Volunteer’s name: Alex Bigaouette
Project: Nghia Tan primary school
Duration: 5 months
Hi people! I’m Alex, and I’m writing this coming back from the school I volunteer at, as a French assistant teacher. So, you’re wondering if you want to volunteer in Vietnam? Hell, I know it can be a hard decision, I’ve been there. I hope that by talking about my long-term volunteering experience, it will help you a little bit!
I still remember my mom saying to my grandma about my 5 months project in Vietnam, and then hearing my grandma saying: “she’ll get kidnapped!” Oh, mama… How far from the reality. I think I’d get more easily kidnapped in Canada than here. I fell in love with Vietnam, with Hanoi. With the welcoming people, the curious looks, the differences, the similarities, the landscapes, the chill atmosphere, the language. Everything is different from back home, but, somehow… I didn’t have any kind of shock, really. Because I quickly got used to stuff, because people are still people, no matter where they are from.
I’ve been here for 3 months so far, and I like it so much that I’m thinking about staying here for another year, teaching English. For me, Canada has always been this very structured, organized, planned linear life, and I’m sure most of Western people would feel the same. Everything that would suddenly come up would bring a lot of stress with it. Here? There’s this relaxed atmosphere. Why would I stress over this? It’s fine. Some people may think that it’s too carefree or a mindset. It is not. I feel more motivated than ever to do everything I need to do in order to be just as happy as I am here. People still take their responsibility to heart, but they deal better with life whenever a little something comes up, which is definitely something Western people, we need to catch up on. Vietnam has so much to offer and to teach.
It is like the perfect combination of never getting bored, but also not feeling overwhelmed.
So, the volunteering part is exceptional. Volunteering offers an opportunity to observe and interact with the locals, to see their everyday life. This is not something that can be found in every kind of travel. Something that is very normal here may different somewhere else, but the locals won’t think about talking about it, because they don’t necessarily think about it. Especially for small, little differences. Some may think that they are not important… but they totally are! Adding all of these little differences together, and you totally get another lifestyle! And so, in order to about these differences, you need to observe. You need to be incorporated into the Vietnamese daily life, and volunteering offers this experience. Not all travelers get to, for example, talk about the scholar system and its pros and cons with a Vietnamese teacher!
You may also discover a bit more of yourself by volunteering. For example, I am discovering how I totally enjoy teaching! Or some others discover that they enjoy more of the “talking in front of the class” part, some others enjoy the paperwork, etc. So, yes, volunteering is still about helping some place. As for me, I feel like the place is helping me just as much, if not more.
At the VPV house, we live most of the volunteers all together. It can be quite scary for more introvert people, but we’re all in the same boat: it’s okay to want some time for ourselves, and it is respected. The other volunteers, some are short-timers, some are long-timers, and they somehow all become a little bit of your family. You experience Vietnam through a similar perspective, and so they are there if you need advices, if you want to try this new spot, if you need something. Most importantly, they come from all over the world, and I’ve had so many interesting conversations with volunteers here that I feel like I’ve traveled even farther than just in Vietnam.
Considering that I wanted to escape my routine in Canada, it’s a bit weird for me to actually appreciate having some kind of routine here. But I like it, sincerely. Because I know that this routine is temporary, because everything is so new and different that it’s nice to not always feel like a tourist. On my way to school, every morning, I like seeing the dog named Jack in front of the library, I like seeing that bus always parked there, I like that the guards posted in front of the police station now recognize and smile at me, I like seeing the fast-food workers, I like getting to know my students.
Traveling as a volunteer teaches you and offers you a lot in terms of getting to know a place, and traveling in Vietnam offers you simplicity and happiness, so why not mix them both?