From June until July 2019, I volunteered in a kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I have always enjoyed working with children, having previous experience working in a nursery in Edinburgh, and therefore I wanted to experience working in a kindergarten in a different country. Being a sociology student, I am always interested in experiencing different cultures. The thought of volunteering abroad had been in the back of my mind for a little while until a friend of mine volunteering abroad the previous summer finally pushed me to apply.
Volunteering in Vietnam was definitely one of the best ways to immerse in Vietnamese culture and interact with the locals. The programme coordinators were all local and our cultural coordinator taught us about the language and culture on our first few days and took as to some of the main landmarks. Our accommodation was a fair distance away from the tourist area of Ho Chi Minh City, or District 1 as it was called. Visiting District 1 on several occasions, I realised that we were very fortunate to have the coordinators teach us about local culture from a perspective that visiting Ho Chi Minh City’s tourist areas does not give you.
It came as a surprise to me that there wasn’t much that I was worried about before leaving – I was probably most nervous about the 28-hour journey ahead of me! However, the biggest hurdle I faced was in terms of the project. I applied for the Kindergarten Project, which focuses on caring for 3-5 year olds. However, on arrival, I was asked if I would instead teach English to 7-9 year olds who had previously attended the Kindergarten that the class took place in. Having no prior teaching experience, I was slightly apprehensive. The class varied in ability, which served as another challenge especially considering that for 2 of the 4 weeks there was only myself and one other girl teaching the class before. However, the children made the experience completely worthwhile. Their willingness to learn and just seeing them improve every day was one of the most rewarding parts.
I learned a lot from my month in Vietnam. From the moment I landed, I was struck by the appreciation and willingness to help of the local people, with the programme organisers being among some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. In the second week, one of my friends suffered heatstroke and the coordinators spent the day checking up on her and ensuring she was well fed. This is just one of many examples of how they went above and beyond for every single volunteer. During my time in Vietnam, I formed friendships both the coordinators and fellow volunteers. I learned the importance of patience and kindness, and I learned not to be scared to push myself to try new things. Teaching in Vietnam was an experience that I will never forget.