A little over two months have passed since my first blog post and just over 3 months since I arrived in Vietnam. It is incredible to think that this amount of time has passed by so quickly. Amongst the array of feelings that I have about this experience, the only thing that is not floating in my mind is any form of regret. Now that the time for departure is nearing, the questions that I get asked most are regarding my thoughts about returning home, and what were the highlights from this unique experience.
Hands-down: being a teacher. I thought that it would be something so difficult to get used to. However, I find myself getting into ‘teacher mode’ once it’s time to start the lesson. It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s almost as if when I start a lesson, I know that I cannot hesitate, and that I have duty to execute a fun and productive lesson for the kids. This is not the only aspect about teaching that I find thrilling; everything from the commute (a lovely 15 minute walk, or a 5 minute motorbike ride when it’s raining, or I’m feeling lazy), to the office interaction, to the kids successfully learning a new concept or skill. All of this combined has made this experience unforgettable.
During my time in Saigon, while I was attaining my TESOL certification, I made a friend who invited a group of us to his hometown in Vung Tao. While there, we hiked a mountain, saw an amazing pagoda, we were treated to lunch by the monks of the pagoda, and we wrapped up the day by having a traditional bar-b-q with an amazing spread of food. It was such a beautiful experience to see the family interaction and dynamics first-hand as a guest in someone’s house. Also, having a plethora of delicious food was the cherry on top.
There is so much to say regarding this topic, and unfortunately, one person’s point of view cannot act as an ‘umbrella’ perspective to encompass the experience of relocating to Vietnam. However, I will say that I think the people that have the best time are of the ‘go with the flow’ mentality, and that can easily adjust to any situation. If you know yourself well enough to know that you are hard to please, then relocating will probably not be the best. Regardless of whether or not you think you know yourself well enough, I would still suggest to ask the opinion from people that have known you for 10 or more years – since many of us tend to be blind to who we really are, or we may hold ourselves to a higher light.
But I digress; in larger cities you can find most of the comforts from home, and you can even choose to live in a more ‘westernized’ district. Now, some may say, “why relocate to a foreign land if you’re going to basically have the same experience you would have at home?” I could write an entire article on this topic, but I will summarize it by saying: we all have different personalities, we have different standards when it comes to stepping out of our comfort zone, and there is no right way to do the ‘travel & teach abroad’ experience.
I have definitely learned more about the language and culture. In regards to the language, I’ve learned that pronunciation is about the only hard thing to master. From the perspective of someone who speaks two languages, and has tried to learn other languages, before attempting Vietnamese, the factors that are in the learner’s favor when learning Vietnamese are that the words don’t have genders, the language doesn’t have plurals, and tenses and grammar aren’t as complex as English or Latin-based languages.
As far as culture goes, I have found the Vietnamese to be a very hard-working and generous culture. Also, I feel that compared to Western culture, the Vietnamese are more tight-knit. All neighbors know each other and look out for one another. Back in Maryland, I used to live in an apartment building, and I barely knew anyone that lived on my floor.
I will definitely miss the simplicity of the lifestyle and the beauty of the everyday struggle. Being able to observe the daily activities and interactions of the locals has definitely shifted my perspective on things that I took for granted back home, and has also forced me to reevaluate the things that I (used to) value. Reflecting on this experience, and on what I have learned, makes me reconsider if whether or not I am ready to put an end to the adventure, and go back home to what I consider ‘normal’.
With all that being said, it is very evident that I am truly not ready to go home. I have recently found myself pondering this question more and more lately: what do I have to go home to? Don’t get me wrong: I love my family and friends – and I miss them very much. However, I don’t have any children, pets, or property that I have an obligation towards, and I don’t get excited at the thought of returning to my old job. So then why go back home? I still have not found an answer to that question. So until I can, the adventure continues! Next stop: Teaching English in Myanmar!!
Alvaro Zumaran, from White Plains, New York, is a Greenheart Travel First Time Traveler Scholarship recipient. Learn more about Greenheart Travel’s scholarship opportunities to help you travel for a change!