It has now been six months since I came to Vietnam and I still can’t believe how fast time can past. On the one hand it seems like yesterday when I arrived in this beautiful country. But on the other hand it seems as if I had lived in this country for years. But despite how fast time is passing and how it feels to pass for me, I can still say that I am more than happy to be here and more than sad to think that I have only three more months left until my volunteer work ends.
But what did I experience in the last three months? What has changed? How do I feel right now? And what do I think about everything when I have time to reflect about the last months?
These are just a few questions that are probably interesting to be answered. So starting with the first question, I think that there are so many events that took place so that I just try to mention the most important ones in this text.
In the beginning of December, we were invited by a biology teacher of our school to go to Sapa, a beautiful mountainous area in the North of the country close to the Chinese border that is famous for its amazing landscape with rice terraces. We went there with her daughter and her husband and despite the cold weather and fog it was a really nice trip. In general, we spend a lot of time with this family (we meet at least once a week and they always ask how we are doing) so within the last months they
became like a second family to us. Since we don’t live in a host family, spending time with them is always a great possibility for us to get a close insight into the Vietnamese culture, to practice our Vietnamese skills and to talk to the daughter Vic who is now like a sister to us! (In this picture, you can see Mrs. Uyên, Mr. Két, Vic, Adjovi and me)
Talking about integration in this part of the text, I would like to tell you a little bit more about the relationships that we have with the people in our town and our school: Hòa Bình is a rather small city without a major university. Therefore, the only young people in here are our students which are all a little bit younger than us. This is the reason why it’s very hard for us to make friends outside of school. And honestly, we don’t have any true friends outside of school except one girl from the USA who works at the Hòa Bình Teacher’s college for nine months like us. When I arrived in Hòa Bình six months ago, it was difficult for me to arrange myself with this fact but now I don’t care about it at all. We have the chance to spend our free time with our teachers and their families, with some students or just with each other.
So, as I mentioned the students, I would like to continue with this topic. I think that I could really see how the students opened up within the last months: Our radio group has become our little group of friends and especially one of the girls has become a close friend. It’s nice to see how comfortable we feel now talking to each other and that when she comes to our room she already feels like home ;)
Another important point about the students that I would like to mention is that in general they become more confident in talking English and talking to us. So as we prepared for our big Christmas activity or made Chung cake (a traditional Vietnamese cake that is made during the Vietnamese New Year celebration) with some classes, we got to talk to some students, having fun and enjoying to spend time together.
Probably you wonder right now what these two activities were… So, on Christmas, the English department and the Youth Union co-operated with each other and organised a really big festival, an English speaking activity. This big festival consisted of a game part (Adjovi and me were in charge of it), a Christmas tree competition (making a Christmas tree out of recycled material), food being sold in stalls that the students decorated and a performance part with music
and dancing. Three classes formed one team that decorated a stall and a tree together according to one country of the whole world. In the performance part, I was quite busy since I participated in the catwalk performance, played the saxophone and danced in the dancing group of our school. In general, this event was quite impressive, also because the students prepared everything within three days! And since Christmas is not really celebrated in Vietnam, it was a good chance for us to feel the Christmas atmosphere so far away from home. (In this picture, you can see us performing with the dancing group D.N.C.)
But since my family visited me in Vietnam over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I didn’t really miss home during that time. I think for most volunteers it’s one of the toughest times to be away from home. For me in contrast, it was one of the best times since I could show my family so many places in Hòa Bình and Hanoi that I learned to love. Moreover, they could meet all the nice people that grew close to my heart! Sure, it was difficult for me when they left after two weeks but since our mid-term evaluation started one week later, I didn’t have time to feel sad at all.
This evaluation took place in Thai Nguyen province in a small local village in which the ethnic minority Tay try to preserve their culture.
They keep their traditions wearing their traditional cloths, eating on big banana leafs and living in stilted houses. During the five days we spent in this village, we got to know the Tay culture and exchanged a lot about our experiences in Vietnam with each other. It was pretty nice to see all the volunteers again with whom we had already spent our on-arrival training in Hanoi. According to me, the most interesting part was to hear about each others problems and to listen to all the different experiences that we made. Even though we spend a long time in this country, we all make so many different experiences and take different values home from our time in Vietnam. (In this picture, you can see me and some of the other volunteers taking a picture with a local for a team challenge)
I also realised how perfect my volunteer service has been so far. In Hòa Bình, I am surrounded by so many friendly people. I have a great project, really nice and mainly interested classes and I didn’t have to face any major problem so far. Moreover, I am more than happy with our small group of five volunteers in Hòa Bình. Even though we all have so different characters, we get along so great with each other. In this context, I also have to say that I am more than happy to be in my school together with Adjovi. I feel like this time here is something that will always connect us since we get to talk about so many different things! We spent so much time together but it never gets boring so I can be more than glad about having found a new friend!
But what has changed so far since I arrived?
As I said the students became more open on the one hand. But on the other hand we also have to admit that they were probably more excited about us at the beginning than now. That has its positive and negative sights since they may be less excited in the lesson but it’s also getting easier to communicate and you don’t have to take pictures all the time ;) However, I feel like it’s great to see that we are becoming more like a normal person because feeling special all the time can be quite exhausting.
Another big event that has just occurred was the Vietnamese New Year celebration that was celebrated in the beginning of February this year. During this time Vietnamese people have holiday and therefore free time that they spent with their relatives and friends. As we stayed in Hòa Bình during the first days of the vacation we got to spend lots of time with our teachers and their families. After one week in Hòa Bình we took our long holiday. It’s the only time for me that I take days of and therefore I haven’t been in Hòa Bình for almost one month now! So during the last weeks I got to see so many nice places all over the country: cities like Đà Nẵng or Hue or nature like the Bach-Ma National Park. Travelling in this country showed me how diverse Vietnam is and how happy I am that I chose to go here.
So now, as I haven’t been in Hòa Bình for a long time now, I can’t wait to come back and to meet everybody in the town again. Since there are only three more months left, I want to make the next months even more beautiful as it has already been! While meeting as many people as possible I hope to enjoy my city, the project and the whole country. I am just waiting for many great activities ahead!
- Claudia Hug