Tag Archives: IVHQ

Teaching Engrish

Yes, I’m aware “English” is spelled wrong in the title. It’s just the way they pronounce it around here.

Day three of orientation was a tasty one! We split up into two groups, with one group learning how to make chicken dumplings and the other group making marble cake and chocolate mousse. Friends at home should have no problem guessing which group I was glad to be in. ๐Ÿ™‚

The few of us in the baking group went to one of the kitchens at the college and observed a class that was already in session. Two of the volunteers here, Peter and Nancy, are fluent in Vietnamese and they have been considerably handy so far during this trip. Nancy was in my group and was able to translate everything the head chef was saying to her students. Then soon, after paying careful attention to her directions, it was our turn to craft a marble cake! It took a little longer to prepare than it should have because everyone wanted a turn at doing something. I was perfectly fine just observing. That is, until the end where I had to crack eggs, stir the cake mixture, pour ingredients, and spread the cake batter.

We made chocolate mousse to go along with the cake too. Here are the finished products:


20130620-085108.jpgThe best part was, of course, the tasting part! One of the volunteer coordinators gave me loads of chocolate mousse and jokingly said that I must finish them all or I20130620-085139.jpg can’t leave the building! No problem by me! The cake was pretty scrumptious as well. All I needed was a little ice cream to go with it and I would have been all set! That same day, we were giving a crash course in “decorative vegetable carving”. I’ve never even heard of such a thing. We were each given gigantic carrots and green pumpkins and the instructor guided us into carving them into fancy flowers. It’s really more difficult than it sounds. I didn’t take any pictures of my veggies because they looked horrid. As a matter of fact, everyone’s veggie carvings looked pretty bad! The instructor was a master carver and put us all to shame when he was able to carve the head of a Neanderthal in mere minutes, right before our eyes. None of us completed any of our carvings, and ended up mostly carving random things into our veggies.

Lucy was struggling just as much as I was!

Day four of orientation called for another trek through HCMC as we made way to the Vietnam War Museum and then to a traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet show. It was definitely interesting to see. Puppets were being controlled via long sticks in the water…I think. I’m still trying to figure out how that worked.


Finally, orientation was over. We became official members of the college!


My group of volunteers was divided into four different placements: disabled children, medical, orphanage, and teaching English. Lucy worked with the disabled children and I taught English to the students at the college. We were all also given snazzy blue shirts to wear during class sessions. Five days a week, I would be placed in two different classes a day that would last for about two hours each. Each day is always a different class and a different teacher. This week, I attended all my classes with Shantai and Allison. We met with our first teacher, Ms Duyรชn, who showed us to our very first class. The grins on these students faces widened ear to ear when they saw us. Their ages ranged from 18 to 23 years old which was perfect for me. Since this is a tourism college, these students will eventually be dealing with a lot of westerners who have different English accents. Our goal was to converse with these 20130621-063210.jpgstudents as much as possible, strictly in English, and also help them with their English written assignments. It was super easy to converse with these guys because they wanted to know EVERYTHING about me! Even when they couldn’t understand some of the things I was saying to them, they still tried their very best to comprehend. I just had to speak slow and use simpler words. It also didn’t help that I had an American dialect because most of these students are used to British accents.

I could really tell that the students were really looking up to me based on all the positive attention I was receiving from them and all of the questions they were asking me. Pretty much questions about what I do at home, how I like Vietnam, what’s my favorite food, am I married, etc. They also asked me what my Facebook account was so they could add me as a friend. I only just met these guys and they already wanted to befriend me. Of course, I didn’t mind at all so I accepted all of their requests. I may regret it later though! Anyways, for the remainder of the class we played games to help expand their English vocabulary. Time actually flew by and it ended up with the students wanting to take tons of pictures with us volunteers. Afterwards, I made sure to tell them that if they see me walking around the college at any time, feel absolutely free to say “hi” and to let me know if they needed help with any of their courses.

20130621-063357.jpgThe next class and the classes over the next few days were pretty much the same. The students were keen to know all about us and laughed when we pronounced a word in Vietnamese wrong. Some of the pronunciations in Vietnamese sound very similar, but have barely noticeable differences. You have to move and use your whole mouth for this language. They wanted to give me a new name in Vietnamese, so they started to call me “Duc”. There are supposed to be little accent marks and symbols, but I can’t figure out how to use them on this keyboard. It’s pronounced like “Duke” and it means Germany. Beats me!

One of the girls edited this photo. They think they're funny, do they?
One of the students edited this photo. They think they’re funny, do they?

After classes, I took a taxi to Saigon Tax Center. It’s a mall area in the nicer part of HCMC and the only place in Vietnam where you can buy camera equipment that isn’t a fake or knockoff brand. You see, the only thing I forgot to bring with me from the U.S. was one of my lenses for my Nikon. I went to the camera store and investigated the lens and even tried it out before I purchased it. As far as I know it’s real! You guys don’t even know how much research I did to find a proper one! You have to be very careful when buying electronics in third world countries.


I’m very satisfied with the teaching here and I’m looking forward to every class session with these camera savvy, Facebook requesting students. I’m also pumped that my Nikon is ready for action; just in time for when some of the volunteers and I make our way to the majestic Mekong Delta this weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

Welcome to the University of Awesome

It’s the year of the water snake, the weathers sunny, and I’m feeling great! All positive signs, leading to my stay here in Ho Chi Minh. Once I landed, I picked up my visa (which you have to apply for before you arrive), grabbed my bag, and met up with a coordinator from IVHQ who was waiting for me with two other volunteers. Their names are Tara (Australia) and Vivian (China). We introduced ourselves in the hot, sweaty cab ride to our home for the next month. Seriously, it’s so hot and muggy here! But I was way too excited to let that bother me. I was anxious to see what kind of place I would be living in this time. After about ten minutes of driving, we finally pulled up to The Saigon Tourist University. It was a miniature college campus in the heart of HCMC filled with smiley teenage students and teachers. 20130617-062420.jpgThere were restaurants, kitchens, classrooms, and a small scale badminton field in the middle of campus. The University was a high rise, and the coordinator took us on an elevator to the third floor where all of the volunteers dorms would be. From this floor, we had a fantastic view of the city. A few paces further there were about four or five dorms spread across. The coordinator showed me to the boys dorm. The large room had air conditioning (Thank Goodness!), eight bunk beds, a fridge, lockers, and came equipped with wi-fi. There I met one of my roommates, Shane (California, US). He’s been here for two weeks already and says he’s loved it here so far. Then all of a sudden, someone charged in, leaped to me, and gave me the biggest hug ever, even almost knocking me down! It was none other than my dear South African friend, Lucy! “I thought I heard you so I came running!” she said. It was unbelievable to see Lucy again, especially in a whole new setting. It almost seemed surreal. “We have a lot of catching up to do!” Shane looked a bit baffled. “You guys know each other?” We explained how we organized this trip to Vietnam about a year ago in South Africa and now it’s finally happening. He was quite impressed. Soon, a few other volunteers came into our room and we all introduced ourselves. I’ll tell you their names as I blog here more because I’m still trying to remember them. I will tell you that so far everyone that I met was very friendly and seemed anxious about the impending few weeks we all had in store for us. So far, I was loving everything about this.A few of the volunteers who have already been here for awhile left a few hours later and flew to Northern Vietnam to witness Halong Bay. Lucy and I will make our way up there eventually, just not sure when. The rest of us newbies however decided to go into the city and explore a bit, to see whats out there. Tom (U.K), Sophie (U.K), Shantai (Edmonton, Alberta), Tara, Lucy, and myself made the trip.

Holy motorbikes!20130617-062348.jpg It looked like everyone in Vietnam owned a motorbike. Actually, I heard that for every two citizens of HCMC, on average, one owns a motorbike. Which means there are 4.5 million motorbikes riding in the streets of the city! Crossing the street here, was like playing a real life game of frogger.20130617-062409.jpg Anways, we cautiously made our way to the nearby supermarket which had EVERYTHING you needed and everything is super cheap. I bought snacks, water bottles, soap, and a few other things for only $16. I knew Vietnam would be cheap but I definitely expected to pay more. As a matter of fact, most of my expectations so far has been wrong. For one, Ho Chi Minh is not as underdeveloped as I thought it was going to be. I pictured a worn down, dusty city (similar to Arusha, Tanzania), surrounded by villages and jungles. It wasn’t dusty at all, as most of the roads were paved. The city was bustlin’ with tons of energy and bright flashy lights. There were food and fruit stalls at every corner you turn, but there were also luxury restaurants, bars, hotels, and cafes spread throughout. And did I mention there were motorbikes everywhere?

We walked back to the college and the few of us mingled for a bit there and played cards to get to know each other better. Other new volunteers Lex (Toronto, Canada), Allison (Tasmania), and brother and sister Peter and Nancy (Alberta, Canada) soon joined us. We had five days of orientation that would begin tomorrow at the college. I called it a night early because I was still jet lagged. It was so bad that I went to bed at 8pm and woke up two hours later at 10pm, thinking it was morning and time to get up. Once Tom let me know that I’ve only been asleep for two hours, I realized how screwed and disoriented I was. I fell back asleep but woke up at 3am and stayed up the whole time. I think this may be the worst case of jet lag I’ve ever had. On the brightside, I was able to text and message friends back home in Michigan who were wide awake! Here at the Saigon Tourist College, students strive to excel in areas of tourism hospitality around Vietnam, which includes food service, hotel management, and tour guide operations. Students may take one to three years to receive a certificate in one of the three departments. It’s a very serious business since Vietnam thrives on tourism as a whole and partly relies on it. Our job as volunteers is to help these students better their English language to reach their goal and there’s no better way for them to learn than engaging with actual foreigners who are already masters of the language. But before we could start that, we have to go through this lengthy orientation. Consider it a culmination of tests in order to prove our worth. The first day of orientation, we received a tour around the campus which included multiple kitchens, restaurants, a hotel lobby and guest rooms, a few classrooms, and plenty of outdoor areas to relax and study. 20130617-062443.jpgAfter a brief lesson of the Vietnamese language (which I suck at), we walked into the hub of HCMC and took a tour through the Reunification Palace. It’s a large palace where the president of Vietnam resided during the Vietnam War…I think. You guys know how I get with guided tours. My mind goes off to LaLa land. Afterwards we went to the action-packed backpacker district and ate some local cuisine there too. The awesome atmosphere of HCMC was blowing my mind!

After separating on our own paths last year in South Africa, Lucy and I reunite for a new adventure in Vietnam!
After separating on our own paths last year in South Africa, Lucy and I reunite for a new adventure in Vietnam!

The next day of orientation, we were faced with more tests. We took an hour and a half road trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a site of large, complex underground tunnels that was used as a secret jungle base for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It was here where I got to fire an AK-47 and examine the weaponry, tanks, and outdoor traps used by the Viet Cong. Soon we had the opportunity to shimmy through more than 100 meters of a narrow underground passage, 20-30 feet below ground. I have mild claustrophobia but I couldn’t resist! It was a sweat chamber for sure!20130617-062539.jpg

20130617-062549.jpg20130617-062634.jpg20130617-062617.jpgNext, we went to a nearby village for lunch. What was on the menu? Seafood. Loads of seafood. I’ll try anything once, so I took a small bite of whatever fish that was. And that was enough for me! Then we were served with a soup that contained prawns, squid, oysters, and veggies. Lucy was loving it! I was not. I did muster through an entire bowl of soup though, out of respect. I just made sure my bowl didn’t have any prawns or oysters in it. I can manage with a bit of squid though.

My worst nightmare!
My worst nightmare!
Lucy's dream come true.
Lucy’s dream come true.

The other volunteers, Lucy, and myself capped off the night by going to a nearby bar/restaurant called the “Bamboo Palace”. Ladies get served two free beers here while the guys have to pay for theirs. It wasn’t a big deal though considering that the beers here were literally only twenty cents. With our group of about nine, our tab ended up being $2.50. How amazing is that? By the way, the currency here is the dong. One American dollar equals to roughly 20,000d. One beer was 4,000d. This could spell out trouble for us volunteers in the near future. It’s insane how incredibly cheap everything is here.

Tomorrow spells out day 3 of orientation. Hopefully it doesn’t involve anymore seafood!

The volunteers of Vietnam!

Born To Be Wild!

The meaning behind the word ‘wild’ varies for different people; depends on who you ask. There’s the crazy partying, beer chugging, not knowing where you woke up the next morning kind of wild. There’s also the jungle swinging, mountain climbing, dirty rustic exploration adventure kind. I consider myself the latter (But occasionally I like to dab in the other kind too). ๐Ÿ™‚

Hello everyone! I’m back and set to go an another, what’s sure to be a wildly amazing adventure this summer. The random destination of choice this time: Southeast Asia! I plan on getting down and dirty with some Asian culture, exploring the many surrounding countries in the area: Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, you go ahead and name it. Southeast Asia is known as the backpacker’s paradise because everything is insanely cheap and flights between neighboring countries are pennies. I’m gonna be keeping my agenda as open as possible because I have no idea who I’ll meet, where I’ll end up, or what activities I’ll partake in. I’ve read that there are so many cool things to do there: mountain hikes, historic festivals, deep-sea diving, bathing with elephants, learning how to cook Thai cuisine, the list goes on and on. You know one of the sweetest things about this region, in my opinion? There are loads of ancient temples and jungles for me to explore and sneak into. There has to be all sorts of lost relics and aging skeletal remains I might find! I definitely am going to chime into my childhood idol, Indiana Jones. His wild adventures have always been an inspiration for me to see the world. And I don’t care what anyone else says, The Temple of Doom was his best escapade yet! Now if only I had a whip…

Most importantly as usual, I will be volunteering over there within the customs of the locals. As of now, all I know is that I will begin my trip by teaching English somewhere in a place called Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, formally known as Saigon, is in the south of Vietnam and is the largest and most populated city in the country. I think I will be living in a volunteer house in or near the city. This is destined to be one heck of an amazing summer and just like last time before I left to Africa, the most exciting part is not knowing exactly what lies ahead. Speaking of which, I have been in contact with my volunteer agency and there has been a bit of controversy involving the original organization I was supposed to be teaching with in Vietnam. The volunteers who signed up to arrive after May 1st will be partnering with a new agency in an unspecified area of Ho Chi Minh. So pretty much, I will be part of a group of “test subject” volunteers. I’m down for whatever though! I haven’t the slightest clue what to expect, but not knowing is one of the many great aspects of a solid adventure. This is the stuff I love.

The Chinese District of Ho Chi Minh
The Chinese District of Ho Chi Minh
This is a Giraffe Weevil and apparently these things are common in Vietnam. I never seen anything like it!
This is a Giraffe Weevil and apparently these things are common in Vietnam. I never seen anything like it!
A glimpse of Ho Chi Minh city at night.
A glimpse of Ho Chi Minh city at night.

One thing is for certain though, unlike my trips in the past, this particular one was a bit difficult to plan out because it’s not just one or two countries I will be living in; it’s more like eight or nine (maybe). Many different currencies, weird exchange rates, numerous visas, lots of trains, planes, boats, and buses, and different languages and customs to follow. I had a hard time figuring out how to pack for this. I’m going to be moving around all over the place so I don’t want to haul too much, you know?ย  After much tinkering and debating, I decided to quit planning and just wing it and pack light. After all, the unplanned adventures are always the best stories to share.

Another MAJOR difference this time around is…for the first time EVER, I will be traveling with friends I met prior to the trip. I’m pretty excited and I’ll admit, just a smidge nervous about how things will play out. You see, I have become very adept to traveling solo on my own watch for years, able to do what I want, when I want, however I want…up until now. I have it mastered down to a science. But I’m optimistic that everything will be just fine, especially with the down-to-earth crew I am making this journey with. We will be just fine. My friends and family at home think I’m absolutely nuts for always traveling by myself. I always tell them, I’m never truly alone. Whatever country I’m in, I meet a whole slew of interesting and unique new people and volunteers who I end up becoming pretty great friends with. As a matter of fact, the ones who will be accompanying me this time, I met at some point during my previous travels. I will formally introduce you to them on a later post. One of them is even a fellow blogger and we have some pretty big plans in store which I will tell you all about soon.

Southeast Asia, the setting of most of my time over the next few months.

I don’t leave yet until mid June and I try to avoid leaving long gaps between posts. By the way, if there ever is an extremely long gap without warning, it probably means I’m in some kind of trouble abroad! So until the big day, what shall I write about to keep my readers thirsts quenched? Well, since I returned home from Africa last September, I haven’t just been sitting around. Besides hitting the books and working, over the past few months since then, I have made several small trips to visit past volunteers I met on previous outings, mainly ones I met in South America and in Africa.

For those that have been keeping up with my blogs and travels, there are some familiar faces and a few surprises that will pop up.

So let’s pick things up from where we left off shall we?