Sunday, October 12, 2008

Farewell Vietnam!

I am currently reaping the benefits of the Incheon/Seoul airport: free wi-fi and a beautiful sunrise, not to mention free arts and crafts at the culture station to help pass the time during this five hour layover.

Last week was a whirlwind of observations and goodbyes. I spent time observing classrooms at the middle school and high school, as well as spending some time with second graders in the elementary school (my next placement is with a second grade classroom in Eden Prairie). During my MS/HS observations I found myself thinking that I might really enjoy working in that setting, but my third graders really surprised me during my last few weeks with them. I'd definately consider trying an elementary school placement now having fallen in love with my students and the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the third grade!

My time at SSIS was just what I needed- a practical experience to learn in the field from my cooperating teacher and my students! I can teach! The next question is do I want to? My friend Zanna put it best yesterday. She was decribing a time in her life when she felt empowered and overwhelmed with opportunities: "I can do anything, but I can't do everything." I feel the same way at the end of this experience- I feel empowered to teach (internationally or within the US) and confident in my ability to do so, and to do it well. I'm also considering moving out to the Cascade Mountains and exploring life at Holden Village. Substitute teaching and working at a children's bookstore also intrigues me. "I can do anything, but I can't do everything." And the discerning process continues...

Friday was really special as my students shared advice with me on how to be the best second grade teacher I can be. Having just graduated from second grade they are really the experts. The parameters of the assignment allowed the students to suggest one silly piece of advice and one serious piece of advice. "Don't eat your students" was perhaps my favorite suggestion. I cried as I thanked them for teaching me so much this quarter. In fact I actually started crying ON the students sitting in front of me. Kenny provided much needed comic relief as he announced to the class that I was dripping on him. Lots of hugs and oragami creatures were shared. A great day followed by a great evening meal at my student's family's restaurant again! 13 courses of the best Chinese food I've ever eaten- and in good company too!

Jerod shared some more questions with me that I'll attempt to answer now (though forgive me if I'm not very coheisive- exhaustion is setting in).

What surprised you about your experience in Vietnam that you didn't expect, if anything?

I was surprised at how different this traveling experience was from any I've had before. I felt disconnected from the local culture primarily because of language barriers. My time and energy was spent at the school learning the ins and outs of international education and how third graders develop. I know that is my purpose in being here, but I was surprised that I never really felt like I had sufficient time to really BE in Vietnam. Though a friend helped to remind me I was in Vietnam, it was just one of many realities of Vietnam.

You've now spent a lot of time overseas in various countries, is there a place you could see making a more permanent home for at least 5 years, or, despite missing the
students, are you ready to move on after a few months?

I would be interested in moving to South America. I really enjoyed living in Brasil and Ecuador and could consider doing so for an extended period of time. Though I'm also excited to return home. I love the Twin Cities and know that I have a lot to explore in the states too. When considering teaching internationally I think I would be happiest in a country where I could put my Spanish to good use.

Is the fact that we were at war in this country always in the back of your mind,do you feel conflicted based on just being around the people, or is it the politics involved?

In preparation for this trip I was anxious to see how I would be received as an American. During my time here I didn't have any negative experiences based on my citizenship. I wouldn't say that the fact that we were at war here is always on the back of my mind, sometimes it is more obvious than others. For example when walking in downtown Saigon I was often approached by beggars- people physically affected by the war (I presume) and living with the affects of Agent Orange, landmines, and the general affects of warfare. It strikes me during these times that my country had a stake in influencing these people, these bodies, and not only that but the land too. While traveling to the Cu Chi Tunnels I was trying to imagine the area after Napalm had defoiled trees and seeped into the soil. For many years the soil would not sustain any crops. Water is not to be drunk from the tap in fear of remaining contaminants. I am sorry to say that was pretty easy to forget about the war while teaching in the classroom, but the effects were seen in town and around the countryside.

And with that it's time to stretch my legs before 13 hours on a plane. Thanks for reading my blog!

Monday, October 6, 2008

A tour of my 'hood

The following Google Map will provide you with some perspective of my neighborhood. Keep in mind this satellite view was taken in 2003 and new buildings have sprung up everywhere. Nevertheless this is a good place to begin.

View Larger Map

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Day in the Life

The students of 3S

My blog has taken a backseat to lesson planning these last few weeks. Time is passing quickly and I am finding that I have much to do in my last week in Vietnam... including writing a long overdue update.

I would like to outline a typical day to provide you with more insight into my life here in Saigon. Here goes:

6:00 Wake-up, check e-mail, eat a bowl of cereal and watch Animal Planet or BBC News, shower and dress for school
7:10 Bike to school and/or take a taxi with my Taiwanese friends
7:30 Load up on tea with milk in the teacher's lounge before heading to my classroom
7:45 Students begin to arrive in the classroom
8:00 School starts! We spend the first 6 minutes of class doing "Chicken Fat"- a morning exercise routine commissioned first by JFK in hopes of curbing youth obesity
8:06 Math
9:00 The kids go to a "Special"- either Vietnamese Culture, Music, Art, or Swimming. Nancy and I prep for our lessons, check school e-mail and gather materials for lessons
9:40 The kids have recess. I continue with lesson prep
10:00 Math facts review and cursive instruction and practice. Introduction of independent work
10:30 Reading groups and independent work time- I meet with small groups of students to read and discuss books, literary elements, and reading strategies
11:30 Lunch and recess (which means lunch duty for me on Mondays and Thursdays- making sure that kids aren't having food fights, that they have just enough soy sauce, and that they have chopsticks or silverware)
12:20 My favorite time of the day: Read Aloud! We are reading Cinderella stories
12:45 Social Studies
1:30 Writing
2:00 The kids go to another "Special" while I prep
2:45 "Planner" time- where students receive corrected homework and write down their assignments for the night
3:00 School's out- monitor hallways and say my goodbyes. More prep time
3:30 Free time- to be spent sipping Vietnamese coffee, catching up with other staffers, biking around the neighborhood, reading for fun, watching reruns of "Friends" while scrambling eggs, and writing lessons for the next day
10:00 (hopefully) Bedtime

So that's a day in my life as a student teacher at SSIS. It's really nice that the students here have so many "Specials" and are developing skills as artists, musicians, and athletes. This is a great benefit of teaching at a private school as I've heard of so many programs in the US being cut due to lack of funding.

The last two weeks I've been teaching most everything within our classroom. I feel more confident and capable as a teacher than ever before. AND... these third graders have won my heart! It was frustrating to teach so many processes the first few weeks but now I'm reaping the benefits. Our class has fallen into patterns. The students know what is expected of them and I have learned what I can expect from them. We can spend more time on the "meat" of the curriculum- as opposed to discussing at length how to open and close a three ring binder. I think my heart might break when I say goodbye to them on Friday. We had a discussion on Friday explaining that I was leaving in a week. One student, B, suggested that I pack all 20 of them in my suitcase, but D responded that they wouldn't all be able to breathe, but maybe if they had straws... I wish we could all travel on the Magic Schoolbus and walk around the lakes together, see the fall colors, travel to Wild Rumpus bookstore and read, and then tour the Science Museum together- preferably watching an omnitheater film on outerspace. These kiddos are going to go so far in life! I am glad to know them and to have learned so much from them!

In other news, since my last post I had a chance to travel to Ha Long Bay and Hanoi. My cooperating teacher Nancy has her grandson living with her for the year. When I heard she was planning to attend a conference in Bangkok I offered to watch Stevey for the weekend thinking we'd hang out at their apartment playing Nintendo Wii and Guitar Hero all weekend. She suggested we come with her to Bangkok but once flight costs doubled she suggested we travel within Vietnam instead... so I had a taste of being an Au Pair for a weekend! Stevey is so sweet and we enjoyed traveling together. We spent Saturday night on a junk boat after spending the afternoon touring Surprise Cave, swimming amongst jellyfish, kayaking through the bay of the descending dragon, and star gazing from the rooftop deck (we even saw a shooting star!). This place truly is a wonder of the world! We returned to Hanoi and took in a water puppet show before flying back in time for class on Monday. A magical weekend- one I'm sure to remember forever!

Last week I welcomed my friend and former classmate Katie Erickson to HCMC. We spent last weekend catching up in the Mekong Delta- touring in a boat to see the morning markets, rice crispies being made, and local fruits growing at an orchard. It was really fun to have a guest- and hear of Katie's adventures this past year. I really enjoyed her visit to my classroom. My students and I have been studying maps so we mapped Katie's tours of NZ, Australia, and Southeast Asia. They asked her some great questions and were genuinely interested in what she had to share. I'm also glad that we could explore the city more together- visiting the War Remnants Museum, sipping cocktails on the rooftop terrace of the Rex Hotel (the station for the US press during the war), and walking the streets in search of books and stationary. The last night she was here though I was robbed- my purse was snatched from the front basket of my bicycle by a man on a motorbike. This is causing a headache as my credit and debit cards were stolen, and heartache as my camera was stolen. My camera had all the images from our weekend trip to the Mekong Delta- market shots- especially of women in their conical hats. I'm pretty distraught, but glad I wasn't hurt and that I still have my passport. Lesson learned- the situation was atypical of my usual habits- my purse is always slung across my shoulder unless I'm biking. I didn't think to put it back on after dismounting my bike to cross the street. Bummer... Can't steal happiness...

And with that I'm off to bed to rest up for my last week here at SSIS. "It's a bittersweet symphony..."