I previously mentioned that I hope to volunteer in many of the countries I visit to gain a different perspective of the places. Obviously with only being in one setting for short periods I don’t get an incredibly deep understanding but it definitely helps me observe a slightly different side of the cities.
After travelling from China to Vietnam I arrived in Hanoi, got the bus to Haiphong, a lift from Steven (our resident cook) to Big Hero centre where within 20 minutes I was asked if I didn’t mind doing a lesson. Not having much of an idea what my work would be like I thought why not dive straight in and get to know the craft! After an interesting initial encounter with some of the students I came back to the centre, had a quick shower and planned on relaxing. No such luck! I was asked to do an english club session with three other students. This consisted of watching a movie and talking about some of the events, predicting what might happen next etc.
With all this done it was a hectic first day but I do enjoy a more packed schedule and I got to rest for the evening…well until I was invited out to a Karaoke session for two other volunteers that were leaving the next day!
leaving parties!A really nice way to meet people for the first time and get to know everyone. ‘Everyone’ consists of a multi-national hot-pot of people. We have German, French, Belgian, Vietnamese, Chinese, American, Irish, Vietnamese, English, I hope I haven’t missed anyone but I probably have. It’s a great mix of people, all with different styles but maintaining that wanderlust and desire to travel.
With the craziness of the first weekend out of the way it was on to a more structured week. Different groups with different abilities and different needs in terms of approach to teaching. The methodology is very different to what I’m used to as teaching English as a foreign language is a far cry from teaching it as a subject. That being said it was a good opportunity to develop my practice and look at different avenues that I could take in my teaching career. All the children are very enthusiastic and keen to develop their English skills which is really nice to see. It’s very obvious how different the Vietnamese and English languages are through particular sounds that they find very difficult to replicate, such as hard consonants at the ends of words.
Overall it’s a very chill atmosphere as you very rarely have lessons in the morning so are able to sleep in (or as I like to do get up and make a big breakfast). Lunches and dinners are made by local volunteers who work at the centre and cook up lots of lovely dishes. The staff are so helpful and friendly. Always willing to spend time to take you somewhere to help communicate with local businesses in order to allow you the experience you want. Whether it’s food, an event, a sightseeing opportunity. You name it, they’ll get it sorted!
The second weekend brought with it a Halloween party that all the children were invited to. I must say the mass of hysteric children was quite intimidating, probably more scary that the decorations and ambience we were trying to create! There was face painting, treasure hunts, trick or treating, all the usual Halloween festivities.
Each class usually has a TA. This would be a local student (often from the Maritime university) who would help in delivering lessons when language barriers prevented a fluid pace. They were key to making sure the lessons actually provided a good amount of progress with the students and ensuring that nothing got lost in translation. There’s only so much acting I can do to get a point across!
After the Halloween party and yet MORE leaving parties everyone was feeling rather haggard and in need of rest. Another one of the local workers, Mark, invited a bunch of us to his parents cafe for breakfast.We ate Bánh cuốn (a kind of rice flour based pancake) along with a dipping sauce and some lovely fresh salad. His dad was making the pancakes on the side and I managed to grab some footage of the process. Note I did not attempt this dish!
Big Hero was a really nice place to spend two weeks (which is not enough!) to meet some really friendly and welcoming people. Everybody who worked here was so ready to make you feel at home and just make sure you felt comfortable and relaxed. A slower pace of life away from the super busy streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. A wonderful place that deserves as much support as they can get! Here’s a few more pics.
We plan to go on a trip to Cat Ba island at the end of my stay which I will talk about in a separate post. The only other thing I will talk about here is Secret Garden.
Secret Garden is a little coffee shop about 200-300 meters away from the centre. It’s a lovely little place with a very zen atmosphere were they serve coffee and other snacks. Vietnamese coffee is incredibly tasty and here are some of the variations I tried during my stay.
An intensely rich coffee base, often sweetened with condensed milk, it was an incredibly delicious place to relax!