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!

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