Alumni Spotlight: Larry Way, Volunteer in Vietnam
Larry Way is a Greenheart Travel volunteer alum who participated in the Vietnam Education Project with us in January of 2015. As a young man, he hoped to work with the Hmong people during the Vietnam War as a volunteer for the International Voluntary Service, but was regretably not accepted into the program. He viewed Greenheart Travel’s volunteer opportunity as a way to fulfill his lifelong desire to be of useful service to the people in Vietnam.
Traveling as a volunteer, he spent 2 weeks working at the Hanoi schools to improve the English abilities of students at the project and shares why this was an unforgettable experience for him and his students. Read Larry’s post below for more details about his incredible journey.
A Life-Changing Journey to Vietnam
One of my principal goals upon returning home was to interest others in volunteering in Vietnam. I believe that the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) project is operated very well and is led and staffed by true professionals who are thoroughly committed to its mission. Its programs provide real, tangible benefits and enduring service to those it touches, whether they be students learning English as a second language, children with mental or physical disabilities, or any others it helps. I am truly proud to have participated in a small way in the good work of this project.
As a volunteer in the classroom, my students were more advanced learners from middle school or high school, and most were enrolled at local universities. Many were studying finance, business, accounting, economics, and engineering while others were pursuing various liberal arts fields. A common goal for many of the students is to secure employment, perhaps with an international company doing business in Vietnam, where their bilingual skills in Vietnamese and English would be an asset. I have found my students to be very attentive and engaged in classroom activities and the learning process. While their skills in the English language may vary somewhat, they are all committed to learning as much as possible from the volunteer teachers.
Ongoing Volunteer Work Despite the Distance
In terms of thoughts I have concerning my experience in Vietnam some five weeks after my return, I have several. First, I am very pleased to share that my volunteer work continues in a very real way even though I am geographically very distant from Vietnam. Four of my students and one staffer write to me frequently, and I respond to them in turn. To another student I am sending a series of short stories in English which I have recorded in my own voice. He seems to be benefiting from hearing the stories read by an American-accented speaker.
Beyond the usual and interesting exchanges regarding recent activities, hobbies, interests, and the like, each of these hard-working, motivated individuals continues to improve their English skills, just as they did when I taught them in my CSDS-sponsored classes. Because I can’t be with them in person, I offer suggestions and corrections to improve their English when I respond to their emails. In many cases, I re-write their entire email so that the student will understand and appreciate the flow of the English used in their amended email.
To a person, these wonderful Vietnamese young people unfailingly express their gratitude to me for taking the time to help them to improve their English. Some of them apologize to me because they think they are interfering with my free time.
The truth is that helping them is an absolute pleasure for me, and I eagerly look forward to corresponding with them and helping them in some small way. Several of the students wish to pursue careers with NGO’s and understand that a knowledge of English may be extremely valuable in this pursuit.
Lasting Friendships and Memories
Second, and as a follow-on to the first point, the Vietnamese with whom I correspond have become my friends, and I believe that they in turn consider me to be a friend of theirs. Once one returns to his or her routine schedule of family life, work, volunteer activities, and the like, there may be a temptation to move on with one’s life and not continue to develop relationships with those whom the volunteer has gotten to know. I firmly believe that this will not be the case with regard to the friendships I was able to make in Vietnam. I’m confident they will last and grow.
Third, I was able was to do a bit of traveling in Vietnam prior to the start of my teaching assignment with CSDS. That travel took me to the northern parts of Vietnam, and the central part around Danang and Hue, and the southern part around the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City. I came away from these travels with a deep appreciation for the beauty of the country and for the delicious food. But by far, my most important impression, and this impression did not really strike me until I began my volunteer work, relates to the friendliness and hospitable nature of the Vietnamese people.
Even though I’m an American and live halfway around the world from Vietnam, I felt very much at home in Vietnam. The people I met were kind, helpful, and generous with their time. Their culture and traditions may differ from ours, but the goodness of the people and the love of family were abundantly clear to me throughout my stay.
I suppose it’s rather obvious that my experience with the project, its staff, and the students I was privileged to teach, was positive in every respect. If I am a very fortunate person, someday I will be able to return to Vietnam and help CSDS fulfill its mission and do its important work in Vietnam. And if I am really fortunate, that next stay is Vietnam will be for a longer period of time.