Lily’s Experience in Vietnam
Lily Adler from Vermont volunteered in Vietnam as an English teacher for 3 and a half months in the beginning of 2019. Here are some of her very inspiring words about living and volunteering in Vietnam.
Placement Name & Role- Van Lang School, Halong City, English Teacher
How did you find the support you received to prepare before departure? Did you attend the briefing in-person or via Skype? What did you like about the briefing? What would you change about it?
I thought the pre-departure process would be really stressful for me because I was very worried about what my experience was going to be like and if I was going to be met with the same struggles I had on my first placement. But, the whole Lattitude staff was amazing! They were so supportive and quick to reply to all my questions. Since I live in the United States I attended the briefing via Skype. For me the whole pre-departure process was very thorough, there isn’t anything that I can think of that I would change.
Looking back, is there any further pre-departure information that you feel Lattitude should have provided you with?
One thing that was highly stressed was what to wear and what was appropriate. My experience while I was away was that women are extremely flexible with what they could wear. The female teachers were always well dressed and very fashion forward. During the work day I felt under dressed compared to the teachers and wished I had brought more dresses and nicer pants. Outside of work volunteers can definitely wear thin strapped tops and shorts (not too short) without getting glanced at. Another REALLY IMPORTANT thing to note is that there are pharmacies everywhere. I was able to get my normal prescriptions that I get from my pharmacy at home without a doctor's visit for a fraction of the price that they are in the United States. As long as volunteers know the prescription name and dosage they will be all set. The medical care over there was great!
On arrival at your placement, did your host/mentor give you an induction or training?
I was able to observe classes and how they were run before I started to teach on my own.
How many hours per week did you work at your placement?
26 - 35
What was the accommodation like at your placement?
The accommodation was great! Kennedy (my roommate) and I were very comfortable in our room. We lived on school campus in a boarding room with other Vietnamese teachers who lived on the floor. We had an A/C in our room which was amazing, and a private bathroom. There was a shared kitchen and sitting area which was nice because we got the opportunity to become close with the other teachers.
Do you feel you made a difference at your placement?
I think I was able to make a difference at my placement. When I arrived, my students were so shy and afraid to speak in English if it meant they might be wrong. Seeing my students come out of their shells, and encouraging them to continue to speak even if it’s wrong was so rewarding. They excelled so much in the short time that I was there. Each class, even the most quiet students, were improving immensely.
Can you tell us about the high point(s) of your placement?
Without a doubt the best part was seeing how excited my students always were to see me. No matter how I was feeling their excitement and enthusiasm always put my mood in such a better place. It made me feel so valued and appreciated.
Can you tell us about the toughest part(s) of your placement?
Honestly the toughest part was leaving the students. Some of them even cried, which was heartbreaking. The toughest part on the day to day basis was having a shellfish allergy and being aware of what foods were ok to eat. Not many people fully understood what that meant so I had to learn how to communicate that to them and be extra cautious with reading labels.
Did you experience match up with your expectations? How so, and how did it differ?
My experience was so much better than anything I could have imagined. I wasn’t sure going in what to expect which made me really nervous. I know that is completely normal, but from the second I landed in Vietnam I was met by Ms. Thao, one of the teachers, and she was so welcoming. I instantly knew that this was going to be an amazing experience.
What advice you would offer to future volunteers at your placement, and with Lattitude in general?
I would tell other volunteers to just be in the moment. It may seem like you will be there forever but before you know it, it’s over. Take advantage of where you are, go on weekend trips and see other cities and towns. They are all so beautiful. I would also say take daily walks around your own area, you will be surprised at what you will discover even if you think you have seen everything in your area. Lastly, make friends with the locals. They want to talk to you and get to know you. You are living with them in the same area, it’s nice to know that you have made friends outside of the volunteer circle.
How did you raise the money for your placement?
Paid employment, I had two jobs before I left.
How do you feel now that you’re home?
I miss Vietnam and think about it every day. It’s nice for me, knowing that it’s not too long until I will be back (this coming January)!
Have experienced any reverse culture shock? If so, have you taken any steps to address it (ie keeping busy, talking to other volunteers etc.)?
Coming home was extremely difficult. I missed my family a lot, but they were the only reason I was happy to be home. Once I was home everything seemed so different and not as comforting as I had anticipated. I remember the most pivotal moment of returning home for me was opening our giant refrigerator and seeing an abundance of food, neatly packaged and wrapped in plastic. I literally burst into tears and told my mom that I missed being able to walk to the market every day and get fresh, local produce. Now that I’m home I hate getting into the car and having to drive everywhere. Americans are nowhere near as kind and welcoming as the Vietnamese. Living in a place that is completely upside down and corrupt is so difficult, especially coming from such a peaceful and calm country (except for the traffic).
What have you been up to since your return?
I have decided not to go to school in the States and will be moving back to Vietnam with my boyfriend who was there with me for 4 weeks. We will both be teaching while were there and getting our degrees online. Right now were just getting everything in order for the big move in January.