A Day in the Life — Wednesday

After half a year in Vietnam, I figured it’d be appropriate to highlight what an average day looks like for me. I wrote out my schedule on a Wednesday this January.

7:15 AM. The morning sun is bright coming through the window and the city is already busy 6 floors below me. Motorbikes, buses, cars, and all kinds of other vehicles wander about to find some breakfast, morning coffee, or groceries for the day. After quickly getting ready, I leave my apartment to join them.

Teaching in Vietnam Image 1

7:45 AM. Phở Hà Nội 144 Nguyễn Thái Học is my favorite place in Nghe An thus far to eat phở (so named because the owners are from Hanoi, and the street address is 144 Nguyễn Thái Học). Phở is traditionally a breakfast dish, and like many dishes in Vietnam, is based on a balanced taste and the inclusion of rice in some form as a main ingredient. Rice noodles, usually with beef or chicken, sit in a hot soup with vegetables, garlic, spices, and lime juice. I had never really eaten soup for breakfast before living in Vietnam – now I can’t imagine a morning without it! Phở was one dish I was familiar with before coming to Vietnam – my family will go to eat it maybe once a week or so – but the big difference is of course in flavor but also price. Phở that would cost maybe $8-10 in the U.S. is just 35.000 VND, about $1.50

8:00 AM. Generally, two or three times a week, I teach a class of adult learners of varying levels in the morning. These classes last for 2 ½ hours with a break in the middle and usually are for students (mostly older students, as grade and high school students are in school at this time) that are motivated to learn English quickly. Today, we did a lesson on activity verbs “play”, “go”, and “do”, along with frequency adverbs “usually”, “sometimes”, and “never”. Many times, classes with older students already have some level of familiarity with basic concepts like this, so class is filled with lots of pronunciation practice, games, and exercises to show grammatical patterns.

10:30 AM. I finish teaching morning class and head home on my bicycle. It only takes about 10 minutes to get home. Despite my initial nerves around Vietnamese traffic, I now ride seamlessly with all kinds of transportation. Sometimes people will crane their necks as I ride by or shout “Hello!” as they pass by. Lunch is eaten early in Vietnam, and today I cooked some rice from the market, along with some fresh vegetables and tofu.

11:30 AM. After cooking and eating lunch, it is time for one of my favorite Vietnamese traditions: the afternoon nap! I usually take a nap for an hour or two, but sometimes I’ll decide to Skype with my friends or family at this time instead (10:30PM local U.S. Central time).

1:30 PM. I wake up from my nap and have some tea. I don’t have class until 5:45 PM today, so this is my main free time for the day. Sometimes, I will watch a movie or read a book. I’ve been able to read more in my 6 months in Vietnam that I did over my entire senior year of University!

Lucas_photo_9b

3:00 PM. At 3, my friend Mai picks me up at my apartment on her motorbike to hang out for afternoon coffee. She especially thinks its fun to go to new coffee shops where I can practice my limited Vietnamese to the delight of the staff. Many times, I will go for days without seeing another foreigner (except the other American teachers at work), as there are very few in the city, so strangers are enthusiastic to talk to me about life in America or how I feel about Vietnam. My usual coffee order here is cà phê nau (an espresso-like drink with concentrated milk at the bottom, served hot), although during the summer I was partial to cà phê sữa đá (a similar milk and coffee combination poured over ice).

Lucas_photo_9c

4:30 PM. I usually will leave early for my evening classes in order to lesson plan. Usually I’ll go to a coffee shop to do so, either to drink some coffee or tea. Lesson planning isn’t very difficult once you have practiced a little bit – and sometimes the best thing that can happen in class is a natural, off-topic conversation that stretches students’ vocabulary and ability to connect ideas. I like to have a rough outline of concepts and vocabulary before going into class, or if my class is having a review day, I’ll plan some type of game. Of course, I can use the textbooks used in class to guide most of the plan, but incorporating some additional materials or relevant personal experiences makes the lessons more engaging. Today, I am teaching my advanced English language children’s class and then the foreign-taught Language and Conversation class in the evening. Today, I grabbed some dinner, bánh mì thịt, nearby school for 10.000 VND – about 45 cents.

5:45 PM. My Advanced English language children’s class is about 12 students, many of whom may study extra English classes after their public school multiple days a week. They are hard-working students, but I think they like my class because I’m a bit of a kid myself. We play games, talk about our favorite candies or snacks, or draw pictures on the board.

Most of the time, I will act as like a substitute for classes – I teach one or two times every couple months as a chance to use prior English skills. However, this particular advanced class is one I share with a Vietnamese teacher. I teach on Wednesdays, and she teaches on Mondays. This way, I am able to build a better rapport with the students (and their parents). The other advantage is that they get adjusted to my teaching style. They know that I like to check their homework first thing, and that if we finish our lesson in good time, we will have the chance to play a game by the end of class. It’s strange – even though they are 12 and 13 years old, I feel like these students are my friends! Once, I ran into one of my students from this class at the movie theater and I sat with him and his father (who also happens to be my student in an adult learner class) and we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens together. Of course, the next week, when we talked about the vocabulary of family, I used the Skywalker family tree to illustrate concepts like “brother-in-law” or “aunt”.

7:45 PM. The last shift of the day begins at 7:45 and ends at 9:30 PM – so while today, I taught in the morning and nighttime, I had almost 7 hours between my morning and night classes! Sometimes, I won’t have any class in the morning and will go to work for the first time of the day at 5:45 PM. The schedule functions this way because most students are at work/school during the day when I am off and go to extra English classes at other times of the day. Today is my Language and Conversation class for the final shift of the day.

Language and Conversation classes are for students that specifically want to study with a foreign teacher. They last about 10 weeks and usually meet twice a week, either twice with myself or once with another American teacher. The primary goal is usually in casual conversation and the application of some prior English knowledge. Some students will even take all four levels (LC1-LC4) and then start at level 1 again! Since this class is truly “mine” (as I am the only teacher), we have a lot of flexibility in curriculum. I loosely follow the topics/vocabulary of our textbook, while supplementing different activities along the way. For instance, in the “business/jobs” chapter, we all “started a business”, with plans for advertisements, investment pitches, and even uniforms for our employees! Other activities I have done with my LC class include practice job interviews (many students want to work on their English in order to get a better or better paying job in Vietnam or else look to work abroad), lyric analysis of popular rap songs, and discussions about the environment and pollution in Vietnam. Lessons are all about creativity! There are times when we focus more on traditional grammar and exercises, but making dynamic lessons more engaging helps them to work hard and motivate them to study on their own.

The other great thing about these classes is that usually they are ages of about 18-24, so many of my students have become my friends outside of class as we are similar in age. We visit in their homes, hang out at coffee shops, or go to eat together on the weekends.

10:00 PM. After a full day of teaching, I’m usually pretty tired. I have a lot of respect for teachers now, as the job can sometimes take a lot of energy! If I didn’t teach in the morning, I might have slept in a bit later and so after teaching night class might watch a movie (Netflix came to Vietnam this January!) or read a book before going to bed.

Lucas McCamon is teaching abroad with API in Vietnam

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