11 September 2009


It's hard to believe that I've been here four weeks. At times it feels as though the days have flown by and I've been here much longer, but at other times, I feel just as overwhelmed with the newness of the situation as I was when I stepped off the plane. Like every major life transition, even those that we anticipate with great excitement, adjusting to life in Vietnam is a daily task. Some days, I do very well and others I find it more of a struggle. But, in order to reflect accurately on the past month, I figured it would be helpful to focus this post on the things, both large and small, that have brought joy and refreshment to my time here, thusfar:
*A bunch of fresh bananas from Dalat delivered to my room tonight by some of my students at RCCD.
* An impromptu sinh to (fruit smoothie) date with some 8D1 students to celebrate two classmates' birthdays
* Five hour coffee/conversations with the Aussie couple downstairs... they say I remind them of their children.
* The smiling woman who automatically starts to crack the egg for my banh mi opla (fried egg on baguette) as soon as I arrive at her cart. Today she made room for me under her umbrella so that I wouldn't have to stand in the sun while I waited for the egg to cook. Neither of us can communicate in the other's language, but I'm hopeful that will change soon enough.
* Truyen, the owner of the bar that many of the international volunteers go to, and his soulful renditions of Simon and Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa". Not my favorite S&G song, but it brings a smile to my face. (Oh, and his french fries have already saved me from a Western food craving more than once.)
* Having my afternoons free allows for lengthly lunches and mid-day coffees. Gotta love a culture that appreciates the nap. :)
* The group of badminton players that invite me into their games, offer me a raquet, and attempt to bring their play down to my level while yelling for me to hit 'harder'. It's great fun, an amazing workout, and fun to see the same group of people each time...
* That I'm no longer petrified by the crazy traffic to venture past the lit-up q-tip. People don't want to hit me just as much as I don't want to hit them, so as long as we don't hit each other, we'll be alright. On the same lines, I'm learning my way around, which is pretty liberating :).
* Ice cream! (and the fact that my mint ice cream with coconut milk and crushed peanuts cost all of 3000 dong or less than $.25).
* When I went into the RCCD office on Wednesday one of the other teachers told me the group was excited to learn with me. (For someone who's still figuring out this whole 'teacher thing' I took it as a good sign).
*That my leaving has inspired my mother to not only get a Facebook page, but also use Skype. Now if she could only understand the 11 hour time difference and stop calling at 3 AM.
*Joan Easton. She's a 74 year old humanities professor from Minesota and we've hit it off splendidly. Since we both teach in two different departments, we've shared a lot of the same confusion but as she reminds me, "Two heads are better than one, even if they are cabbages".

I'm sure there are many others, but these are the moments that have brought joy to my days and a smile to my face. Although there are things I miss about home, like cheese that melts, a shower that's separated from the rest of the bathroom, and not having to clean up gecko droppings... life here is pretty good and for that I'm grateful.

04 September 2009

I feel a rant coming on...

Let me start off with a qualifier... I'm tired. Not physically tired, but emotionally and intellectually exhausted. After two weeks of classes and navigating this new context, it's beginning to feel less foreign, and for this I am grateful. But I get the distinct feeling that with the newness some of the adreneline is also wearing off. My motivation for plowing through the obstacles that seem to crop up with great regularity is also waning and I imagine simply giving in to the system that's already in place.

I desperately want to be passionate and committed to my ideals and visions of implementing IC3 on a broader scale at AGU, and it appears that RCCD (Resource Center for Rural Development) would be the natural partner since its students are already involved in development work in their home communities. But I've been told that this is not a group of students that we experiment with... and so I'm stuck.

There are so many obstacles in my path right now: the existing curriculum that does not allow for growth in critical thinking or increased comfort level with intercultural and development partners; the wide range of student ability that seems to make it impossible to meet the more advanced students' need for stimulation and challenge while also addressing the more basic needs of the other learners; the constrained flexibility of the RCCD itself, I've been told I can use the curriculum of my choice but have also been discouraged from deviating from the established curriculum, and my own ineptitude. I'm more passionate than I am knowledgeable and that seems pretty dangerous. Perhaps my idealism has blinded me to the realities that this course includes, but it seems irresponsible to waste valuable time and resources teaching skills that exist in a vaccum. Instead of teaching students to write about traditional foods or the like, wouldn't it be more useful in their work to learn the same skills but in the context of development issues such as health or education? Again, perhaps I'm being naive but it's just frustrating.

At this point, it feels like it's too late for me to back out of this cohort since classes start on Monday, but I'm just not sure that I can work within this system. I dread the thought of being constrained by such an irrelevant curriculum but don't feel like I have the freedom or the ability to come up with a suitable alternative. I wouldn't have agreed to teach this course if I'd known I'd have to use the existing curriculum since that's not really the reason I'm here, and while I hate to sound selfish, I don't really feel like this is the best use of my time here. While most of my experiences here so far have worked toward assuaging my fear that this is an assignment beyond my capabilities, I'm afraid I may have underestimated the challenge that this RCCD class is going to provide. I guess we'll see...