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Life at the Southern Agricultural college

I came to the college as a volunteer from the Latitude charity organization and I did not know what to expect when I arrived. I came from Australia and this had been my first time in South East Asia, let alone Vietnam. I feared that there would be very little in the way of facilities and that we would not be accepted by the teachers due to our youth. Yet upon my arrival at the college I found that my fears were unfounded. Both the students and the teachers were incredible welcoming and the school was equipped with modern facilities.

I quickly grew familiar with the facilities at the school, thanks our link teachers orientation early in our stay. At the school there are 4 apartment-like buildings for teaching, 3 of them had 3 floors and the last one had one. All of the classrooms in each of these buildings have a computer and a project in them, alongside the more traditional blackboard. The teachers utilize both the computer and the blackboard while teaching so that they can better get the information across to the students. There are also several laboratories to aid in the teaching of certain subjects, like animal husbandry for example. These laboratories are well equipped with charts, models as well as tools all to aid in the teaching of students. There is also a library with several computers at the school to help students study and conduct research for their assignments. The library boasts not only Vietnamese texts, but also the occasional English text as well. However the most amazing facility they have at the school is the experimental farm. Here students can practice what they learn and teachers can also give more practical demonstrations to students to aid in their understanding. The farm produce also helps fund the school.
However, the schools facilities are not limited to merely aiding in the learning process for students. The school also has dormitories for up to 600 students and they are located on school grounds, a mere minute walk from the classrooms. The school also has a canteen which serves a variety of Vietnamese food, a laundry service, a volleyball court and several badminton courts. The school also has its own kitchen which is for staff only and they were gracious enough to let us use it while we stayed there. The school also provided us with on site accommodation in one of their guest rooms. These rooms were wonderfully comfortable with a bed, wardrobe, TV and internet access. In fact during the day the whole school has free wi-fi access.
The students at the college are very different to western students, mainly due to the difference in culture. They are more polite, respectfully and quite although at times they are a little shy. In class they never try to undermine the teacher’s authority and they always listen to what the teachers says, unlike most western students. This means that there is never any problem with discipline. The students are often also quite eager to learn, especially English and when we make the lessons more fun. Even though we often have to coax them into giving answers or participating to overcome their initial shyness, once they are past it they are a lot of fun and learn quickly. While they may not be university students, they are still keen to learn and are very willing and capable students.
School life for the students isn’t confined to the classroom however. The students at the school participate in several extra curricular activities at the school. Three times a week there are Vovinam classes (a Vietnamese martial art) which normal attracts about 40 students each lesson. The volleyball court is also in near constant use and the level of skill of many of the students playing it is very high and it is quite spectacular to watch them play. Similarly, the badminton courts are also highly frequented as students love to relax by playing a game with their friends after school. However, the most popular sport by far is football, which is played both by students and teachers. While there is no football field on school grounds there are several areas where you can play football within walking distance from the school.
The teachers at the school were very kind and welcoming to us when we first arrived at the college and this friendliness continued throughout our stay at the college. The teachers were all very nice people, often showing us around My Tho city after everyone had finished teaching. This proved invaluable as it allowed us to learn our way around the city. However the teachers at the college are more than just friendly, they are also smart and good teachers. Every teacher at the college has been to university and knows a great deal about their subject which they pass on to their students. They teach a broad range of subjects at the school, despite it being an agricultural college. Some of these subjects include math, chemistry, English, politics as well as agricultural subjects like animal husbandry and plant protection. Despite our lack of Vietnamese we meet every teacher at the school and whenever we saw them we would always say hello, and they would always greet us back. Many of the English speaking teachers also quickly become our friends at the school and helped us adjust to life in Vietnam as well as continuing to perform their job.
It was not just the teachers that were welcoming and friendly towards us here at the school, nearly every member of staff was. The receptionists always helped us and constantly improved their English in the process. It was a good feeling to know that we are helping them learn English, especially after how kind and helpful they were to us. The care takers were similarly very kind and helpful towards us and learnt some English in the process. It was very nice of them to take time out to help us despite their busy work schedule.
The school is located in the Mekong Delta and is very close to a river and this creates for a far more lovely atmosphere than would be possible in a city like Ho Chi Minh City. The air is much fresher thanks to the river and there are also more trees. All this adds to making the school environment that much better, although it is a good idea to have a raincoat for the wet season where it rains nearly everyday. But the rain just helps to freshen everything up.
My last thoughts on the college are how misplaced my worries were at the start. The teachers were so kind and helpful and the students were shy but eager to learn as well as good nature. While the good facilities definitely help in the schools aim of teaching the students, without such lovely people, all the technology in the world could not help.
Volunteer English teacher, Jules Stas
Tien Giang, June 4th 2012
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