We, among volunteers, often make a joke that goes like this: "If all your plans fall apart, don't worry, just go and volunteer in Vietnam." :) It's a joke, but in every joke, there is a half of truth.
The last year was the biggest rollercoaster in my life and there are some things that happened during that short period:
- Started to travel and work on the road
- Did a European road trip with the best people ever
- Went on Elektrijada like a tourist and had a blast in Montenegro
- Lived and worked on a Koh Lanta, Thailand for a month
- Dropped out from college and started to chase a freedom
- Worked on various projects including planning for a huge start-up (It didn't go well, but it was a huge learning lesson. In the period of two months, I learned more than in 5 years of college.)
- Checking the cheap flights to India, but instead, deciding to go to volunteer in Vietnam, bought a one-way ticket and here I am
I've been volunteering in a small Quynh Luu located in central Vietnam (about 4 hours from Hanoi with a sleeping bus) for a month already. In that short period, I've learned so much about teaching and actually started to really enjoy in doing it. Also, I believe I'm so fortunate as I'm in a very remote area where you can't see any other foreigner, so I have a chance to really observe and experience authentic Vietnam.
Not to forget that other volunteers, my homestay family, and people here are simply amazing! Even when you feel low, you simply can't react positively to their beautiful smiles that will make you feel happy! Starlight, a volunteering project in Quynh Luu, provided me with so much support, so I just felt to give something back to these amazing people and write an honest piece about my experience there.
How at the First Place I Went to Vietnam to Volunteer?
I'm sorry, but really need to share this story as I want to tell you that YOU CAN DO IT TOO! Many people reached me and told me "Oh I wish I could travel like you and have the best time of my lifetime.". Well, what if I tell you that you can do it? Would you believe me? I'm just a regular guy who realized the money and chasing career isn't everything in the world. I realized the experience is important as you don't want to end up in a system before discovering the world and yourself.
I developed a strong sense of myself during my travels and started to hate college and situations where someone tells me what to do and think. That isn't freedom at all and I just wanted to think with my own head. At the moment of dropping out of college, I was so confident that I could make it in the world no matter what. So I did exactly that! Dropped out and focus all my energy and time on learning and experiencing new things. After the New Year, I started to feel very lost as I moved to my hometown and didn't feel like growing at all. One day I started to check HelpStay volunteering platform and found out an interesting project about teaching English in Vietnam. I checked the details and outreached the head of the organization. The next day I remember checking my email totally forgetting about the outreach and I saw some new email. It was from the head of Coins4Change.
I was so thrilled! We agreed on a time of the interview, did two interviews and the next thing I know was buying a one-way ticket and flying to Vietnam! I don't think much when it comes to adventure and I'm always up to even craziest things. Here I am, sitting in a very good coffee place, drinking Vietnamese traditional black coffee and writing this post.
Life is very good and I'm very grateful for each moment here. In the next section, you can find out all the information about Starlight English Center and how does it look to volunteer here as an English teacher.
What is Starlight and How Does It Look Like to Teach English There?
Starlight is one of the projects of head organization Coins4Change. It's an English center that focuses on improving the English knowledge of kids that live in a rural place. The rural and city kids (and adults) experience a huge gap in English knowledge, which limits them in many aspects:
- finding the office job
- lower payment
- cultural exchange
Quynh Luu is located in Nghe An province in north-central Vietnam and Starlight English center is where we're teaching around 100 kids the basics (and advanced things depending on their level of knowledge) of English language. The center has two main classrooms equipped with whiteboards, laptops, books, tables, and chairs. It's simple, but actually, everything that's needed for effective teaching.
How Does a Teaching Class Look Like?
Well, first of all, I want to tell you that I came here without any prior teaching experience. So, don't worry if you've never done something similar as it's perfectly normal doing something for the first time and people here are very open and patient and they will teach you everything. Basically, you will teach a maximum of two classes per day (one class is 1 and a half hour long) which means you will have a lot of time for yourself. The classes start at 5:30 pm during the weekdays and it becomes a bit busier on the weekends as there is a class at 8:30 am and 3:30 pm.
For each class, you'll have to prepare a lesson with the support of friendly assistants and when you get used to teaching, the preparation usually takes 30 minutes. On Tuesday, volunteers have day-off as the center is closed and you're free to explore the place or even travel to other cities/places. It's up to you and even you can travel for longer periods, but be sure to communicate that with other volunteers. Starlight has a few groups:
- Little Dodo - kids from 4 - 7 years old
- Sao La - kids from 8 - 11 years old
- Amur - 12 - 17 years old and advanced in English
Basically, it's up to you to lead the class and teach kids on the way you think it's effective.
My class with Little Dodo looks like:
- In the beginning, we're having fun with each other introducing each other
- Playing songs and dance around the classroom
- Review the last topic
- Introduce new words
- Play games with the star system (kids here are very competitive and it will make them focused)
- Play some more songs
- Working on some tasks that check their knowledge from the lesson we covered
Crucial tips when teaching kids English:
- Be very patient as kids usually tend to lose focus or interest.
- Be creative and try to always make them think out of the box.
- Play, dance and make them having fun, but at the same time educate them.
- Don't teach them by making them memorize. Try to experience them things as that's the best way to teach.
- Be energetic and positive all the time.
- Encourage them and when you see a kid has struggle with self-confidence you should work on it too.
- I don't see myself only as an English teacher but also trying to teach them basic skills and raise their self-confidence as I believe it's the crucial thing in life.
- There will be ups and downs, so better prepare for that.
Homestay and How Does a Regular Day Looks Like
While volunteering with Starlight, you'll be accommodated in a homestay near the center living with one of the most hospital and warm Vietnamese family. From the first second I arrived, I couldn't believe how warm these people are. They accepted me as the part of their family instantly which you can't experience in Croatia at that level. I was so amazed and very grateful for that experience and opportunity.
More opportunities: All about teaching in Vietnam!
Thach and his wife Hang are coordinators in Starlight and they manage the center. We're living with them, their two kids (doctor Quang and little Su Su) and grandma (Thach's mother). Also, I don't want to forget to include Dodo, a crazy, but a loving dog that shares the home with us and of course lunch and dinner (sorry Dodo for such small portions as the food is so amazing and there are literally no leftovers). :) Their home is very convenient as volunteers will have their own room with privacy. You have all the important things like a desk, bed, closet, and fan. There is a kitchen where we eat with the family. You will get a lunch (around 11 am), dinner (around 9 pm) and sometimes breakfast. Why did I tell sometimes? Well, if you wake up around 6 am, then you'll be lucky to have breakfast.
Vietnamese aren't so keen on breakfast but really respect their lunch and dinner time. The food is amazingly delicious and fresh. Every day there is something new on the table, but the base is rice in a small bowl and of course a soy sauce.
Thank you Hang for treating us so well with the meals!
In the middle of the homestay, there is a vast courtyard with benches, so that's a usual place for sitting, drinking coffee and speaking with other volunteers. And yeah, you have a coffee and tea in unlimited quantities. ;) There is one toilet and shower as well as outdoors sink and laundry for volunteers. You don't need to worry about it as you can do it at home.
I almost forgot, there are two motorbikes, bicycle and electric bike for use. I tend to always ask Hang or Thach for the permission of using these as they're also using them. It's just an amazing way of transportation around Quynh Luu, especially on day-offs as you don't need to worry about renting motorbikes.
Things to Do in Quynh Luu
As I already mentioned, the city is located in a rural place in central Vietnam and knowing that there are not so many things to do. Depending on your goals and mindset, it could be a game maker or breaker. I really love it here as I love a bit laid back life without tourists around and Quynh Luu seems like a perfect combination of both.
Learn more: Vietnamese culture can shock you in many ways!
It's perfect for people who want to focus on building their business because there are no distractions and you will have so much free time. Also, I noticed that I don't waste my time and I started to be very aware of my time so the majority of the time I'm working on the projects, exploring the landscape, going to the gym, driving with the motorbike, eating new food, drinking amazing coffee and having fun with Vietnamese people. Did you know
I've got a motorbike as a gift in Vietnam from a woman I've never talked or seen before? Head over to that experience! The best things to do in Quynh Luu:
- Using your day offs to travel to Ninh Binh, Hanoi or near amazing places
- Drive your motorbike around the beach and explore the beautiful landscape
- Explore street food
- Enjoy tasty and strong coffee while exploring different cafes around the city
- Go to grocery shopping in the market
- Hiking in the hills around the beach
Enjoy the landscape view from the hill near the homestay.
So far, volunteering in Vietnam is pure enjoyment and an amazing experience. I really started to like teaching and I'm thinking of getting my TEFL certificate so I could teach around Asia. Even if you don't have any experience you can come to teach here. People are very patient and helpful, so they will help you with everything. After two weeks you will become very good and natural in teaching (my experience).
Wish to thank my hosting family for making me feel like I'm at home and Starlight for an amazing opportunity.
Our Do-Do. Sorry buddy for not notifying you that I'm taking a photo. I believe you would have a better pose! :P
Would you love to come to Vietnam to volunteer? What stops you?