Creating Meaningful Connections While Volunteering in Vietnam
Within the first month during my time volunteering in Vietnam, I have made more connections than I would have ever thought. I have found that travelling does that for relationships – you experience so many new things with so many people from around the world, and usually in such a limited amount of time, that those connections have to be powerful. And mine definitely have been.
I will always remember the bonds that I have formed with the children at the centers, the volunteers who I have met and the staff at the project’s guest house. They will all hold a special place in my heart forever.
Connections with the Children at the Volunteer Project
Children already have a reputation for being adorable and snagging hearts, but when you are working overseas, there is something even more meaningful about those relationships. Working back home in America, I am able to talk to my students, even in non-verbal special education classrooms. But working in Vietnam, that form of communication is lost.
When you can’t use language, especially with disabled children, you have to find new ways to be creative in order to communicate. Of course it is challenging at first, but the more you keep a positive attitude and an open mind, the less the language matters.
After a of couple weeks, the kids and I started to become more comfortable with each other, which quickly turned into a sincere relationship. When their eyes lit up if I walked into a room, or when a few of them would fight over who got to sit in my lap, I realized how much these kids had stolen my heart.
My favorite memory will always be sitting in a classroom with a little boy teaching me the name of certain fruits in Vietnamese while I taught him the same in English. We both looked forward to that time together every day. I’m told he still says my name to the other volunteers even after I have left. To me, it is probably the purest connection I have ever made; when you have no language but so much love. I taught the children and they taught me, too.
Unique Bonds With the Volunteer Project Staff
The staff at both my volunteer project placements have been amazing. Again, even with the language barrier, we created a beautiful, unique kind of connection. I was assigned to teach English every day during lunch. At the school I worked with the teachers, and at the NGO (non-government organization) I worked with blind/partially blind massage therapists. Sitting together, laughing about pronunciations over bowls of rice, and chatting with the teachers about their favorite past times is something I will always remember.
Trying to teach the therapists was much harder, because they were not able to look at my mouth to see how it formed the words. Even during the times where I felt unsuccessful, we persisted and made progress. They never got frustrated and never gave up; they smiled and we were all just happy to be sharing the experience together. Even though I was not at either placement for the longest time, I hope that I made a positive impact on everyone that I met because all of them have made one on me.
Unforgettable Experiences With Fellow Volunteers
There are no words to describe the connections that I have made with the other volunteers at the project’s guest house. I have never stayed at an organization, school or hostel where I’ve had all the experiences that I have had with the volunteers at this project.
I met people from countries all over the world, and every weekend, a few, or a lot, of us would go together and travel around Vietnam. It was almost like a fairy-tale, traveling with people I didn’t know to places we had never yet been.
Through our journeys we became incredibly close, trekking along glorious mountains, dancing on boats on the beach and sleeping in night buses and at home-stays with indigenous people. And even when times were not like a fairy-tale, we laughed and moved on together anyways.
Any time someone got knocked down, there were people to help pick them back up, and if we got lost, we eventually found our way. We faced many trials, but we reveled in many more triumphs.
The stories, the laughter, and the unforgettable experiences that we have shared have been the most influential part of my time in Vietnam. I owe that to the friends that I made here. It is hard to believe that all of that happened only in a month’s time, but just as fast as it came, it also has to come to an end. As we leave the volunteer project, some of us to other countries and some of us back home, we will always cherish the memories that we have made here together. Our farewells are tearful and aren’t really ‘goodbyes’ but more of ‘see you later’s.
I cannot thank everyone I have met here enough, as all of them have truly impacted my life. The cultural connections I made in Vietnam were amazing surprises that I had never imagined could exist. The students, the staff, the volunteers and my friends have all helped me grow as a person. I will return home, unable to fully describe or explain what this has all meant to me.
I think that this experience is something that everyone should try, even if it is not exactly in Vietnam, or even if you are a seasoned traveler or not. The connections I’ve created while volunteering abroad have made this one of the best experiences of my life.
To the staffs, thank you; to the children, I love you guys; and to my friends; I will see you soon, wherever that may be.