played a bunch of games with them including “hangman,” number patterns, and an animal noise guessing game.
During the second session of the morning, I went to the Grade 1 classroom for a third time—I just couldn’t get enough! The teacher was present this time around, but had us run the class. We decided to teach them the English words for the members of their family. We wrote the words down on the board, pronounce each word as a group, and then write down the words in their journals. The three of us walked up and down the aisles checking out the students’ work and as I did so, almost every student pulled on my arm to show me what they have done and ask to practice pronouncing the words with me one-on-one. In doing so, I even learned the Vietnamese pronunciations for these words! We then taught them a couple of songs to which the students responded by singing a song to us. Later the teacher explained to me that the song meant, “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Please, don’t forget about us.” At the end of class, the students enjoyed covering our shirts with stickers again and drawing pictures for us to keep.
We all made our way downstairs and crowded in the alleyway beside the building. One of the boys who had been in my first class of the day visited with us and we were shocked by his comprehension of a fluency in English. He told us all about his interests, sang us some songs (such as “See You Again” ft. Charlie Pruth– video coming soon!). He told us that his dream was to move to New York in the future and that he would be seeing us again one day.
Because I am on my way to becoming a teacher, it is safe to say that the past two days have been a very emotional experience for me. I have learned to be appreciative of everything that I am entitled to based only on the circumstances under which I was born. I only wish that I could spend more of the time on this trip helping these students to learn, and more importantly, learning from them.
After we went to the school, we enjoyed a meal of pizza and pasta. All of our stomachs have been longing for some Western cuisine and it was just what we all needed! We then went to the Central Post Office to buy post cards and stamps to send to our family and friends. This is one of the oldest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City and is right across the street from the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral. We enjoyed walking through the gift shops as well.
After a long break in the hotel, we were off to our surprise dinner! We were dropped off at a restaurant called Noir and noticed immediately how fancy it was. We were led upstairs to a small room with couches and tables that had blindfolds and puzzles on it. After ordering our drinks, we were instructed to put the blindfolds on and try to complete the puzzles—much more difficult then we thought it would be! We were eventually led into the “dark room” (which was completely pitch black) and were each seated. We were served a meal consisting of eleven different items, but were not given any information about the courses before eating. As excited as I was for this experience, I discovered how fond I am of being able to see my food before consuming it! Later, we were brought back to the room upstairs and were filled in on what was served to us and informed that the waiters and waitresses in this restaurant are all blind!
When we got back to the hotel, we had to bid farewell to our tourguide and new friend Mr. Hue (“Huey”). This would be our last day with him as tomorrow we will fly to Pleiku to continue our journey north. We are so lucky to have been able to spend almost a week with Huey, as he is a fountain of information, a great source of stories, and a kind man. Our next tour guide will have some large shoes to fill!
We are only about one-third of the way through with our trip and I feel that I have already learned so much. Because this is my very first adventure outside of the U.S. it is my first time being exposed to how massive the world is and how many people are in it. When I look out at the sea of motorbikes covering the streets of HCMC, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around how each one of these individuals has a completely unique life story that I will never know about. Being outside of my little Bay Area bubble is very humbling in that I get to see, first-hand, the way of life for people who live far away from me and appreciate that every life is just as significant as my own.
Pleiku, here we come!