Into TGL: La Gi, Vietnam – The English School Experience
June 9, 2016
It was an action-packed day for me. Anna (our country manager in Viet Nam) and I had arrived late to La Gi after a 5 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh the night before. We wanted to check out the programs that Anna had set up in this small town, one of which is an English Teaching program at a tiny school.
In the morning I was introduced to Ling (or, as his students call him in English “Sweet Potato”. Don’t ask me why), a local who founded the English school in 1997. He had spent time during his youth travelling in Asia and he realized the impact that being able to speak English had made on his life. In his own words, “I would not be able to open up myself to the world if I could only speak Vietnamese. So I want to give others a chance to do the same.”
Ling knows all the ins-and-outs of La Gi, as he has been a permanent resident for almost two decades. He told me how he initially decided to move there because of the seafood, something I found quite interesting/funny. Ling was going to be my guide for the day, taking me from program to program and giving me enough time to document it in pictures and spend enough time interacting with people in order to report my experiences.
We drove all around on his scooter and the whole experience was refreshing. The air felt clean, the locals were incredibly friendly and the lush sceneries were swoon-worthy. The town’s architecture still held so much from the French colonization, it somehow reminded me of a 50’s movie set somewhere in the outskirts of New Orleans (a much more tropical, rural and underdeveloped one, but a New Orleans nonetheless.)
After dinner at a local restaurant, we were off to see his English School, where we soon expect to start receiving participants to teach and interact with the students in order for them to practice their communication skills.
He introduced me to all the students and teachers in the class rooms, starting from the ones filled with young kids who were only starting out and couldn’t say much other than “Hello, teacher!” and ending with the most advanced class.
I asked him if I could join one of his classes in order to get a better feeling of how things would be like to our future participants. I have to admit it – a nerve-wrenching feeling creeped up on me before walking into the door as scenarios of how some of the students treated the teachers when I was that age.
“Would the mock me?” “Would they hate me?” “What if I bored them into a state of oblivion?” were a just few of the many doubts that came to me before turning the door handle.
But everything was okay in the end.
The students were incredibly excited to have a foreigner to practice their English with, since I was the first one ever to walk into the school. I didn’t expect them to be so fluent, but many spoke the language almost natively.
I started with the usual – my name, where I am from, what I do for a living and whatnot. Soon enough, the questions from them began so quickly that I’m sure I forgot to answer a few. They asked me about the weather in Mexico, the food (they knew about tacos), the culture, etc.
Half an hour passed and I was still sitting at the front of the class. It flew by so quickly. What I had been dreading half an hour before had become the highlight of my day.
The conversation was so fluid that I ended up telling them about my travels – how I had been on the road around Europe for months on end with barely any money when I was 20, about the time I flew to Peru at age 19 to see a guy I had fallen for, how I had ended up in Thailand and working for Green Lion and how I would keep on travelling for at least the next two years.
Their eyes were sparkling as I recited these stories – I could tell I had started something in many of them. I asked them if any one of them had been outside of Vietnam and they all said “no” with sad expressions on their faces. Then I asked if any of them would like to do so and they all shouted “YES!”
I told them how, at their age, I used to sit in class daydreaming about what I am doing now. They complained about their parents not allowing them to travel and how money was an issue. I laughed, as this was the exact same reason I didn’t pack my stuff and left at that age, so I told them to wait until they’re older and how anything they want to do in life is possible if they work for it and more importantly, if they put themselves out there.
To end things, I mentioned that very soon, people from different countries would be visiting the school to do what I had just done, and that they would be able to make tons of new friends from around the world and that perhaps when they take the leap and travel, they will already have friends everywhere to visit. They almost screamed of excitement at the thought of this.
They were all so inspired at the end of the day as was I. We exchanged Facebooks and promised to stay in touch. Many told me they would send me pictures once they begin travelling in a few years. I will never forget these short 30 minutes and I’m excited for what’s to come with this program. I’m sure the students will take advantage of the chance to practice spoken English, and those who come to teach will feel equally benefited from spending time with these ever sweet kids!