Everyday I’m Shoveling

Written by Billy Burns IV (Duke University)

Well, I’m more than halfway through my time here in Vietnam (and a few blogposts too short). But it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, so I intend to have an amazing second half with more frequent updates. If you read this, hold me to it!

Vietnam, Quang Tri

On the way to the worksite.

Vietnam, Quang Tri, service-learning

Building the retaining wall.

Our days in Quang Tri are busy, just as you saw from the last blog post, but they comprise a comfortable routine that we’ve become accustomed to. The playground is nearing completion. After spreading a roughly two-foot layer of dirt over the entire surface, we built a retaining wall around the perimeter, spread sand, mixed, shoveled (hence the name of this post), and poured more concrete than I care to recall, and, at this point in time, are assisting the contractors with laying the tiles. The latter is a job best left to professionals, which means that only a few of us go to the playground worksite each day, while the rest bike to the other side of the river to help with the fence. The fence is also nearing completion, but we’ve been asked to paint both the inside and outside of the school on the property, so that will keep us busy for another week or so. After that, who knows what we’ll be doing! There was talk of building a house, but unless we plan to work around the clock a la Extreme Home Makeover, it’s unlikely that we’d finish. There are plenty of worthy projects that could make use of twenty four college students though, so I have no doubt we’ll be busy for the duration of the trip.

I will definitely miss the playground worksite. The place has become very familiar over the past three weeks, and we’ve left a permanent impression on the surrounding community after playing hour after hour of popular American music through the school’s speakers. All of the preschool faculty were very welcoming and often brought us fruit or candy; they even made fresh squeezed limeade once! We felt like gold miners, all grubby and dirt stained, as we stood drinking from small steel cups. It was quite the sight. Another sight to behold is my Ireton Cross Country shirt that I have (no joke) worn EVERY day to work in so far.

Vietnam, Quang Tri,

Getting some much needed rest at the smoothie shop.

I’ve also worn the same shorts and socks, but I shower with them all everyday, so they’re still fairly tolerable. I figured there’s no sense in getting any other clothes dirty! In addition to the food the preschool faculty brings us, we all briefly frequented a little cafe next door that made smoothies for us. We would take a break about halfway through the morning and play chinese chess with our contractors. That routine promptly ended, however, when “smoothie lady” decided to up her prices, and one of the Vietnamese students told her we weren’t coming back if she was going to continue to overcharge us. We haven’t been back since (although I think I’d be willing to pay $1 instead of 50 cents for a smoothie).

Teaching has had it’s ups and it’s downs. I’ve never taught before, and finding myself directing a classroom has very much been a learning experience. The students are sixteen and seventeen years old, but still very shy when it comes to volunteering and speaking. Plus, they already know SO much grammar and vocabulary that lectures are difficult to construct. I’ve been focusing more on American culture, pronunciation, slang, conversational English, things like that. There are good days and bad days, but lately more good days as the kids warm up to me and the other teachers and I get more experienced. They love hearing about America and seeing photos of my family and Duke and they are viciously competitive when we play games (especially when candy is involved). They are also such quick learners when it comes to singing. “Hey There Delilah” and “Yesterday” are the two songs they have perfected so far, and they sometimes ask to sing them at the end of class so they can continue to remember the words. Many of the students are also very motivated when it comes to learning how to converse properly, and will approach me during breaks or before/after class to ask me any number of ridiculous things like “How may I run faster?” or “Do you miss hamburgers?” Yes I do miss hamburgers. The biggest frustration that comes with teaching, however, is definitely the lesson planning, which can be a HUGE nuisance since we are either busy or tired throughout the entire day. After my roommate successfully brought WiFi to our guesthouse (after a new router purchase and some communication with the provider) though, lesson planning has become much simpler, given that we can print our flashcards, download songs and videos, or look up teaching strategies for different topics. It definitely makes MY job easier and class more fun for the students.