Half-way (I/III)

About a month ago, my Fulbright cohort convened for two days in Đà Lạt where we shared updates and stories of successes and failures teaching in gifted high schools, colleges, and universities across Việt Nam. After hearing from everyone, I felt a renewed sense of inspiration to get back into the classroom, to return to my students, to revamp my curriculum, to resume teaching. I felt excited and motivated again, remembering my purpose for coming to this country, because since arriving in my province, I’ve experienced a gradual decline in actually wanting to be here. This mid-year meeting has been, in many ways, refreshing.

It’s been a little over five months since I left home to move around the world to teach English. I look back now and am astounded at how fast time has flown, how much I’ve grown, and how much I’ve learned (more) about myself. I knew coming here I’d expose myself to many learning opportunities and challenges, whether they were laid out in the open or disguised and hidden in the dark.

Being half-way through my Fulbright fellowship, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on three key experiences so far: my classroom, my community, and myself. I’ll be splitting my mid-year reflection into three parts, beginning first with my classroom.

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Awake

It’s half-past five, and she’s beginning to rise.

The sun.

She’s so warm this morning.

The locals, shuffling across their sampans, are sorting through and organizing their fruits, snacks, drinks, and lottery tickets. I watch as the women adjust their nón lá to shield themselves from the waking sun. The men, squatting over the boats to brush their teeth, spit into the river. I hear, faintly, their phlegm smack against the waves.

Smoke rises from a collection of slightly larger vessels. It catches my eye. I look over, and my nostrils instantly meet the smell of grilled pork and shrimp.

Breakfast.

Hủ tiếu.

Cơm tấm.

Bánh mì.

“Hungry?” auntie asks.

“I’m okay, it’s too early to eat.”

“Chị ơi,” she shouts over me, raising herself from our boat. She stands, and our boat leans towards her side. “Cho 2 ly cà phê sữa!”

Peering down at me, she asks, “How about coffee?”

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My first month of teaching.

You’ve got your good days and your bad days.

As a teacher, though, you’ve got your worst days and your best days.

I’m four weeks into teaching, and there’s a lot to reflect on. I’ve saved most of the details for my personal journal, but there are a few things I’d like to share. I haven’t really had the worst of the worst nor the best of the best, but I’ve certainly gotten a taste.

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I’m sorry for raising my voice.

A couple of weekends ago, the Fulbright Program sponsored my cohort to a weekend getaway to Ninh Bình. It was honestly a nice break from the usual routine we all had going on: wake up (late) every morning for breakfast, spend a few hours learning Vietnamese, eat lunch for an hour, and spend the last few hours learning Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) lessons. During our little getaway, though, I was prompted—or rather, reminded—to think about the space I/we occupied (shout out to MJ!).

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A Bittersweet Departure

It’s nearly 1 o’clock in the morning, and my family is barely awake. We all squeeze into my dad’s 15-year-old minivan with all of my luggage; ten months worth of clothes and supplies are jam-packed into two 50-pound suitcases, a carry-on, and my backpack. My dad pulls out of our neighborhood and makes his way onto I-76 while my mom quickly passes out in the back seat with my two brothers. I am sitting beside my dad in the passenger seat, awake and slightly anxious. As he drives quietly under the gleaming, bright moon, I look over and asks if he’s tired. “No, I have my coffee.” Steering with his left-hand, my dad reaches for his cà phê sữa đá and takes a sip.

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