31 August 2009

A week in and feeling more settled

Hello all!
I'm planning to continue posting weekly updates here until I get so busy that my customary lack of communication skills set in.

To sum it up in a word the first week of classes was intense. I'm not quite sure that I have enough distance from it yet to say whether it was good or bad, but it was intense. Overall, I think it went fairly well although there were the inevitable kinks to be worked out with room assignments, figuring out which students were in which sections, unexpected class cancellations, and available technology resources. In spite of those minor incidents, I'm finding my students friendly and willing to engage the curriculum and the learning process. Above all, they have been patient with me as I figure out exactly how to meet their learning needs. The classes are beginning to develop a rhythm as we get used to each other and I'm cofident that the nerves will soon give way to a positive learning environment.

As the newness of that aspect of my life wears off, the guest house dynamics are shaping up as well. I arrived back before the other international volunteers so the first weeks have been pretty quiet but other the past few days the others have started to arrive. So far there is a Vietnamese American named Mark, the Phillips' (an Aussie couple working with the Agriculture department), and a 74 year old volunteer from the states named Joan. We're still waitin for the others to arrive, but I think it's going to be a good experience.

On Saturday (don't ask me why faculty meetings are held on Saturday's) there's a meeting between the IC3 teachers to discuss ways in which it can be integrated between reading, writing and listening/speaking classes as well as the different levels. Since this is what excites me most about this project, I'm really looking forward to this opportunity to begin working together at moving the project forward into new territory. In addtion, I'll start teaching the writing section of the new group of students at the Resource Cente for Rural Development. Although not specifically an IC3 assignment, I have enough freedom to work at integrating some of the learnings and skills into the existing curriculum.

I think that's enough rambling for now... Good night!

23 August 2009

Tomorrow's the Day

For someone who complained about 8 o'clock classes all through my time at EMU, it's rather ironic (or perhaps karmic) that I'm scheduled to teach classes at 7 AM four days a week! Yep, classes start tomorrow and I actually think I'm pretty prepared. I've spent most of the weekend working on the syllabus, looking at the curriculum and trying to understand what exactly goes on in a listening/speaking classroom. While I don't entirely have my head around it yet, I at least feel confident that I'll make it through the first 3 periods on Monday and Wednesday.

One of the challenges of preparing for these classes is fearing that my own inadequacy as a teacher will get in the way of genuine student learning. While I'm passionately convinced that there is real value in the IC3 approach, I'm less certain of my ability to aid students' learning processes. My only expertise in listening/speaking comes because I'm a native speaker, and as we all know, native speakers do not necessarily make effective teachers. My hope is that I won't get in the way of student learning, and, just maybe help them along the journey of not only increasing their English language skills but also their inter-cultural understanding.

So, I guess that's it for now. If you think of it, keep me in your thoughts/prayers tomorrow as I'm still pretty nervous about the beginning of classes and the process of getting acquainted with my students. I'll be sure to keep you informed about the inevitable challenges and moments of gratification over the next few weeks.

20 August 2009

A brief re-cap of these first days in Vietnam

Wow! To say that these last days have flown by in a bit of a whirlwind would be an enormous understatement. Here's a bit of what's happened since I arrived Saturday night:

* A four and a half hour drive from the airport to Long Xuyen City, including two river crossings by ferry and arrival at my home for the nex two years at around 4:00 AM.

* My first of many interesting breakfast experiences: Fish noodles and iced coffee. (Really, really good... even at 10 AM). Since the first morning, I've also enjoyed vegetarian noodles with fried eggrolls, beef noodle soup and a cheese sandwich with pickled carrot, diakon, and cilantro.

* A workshop where students presented incredible action research projects on IC3. These presentations highlighted areas of strength and growth for the curriculum and its implementation at AGU.

* Meetings with Foreign Langauage faculty as well as the deans and directors of non-English major departments about collaboration with/integration of IC3 and the MDP projects, including the use of Global Classroom technologies.

* A full day in Can Tho meeting with their faculty of English Education and the newly formed School of Social Sciences and Humanities. They have agreed to pilot the use of IC3 with their second and third year students this year as well as join in the International Film Series. What an valuable opportunity to work at partnering with another school in the Delta.

* Countless introductions and overwhelming signs of welcome: I've felt very welcomed by all those with whom I've interacted over these first days and I look forward to taking everyone up on their invitations to go for coffee and help me get settled in here now that Dan's leaving for Hanoi and I'm pretty much on my own.

* Jet-lag. While I'm pretty much acclimated, it's still a bit of a challenge to stay awake much past 9 and I'm usually up right around 6. Those of you have worked with me know that this is quite a change from my sleeping in at home.

* HEAT: Walking outside in the morning, my glasses steam up and I am considering writing to Revlon to let them know that their foudation is NOT sweatproof, like they claim. But, I'm already appreciating that the rains help to cool things down substantially and staying inside the AirCon between 11:00 and 1:30 is helpful. I've been reassured that eventually I'll get so used to the heat that I won't be drenched with sweat in the first few minutes outside and that visitors will marvel at how 'crazy-cool' I am. Until then...

Well, that's certainly not everything... but it should suffice to give you all a glimpse of what's beein going on with me. I'm sure I'll have more to say soon when I'm more settled in and such.

18 August 2009

Musings from 30,000 feet...

From somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on a day that began at a hotel in Washington at 4:45 AM and will not end until 4 AM the following day in a time zone 11 hours ahead, after 30+ hours of travel. I’m feeling disoriented to say the least. Emotionally and physically, I’m bordering on exhaustion. Making such a concerted effort to present a strong sense of certainty about this new venture has required a certain amount of emotional distancing that helped get me through the good-byes that could have paralyzed me over the past few days, but I feel that it’s left me exhausted enough that as soon as things settle down and I realize the reality of my decision to be gone for two years that I just might break down. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is the right step for me, and the place that I need to be, but it was not an easy choice for me to make and embrace. I am certain that these next two years will full of unfathomable challenges. At times during the process of bringing this dream into reality, I’ve questioned my ability to handle the challenges and expectations that await me in Vietnam. Questions like, Can I do this? Am I in over my head? Am I crazy? Why? Pepper my thoughts even as I doggedly pursued a way to make this happen. Those with whom I shared some of these concerns did their best to realistically assuage my fears, while keeping me grounded in the reality this time will present me with challenges that will stretch beyond my wildest expectations.

At times, especially when I’m on the brink of something new, I find myself longing for a smaller life. I long to be satisfied by the things that comprise a ‘normal’ life. Though I chafe against the constraints of routine and get restless when I’m in the same place for too long, part of me wishes for a sense of contentment with the lie that doesn’t keep pushing me so far from the world I know. While I know that these are largely reactionary desires that simply promise an easier alternative to the options that push, mold and shape me, a small part of me wishes for fulfillment in them nonetheless.

There’s a chapter in Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak entitled “Now I Become Myself” and that line keeps running through my mind as I contemplate what this journey will mean. The line is taken from a larger poem that I can’t remember but in it, the poet speaks of the process by which authentic selfhood is formed. This process, she says has taken her many places, and in that time she has worn many different faces, but now, she says I become myself. This feels like one of those moments for me, as I stand on the brink and peer out into the unknown. I don’t know which self will reveal itself in these next days, weeks, and months. I have caught glimpses of it in the questions which haunt my thoughts and the things about which I become passionate. But, I am sure that this true picture of myself will surprise even me as she is born throughout this time. I look forward to this birth, even as I anticipate the pains that will accompany it.

01 August 2009

All My Bags are Packed... Round 1

My Harrisonburg good-byes have been said. My apartment is as empty as it was on the day that I moved in almost two years ago. My car is loaded down with the remainder of my earthly possessions that haven't already been moved back to PA, donated to Gift & Thrift, or sold. With just over two hours left in town, it's hard to believe that it's all come to an end. For months, this has been a possibility, but it hasn't felt quite real. Even now, I'm not sure exactly what I'm feeling: Tired, it's been a busy week with late nights and early mornings; Overwhelmed, as with any transition there are a million details that somehow keep multiplying even after I've checked some off of my to-do list; Appreciative of the wonderful outpourings of love and support I've received from friends and colleagues over these past days; Slightly guilty for having to leave so (seemingly) abruptly; Uncertain about what these next weeks and months will hold. So, basically I'm a huge mass of conflicting and ill-defined emotions. I'm hopeful that these next two weeks will provide time for reflection, re-grouping, and relaxation in the midst of packing, yet again, for this next stage of my journey.