Trường Cao đẳng Nông nghiệp Nam Bộ: A British Volunteer Salutes You!
As a U.K. national, arriving here in My Tho, with less than a handful of words in Vietnamese, should have been an extraordinarily daunting situation. The Southern Agricultural College however, had other ideas! I was met with the instant hospitality of Mr. Thanh, Mr. Len and Mrs Xuan in Ho Chi Minh City and they kindly drove both my volunteering colleague Jules Stas and I, to My Tho where we would begin our exciting volunteering experience here in Viet Nam!
One of my first impressions of the College was of the grand ‘HB’ block which houses the offices of the many departments and offices of staff. This building is accompanied by 4 more teaching blocks, all displaying an impressive array of equipment. The main staff block lies opposite both badminton and volleyball courts which are always in use after school hours (some determined volleyballers appear to play even through heavy rain!!) On the opposite side of these courts are the student dormitories which house a large number of the College’s students; others arrive daily on both bicycles and motorbikes, parking in the ample designated spaces available.
A short walk from the main buildings is the College farm in which practical lessons take place. The College supports ‘Animal Husbandry’, ‘Plant Cultivation and Protection’ and many more subjects, alongside the usual – Maths, Chemistry etc. The farm houses a variety of animals and many crops. In addition to the expected rice paddy fields, there is an impressive number of banana trees, coconut trees, jack fruit trees and many more! Once again the hospitality of the college was made abundantly clear as our fridge was quickly filled up with produce of the college – all of which was of course delicious!!
Our first day began with the College’s monthly ceremony: the saluting of the flag. As a Brit, this all appeared very strange at first, as the months went by, however, I’ve begun to really appreciate it as a wonderful College tradition! I’ve even begun to feel as if I can understand some of the Vietnamese being spoken – or at least the sentiments expressed!
During this first week, Mr Jules and I were delighted to be invited to meet the staff and then to observe some of the excellent English lessons provided by school. The teachers are of the highest quality and the students are extremely enthusiastic! As a result, it has been an absolute delight working with both the teachers and the students! Our own role was to be one of support, fundamentally in the pronunciation of English sounds which are not familiar for most Vietnamese students.
One of the great difficulties in our role with many classes was quite simply the inability for us to communicate in the same language. Where any misunderstandings took place however, the sheer weight of the student’s enthusiasm would carry them through; their willingness to try their hardest to understand and improve their English was extremely admirable – even at 7am! Similarly, the great efforts of the college’s English teachers to prepare the students for their time with us proved invaluable! These morning lessons consisted of just one period (45 minutes) in which we would aid with the pronunciation of words from a given topic of study.
As our time here progressed however, so did the nature of some of these lessons. In addition to these short morning bursts that the students were experiencing with us, many were exposed during their revision time to longer double periods with both myself and my volunteering colleague, Jules Stas. These ‘speaking and listening skills’ lessons proved an excellent chance to develop the students’ speaking skills; we used topics that they felt comfortable with. Our aim was to increase confidence and comprehension; the lessons maintained just one rule – ‘NO VIETNAMESE!’ I truly believe that these lessons will not only have proved an opportunity to have some fun, singing English songs, engaging in speaking activities, word games etc., but that they will also provide these students with the confidence to use their English in the future. Having immersed themselves in an English atmosphere in the classroom, I hope that they will not shy from the opportunity of using their English in the future!
Another highlight, of our time here, has been working with the advanced classes. The English Speaking Club proved an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about the students here at the college directly from themselves! A topic was chosen weekly by members and an ‘M.C.’ elected each week to prepare the topic. The club itself consisted of various games/activities and a discussion and was (and still is!) attended by teachers and students alike. Topics have ranged from ‘School Equipment’ through ‘How to win another’s heart’ to ‘Fruit’. All of which were great fun and certainly a great opportunity for some English to be practised on a weekly basis!
Similarly, we supported the teacher’s TOEFL class every week. Usually we attended with a speaking game or two to play at the end and perhaps aiding pronunciation through the lesson. On a few enjoyable occasions however, we covered the class when their teacher was busy and would therefore have cancelled. This proved extremely enjoyable for us as an opportunity to use a more advanced level of English with enthusiastic learners. The main difficulty we faced was in the difference of English abilities (from intermediate through to advanced) however, the helpful atmosphere of the class and the general fun nature of its members, made the experience easy and pleasurable!
I cannot praise the College enough for the hospitality and kindness they have shown me. I have done my best to make my contribution as a foreign worker but feel I have received double in return from my generous hosts. In these precious months I have learned about this wonderful country and its people and will treasure the memories of it for the rest of my life. Thank you Trường Cao đẳng Nông nghiệp Nam Bộ. I wish the College and its wonderful staff and students every success in the future.
Tien Giang, June 4th 2012