Jessica, Vietnam

Searching for smiles in Vietnam


It was almost midnight but I could not settle, despite my exhaustion, I was tossing and turning. A thousand thoughts and memories were racing through my mind and it was really starting to hit me that this was it, in just a few short days my time in Nam Dinh will have come to an end.

I sat up for a bit, dismissing for the moment the thought that at 7am I had to teach and took several deep breaths.As I sat in silent recollection I reflected on my very first week at Le Hong Phong High School. I remember nervously walking out at Monday morning assembly to talk to the students for the first time and being greeted by cheers from 1500 students.

Teaching my very first lessons with classes I have now come to love so much and being greeted by endlessly smiling faces and what seemed like a million questions about who I was and “where exactly is Wagga again?” Back then I hardly fathomed the remarkable impact that this placement would have on me. Looking back at the experiences, the challenges,  the laughs and the wonderful people I know this time will always hold an exceptional place in my heart. And now only one challenge remains and it is by far the hardest one of all; it is finally time to say goodbye.

The morning was a whirlwind of laughter, games and goodbyes as I taught several classes for the very last time, and the excitement was contagious. I felt a sense of revelry doing my best to enjoy these moments, planting them in my memory where I can fondly look back on them in years to come. At the end of each period the drum would sound and my heart would sink just a little. Students enthusiastically clamoured for photos, serenaded me with Christmas carols and presented me with beautiful gifts. As I finally left the room shouts of “we love you” and “we will miss you” echoed down the halls behind me and a smiled and waved and felt a slight lump in my throat and so smiled even more for fear that otherwise I might start crying. The whole experience felt somewhat surreal and I found myself hoping each moment could last just a little longer.

At the end of each lesson, in between the sadness and the excitement, I felt a sense of achievement. I think about the students I am leaving behind and I wonder what impact I have made by coming here. There have been days where being in the classroom felt amazing, but some days I doubted my ability to succeed. Looking back I realise I have been measuring success in all the wrong ways. As I recall my fond classroom memories of hysterical laughter filling the room during role plays, the eagerness of students cheering so loudly during games that another teacher came to check nothing was wrong, and as I look back at all the hundreds of photos, one thing is consistent; the smiles are endless.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but a smile is worth even more and fifty at once really is the greatest feeling ever! As I stood watching my students smiling and giggling I knew I had succeeded; all the hard days and challenges felt absolutely worth it because my students were smiling. These students affected my life and changed my perceptions of the world around me in ways that they could never imagine, and I could hardly believe it was time to say my goodbyes. It wasn’t always been easy living there alone, some days I found myself simply searching for a smile… but it seemed that over the next few days as I said my goodbyes I certainly didn’t have to look very far- even if they were through tears!

Submitted by: Jessica Horner