Learning in and About Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh

Posted 11 Aug 2017 9:37am

Learning in and About Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh

By Leigh Hynes - Hynessight Blog

This is the second post about a recent trip to Vietnam as part of ongoing professional development provided by the IPL, University of Waikato, for teachers from Vinschool. (see part one here)  I travelled to Vietnam in June with a colleague to facilitate 6 modules of work, firstly in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh city. We flew in, along with a whole lot of tourists, to Ho Chi Minh City on a July Thursday, disembarked on the tarmac as you do,  and we met with our new translator at the newly built secondary VINschool.  The teachers that we met here were all new to the Ho Chi Minh school as it had not officially opened.

Construction was still going on in the Vin complex so this time we were accommodated in a nicely centrally placed hotel - the Bong Sen. We travelled each day via taxi to the school.  Catching a taxi was something I quickly adapted to.  Just step out on the scary Vietnamese roads and hail one down.  Each time I stepped onto a road I would cross myself and say "I'm with Mary" hoping that Mary's experience and the religious connection would help me.  Those who know me well will realise how preposterous this mantra was.

Generally speaking, I was terrified every time I looked out of the front of the taxi, and so I forced myself into the habit of looking out the side windows (still not an infallible method of avoiding traffic scares but better on the nerves).  It did give me the opportunity to focus on the transport and the buildings.

We were the first to use some of the facilities at the school so everything was pristine and after starting up in one room, we realised that we would need a lot more space for the activities that we needed to do, and were moved to an enormous presentation room.

Friday went well as did Saturday, but as afternoon tea time finished, we realised that the teachers were up to something when they broke out the karaoke youtubes.
They usually had time to work with their teams on their presentations following the mid afternoon break but they said - it is Saturday evening, time to relax! And so, we became part of the ongoing karaoke show.  Mary bravely found a Pokarekareana youtube and we sang along for our part. There were songs from the North and songs from the South and some of the teachers were real entertainers.  Dancing, laughing and singing until time to go home.

Mary and I checked out some of the views of the Vin complex up the river from a hotel dining room one night and then other views of the Saigon River from the Bitexaco Tower viewing platform another night.  Living right in the middle of the tourist area provided us with ample opportunities to sample the food, with my favourite restaurant being one right next to the hotel called Lemongrass.  Fabulous food and Vietnamese music being played live as we ate dinner.

We were also able to see many of the tourist sights in the evenings, and on our day off we took a tour of the inner city which was really worthwhile in getting our bearings and also provided us with an interesting history of the city.  We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral,  the Independence Palace, the Post Office, a Taoist temple, the Book street and the War Remnants Museum (sobering). This place is chock full of history and I made a promise to myself to read some books with Vietnamese history.  The first book I have found is called "Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam" so I will look forward to reading it knowing a bit about the area now.

We found the Vietnamese teachers just as charming, humble and gracious as those in the North, although a little more outgoing (see karaoke photos).  Everyone had told us that Saigon was much more westernised and open than Hanoi but I found it hard to make that discernment and I think that was due to the fact that we were in the middle of the tourism area in Saigon after all.
We had school lunches in the school dining room each day.  These were superb!  Always rice or rice noodles, vegetables and meat dishes followed by fruit.  They were very healthy as well as delicious, and we also had fruit at every morning and afternoon tea break.  The teachers took to bringing us different fruits to try out and there were a lot that I had not sampled before.  Fresh lychees, rambutan, jackfruit, dragonfruit, and longan to name a few.

As we worked through the modules each day, we talked with teachers about how the learning could be adapted to their own context.  Once again I found myself pondering on how difficult it was to reconcile the crowded Vietnamese curriculum with deep learning practices.  We are so lucky in New Zealand to have the curriculum framework that we do.  The teachers in Vietnam seem to be so busy all of the time, and they make fun when they see an opportunity.  During several of their assessments, there were dances and songs incorporated as you can see in this video of the last day.

The remaining days at work passed really quickly and as we approached the final presentation day, Mary and I reflected how quickly the time had flown.  The teachers had worked hard on every activity and it was going to be hard to say goodbye.  Our last day was another day of celebration of learning, with presentations given, assessments completed, certificates presented and feedback given, followed by more gifts and exchanging of Facebook details so that we could stay in touch.  Here is one of our last photos together, with a few faces missing as teachers dashed off to other venues for different responsibilities.

Mary and I stayed on for another four days after the programme was finished.  We moved to a backpacker hotel in a different part of the town and took time to try out more food, visit the Mekong Delta, go to the Ben Thanh market each day for shopping (strange smells, crowds, bartering, heat and crazy, crazy, traffic) and I took advantage of the tourism dentistry opportunities. But that's another story.