" Getting to experience a new culture from local Vietnamese people wanting to show us how great their country is was amazing. We got to experience so much more than we expected. " - Odette, Vietnam
What made me volunteer in the first place?
I wanted to travel and see some of the world whilst also doing something slightly different and helping people. I also didn’t want to be the typical tourist that goes to a place, sees the main attractions and then says they know the country. I wanted to actually experience living in a different place, immersing myself in the culture and meeting the amazing people in a location rather than just sight-see. Volunteering with Lattitude gave me a way to do all of this and more with a great support system to boot.
Why Viet Nam?
Why not Viet Nam? The food, the people, the history, the scenery, the culture, and somewhere different to home. I am a foodie so the amazing cuisine of Viet Nam was a big draw card. People for me make or break an experience so to also spend time with lovely, kind people that are so willing to help added to the experience. I also did history at school and studied the Viet Nam War. In doing so we learnt a bit about the country and culture so it was nice to experience it for myself. Throw in some amazing scenery and culture and you have an amazing place to visit and call home. It was my second placement with Lattitude so I wanted to go somewhere rather different. I had gone to Scotland for my first placement and while that itself was superb I felt that I wanted to try something REALLY different. And boy oh boy I got it.
My placement and my role
My placement was a college in Ho Chi Minh City. Being a college, we were teaching students that were about 17 to 18 years old. There was a wide range of English speaking abilities so was a bit of a challenge to set a task that suited everyone. We also had time we were asked to sit in a common area so students could come up and talk to us in an informal setting. This was fun and led to some interesting conversations, as my companion and I were asked all range of things from “are you married?” to “why are your arm hairs white?”. The teachers also asked us to edit the tests they gave the students, help some of the teachers going for IELTS and mark the students’ tests and homework. So a wide range of different “teacher-type” roles.
The staff were lovely to us. They kept making sure we had everything we needed and some took us on trips to parts of the surrounding area we otherwise wouldn’t have gone. Their English skills were varied too - English teachers had a good grasp on the language (no surprises there),while the others were of various skill levels.
We were in the Phu Lam District of Ho Chi Minh City so the girl I was placed with and I were the only Westerners in the District. We were a bit like celebs – everyone waving and saying “hello!” to us – was great! Our accommodation was a bit of a surprise when we first got there. But it didn’t take us long to figure out why no carpet and concrete walls. It is WAY too hot over there to want anything other than lovely cool tiles. We had everything we needed – bed, desk, fridge, cooking element and implements, water cooler, air conditioning, fans, internet and bikes to go explore.
How did you cope with the differences between Viet Nam & home?
When the whole group arrived in Ha Noi from their home countries it was easy as there were lots of us together experiencing the same thing. When I got to Ho Chi Minh I experienced Culture Shock. I didn’t want to be there – everything was so different I just wanted home. But I got some advice that changed all that: It was to get out in the midst of it, jump right in and immerse myself in the place. I am glad that I took it as I ended up having great experiences and enjoying most every minute of it. It also showed me that the differences weren’t that huge and the ones that did exist (such as culture and food) were ones to enjoy.
One of my favourite moments was when the students started to warm up to us and interacted with us more. It was great to see the students progress in the language. I also enjoyed the fact that they trusted me enough to risk making mistakes in front of me which is not something Vietnamese students like doing.
Getting to experience a new culture from local Vietnamese people wanting to show us how great their country is was amazing. We got to experience so much more than we expected. We were even invited into some local’s homes for dinner and to show us how they live.
Sight-seeing around the country was beautiful. The country has a wide range of scenery to offer. From beautiful mountains in Da Lat to the islands of Ha Long bay, the quaint scenery of Hoi An and everything in between. Even the bus rides between places gives one a lot to see and experience.
Being dropped in a place that is so different to home one is either going to sink or swim. I managed to swim along nicely of which I am rather proud of, learning along the way that I am a lot more capable than I thought I was. This was evident in my being able to travel around in a country where not many speak your language as well as being able to manage my finances.
Why should others consider Viet Nam?
Because of the amazing experiences that you will have. The lovely and humble people you will meet, the interesting culture you will experience, the incredible things you will see and taste all make for an amazing volunteering adventure. Whilst at first you may shy away from the differences, they are the very reason why you should choose Viet Nam. Why go all the way across the world for a similar experience as New Zealand when you can go half way and see how a different people live in an amazing country.