Today was my last day at the technical college (TIC). We have been teaching english there, or rather helping teach. The students are about 18-20ish. They missed out on a uni place (although I think they often reapply and its common to get into uni later) and they study chemistry, info technology, electronics or accounting for 2 years. Most if not all of these courses seem to include english. The students generally come from the "mountainous areas" and board at the college. Every month they have a birthday party for the students whose birthdays are in that month. Some classes are huge, up to 70 students. Their written english is quite advanced in some classes but pronuciation is bad. I think it doesn't help that you say things differently in Vietnamese to how you spell them if you use the same rules we do in english.
TIC teachers and me
So our job is to help with pronunciation. We work with four different teachers in the various classes. We are expected to write lesson plans but as the teachers have different styles (and it took forever for us to work out which of the several books the page numbers they were giving us referred to) this can be difficult. TIC is one placement I tended to dread but quite liked once I was doing it. We only spend 2 periods there, twice a week but the students and teachers can do 5 periods in a row of english!
Yesterday was actually my last teaching day at TIC. During my time there I'd had to talk about Christmas and other celebrations, plus my life such as "when was the last time you were kissed" which was actually a question in the text book and not made up by the class.
We always draw a crowd, there aren't many westerners in Tuy Hoa
I'd got so use to making up stuff about what I usually did at Christmas I think I was starting to believe it. That and my personal life. Here you have to be married by 35 if you are a woman, or you are an unlucky freak. Sometimes I've taken to inventing a current boyfriend (I was told by GVN to invent a husband and kids!) which makes me feel like such a sad delusional creature.
Today instead of teaching I was to talk to the Chemistry Department about research. I'm a biochemist (with more of a focus on molecular biology) but in translation to Vietnamese I became a chemistry expert. From my meeting I gathered that they don't currently do research but that they want to start. They plan to research biodiesel and other fuels, water contamination and waste disposal and environmental chemistry.
Home of Affection
They don't have access to any journals, although there is alot of info on the internet these days.... I couldn't really give them much advice. I just wrote down their interests and will try and find some reviews and resources to send them when I get home... I gave them some advice on postgraduate study in Oz and the UK. But not being an expert on international students myself, again I'll have to send them more stuff when I get home. While I'm not sure how productive the talk was for them, it was very interesting for me to see how they intend to go about things. I think to some degree research is already in the Vietnamese culture. In one of the books I've been reading about a North Vietnamese doctor working during the war, he often mentions how they published a medical journal during the war and were also always looking for new ways to do things.
Home of Affection
I've only really had time for a superficial glance at the 'college' culture here, and its going to be hard for students at a technical college for 2 years to do any research but its interesting to see the interest.
In the afternoon we had SPC and then in the evening it was the Christmas Party at Home of Affection. Home of Affection is the evening school for the 'street kids'. These are kids and young adults that have broken families or families that aren't so well off. Often they work on the streets selling cigarettes. School here isn't free. We pay for the kids to have 3 meals a week and then we teach them english. On other nights they get taught Vietnamese and maths. We have teachers in the class to help keep the kids well-behaved.
Home of Affection
There are two classes, I was with the downstairs class who are meant to be more advanced. We generally taught 2 pages of the text a day and threw in dot-to-dot and colouring, hangman and other games. These kids are my favourites, just because we see more of them and so we have had time to get to know them. The boys at the front are the cheeky ones. There are 2 that know more english and they help the others, although sometimes I think it would be better if they let them try and work it out themselves. The youngest boy is 10 (although he says he is 13) and the oldest is 22. The girls are inbetween these ages. Some of them can read english but I'm not sure how much they can understand.
For Christmas I had bought lots of little presents for the kids.
Home of Affection
This is my favourite part of Christmas, buying the presents and working out who gets what. They were mainly gloves and scarves, but as the Kenyan kids asked for dictionaries last year, I got a few dictionaries for the older 'kids' and some purses and hair things. We also had some stuffed toys that we had brought over when we thought we would be working more with kids. The bags had cakes and lollies, erasers and sharpeners. So at Christmas we handed out the presents. I think my class liked them. I was actually too busy trying to hand them out, we had a reporter turn up and he kept wanting to interview me while I was in the middle of things which made it difficult. But apparently some of the girls in the other class were upset that they didn't get the same as everyone else.
Home of Affection
I believe strongly that presents should not be all the same and this worked in Kenya where they share everything anyway (although they did live all together so I guess thats easier), but it does mean that kids can get upset when they want something else. I guess its my individuallistic nature though, but I still can not bring myself to buy a group of kids the same thing for Christmas, maybe because it would destroy my fun buying presents. I'd prefer to know that the kids knew that we had gone to the trouble of picking out individual presents for them.
I'd also bought two big Christmas cakes, we had cake for Tuyen (the 10 year old boy) last week as it was his
birthday and it ended with a cream fight which was alot of fun. The
cakes here have so much cream. We gathered the two classes together for cake and Christmas songs ("Jingle Bells" mainly). Meg gave out the ornaments on the cake, little Santas on sleighs and churches (at least we could use them to finally show what a sleigh actually is), one girl tried to swap her cake for an ornament. Its really interesting to see what the children value. We have seen 14 year olds go nuts for glitter to put on the Christmas cards we had them make last week. It wasn't until later that we learnt that they hadn't given the kids dinner that night because we had told them we would have a party and they thought this meant we would bring lots of food. I felt so guilty about the misunderstanding and it has tainted the memory of the day for me a bit. I've given them money for the February meals so I hope that makes up for it. They rely on volunteer donations. Understandably some volunteers can't bring donations with them (the project costs quite a bit to go on in the first place, not the mention the airfares) and they are expecting things to get harder in 2009 with the economic problems and food prices going up as well. In addition to this many of the volunteers come from Australia and our Australian dollar has fallen dramatically against the US dollar in the last year and so our donations are worth alot less. Hopefully they will continue to get enough support to maintain the meals for the kids as especially for some of them, I think its the only decent meal they get. Last week I thoughtlessly picked up a 13 year old boy to place him on the desk, I could feel his ribs and he winced. Some of these teenagers are tiny.