Stumbling into Vietnam: a new ESL Teaching World and a New Me

by Siena Verganio, Jul 27, 2014 | Destinations: Vietnam

I came across this realization about one and a half years ago when I decided to board a flight to Saigon to take TESOL to become a full-fledged ESL teacher. Being a Filipina whose enthusiasm lurks in the corners of ESL teaching way back 2003, my itchy feet helped me find a way to be able to teach again and seeing myself with a bunch of ESL-teachers to-be from Naga City, from the outskirts of Pakistan, and from a modern city of Mumbai – in a classroom that was intentionally diversified to bring out the best in all of us was the most incredible experience I have ever had in October of 2012.

After an intensified and comprehensive two-week class, I managed to score a teaching job in a remote part of Central Vietnam after being promised a hefty salary for a 35 to 40-hour a week of classroom teaching and learning. I thought to myself, this is God’s gift and a blessing to my family and so I did not have second thoughts.

Leaving my comfort zone in Go Vap District was the most dreadful of all. However, my employer insisted that my decision to grab the job was the best decision ever. So, I took all my belongings and got on the train.

Thankfully, the train officers were kind enough to offer to carry the bags for me until I reached my cabin and there, I saw myself smiling to a middle-aged Vietnamese woman, while greeting her, “xin chao.” She grinned back and mumbled something in Vietnamese. I acknowledged her words even without comprehending at all and made myself comfortable in my new-found comfort zone for at least 16 hours! The train began to move and I saw the old woman waving goodbye to her twenty- something son with tears flowing on her cheeks. She must be missing him badly. This moment was heartbreaking seeing her cry continuously until the son was out of sight. One cannot deny that fact that there will always be that invisible thread that connects us and our children. This is a perfect example of a mother-son symbiotic relationship. Like the flower and the bees; an ant and an acacia plant, this doting mother will always have a longing for her son every time she leaves him.

I could not help thinking of my son and feeling sorry because I had to leave him for a year to work overseas. One cannot control being mushy at all especially if loved ones are in the picture.

My thoughts were shaken when the train stopped at Quang Ngai train station. I had to move fast as this transport would only stay for a few minutes. I said a little prayer of thanks and got off leaving Mrs. Chao and our special motherly bond behind.

My life in Quang Ngai rolled quickly and I had to focus my mind and heart to what my purpose and intention was – to teach and earn, that’s all. After all, my mother and kids back home needed some kind of support that only I could provide. I cannot say it is a family setback but to be a bread winner was something Filipinos have in common and we are so proud of it. Working as a teacher in a foreign land will definitely boost my family’s status of living. However, there’s always more to that apart from the financial rewards it brings.

Teaching as a profession does not really define who we are as a person. Nevertheless, it does even more. It shapes us to become life learners who are tasked to imbibe something good to our students. Something they can hold on to whenever they are in crisis, wherever they go, whoever they meet and these are wisdom and confidence.

In Quang Ngai, I was trained to embrace that new part of me and I began to love every inch of it. I gave my best to my students whether they are adults, teenagers, children and even the elderly ones. Giving my all was one of the most surviving visions I had of my late father. He reminded me all the time when he was still alive that to give our best is something that we can freely share to people to become immortal. Living a kind of mental legacy is what we root for, not to boost or to be proud and arrogant but to be someone they will remember that brought them fond learning and erudition they will never forget in their lifetime. “Always aim for excellence in what you do and always do well for the greater majority.” These words of my deceased father never left my side.

More so, I learned to be more tolerant and be more appreciative of the efforts everyone in the school showed me. They were all very helpful and accommodating. They always made sure that each of their foreign teachers was cared for by giving us the most awesome living condition. Our house, by the way, was a villa and by Vietnamese standards, this is exceptional.

For every love and care my employers shared, I reciprocated them with the same love and care to my students. I became their confidante, their mentor, and most especially, their life-long friend.

All these paid off as before I left for the Philippines, one of my students and a great friend was issued a student visa to the UK after getting a very good score in her IELTS exam. She remembered me by constantly checking on me and making sure, she tells me all her incredible stories in Europe. After a year in the UK, she hopes to see me again in Saigon, and this “can’t wait” meet-up must be the most fun of all!

I am back in Vietnam, by the way, and this is, yet, another story.

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