lesson one: A huge city trapped in a little box.

After an extremely relaxing weekend on the coast of Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand and

Sunset on the Cambodian coast

then 13 straight hours on a bus, I have finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon.  The hustle and bustle of Saigon makes Phnom Penh seem like a lazy little village.  This city is alive and crazy – it is a place where no one will hesitate to rip you off (its happened every taxi ride so far), where crossing the street is a gamble on your life (seriously), and where . . . the food is AMAZING and CHEAP.  I ate all of meals today for under $1.50 each, had the best coffee of my life from a woman in the street, and still managed to call it the best Asian food I’ve ever had.

I also started teaching this week; after being in HCMC for less than 24 hours I was thrown into a classroom of 20 eager 18-25 year old students, people I would consider my peers, and tried to the best of my abilities to teach them

Typical Saigon Traffic

English with no preparation, no lesson plan, and no idea what their ability level was.  It was an experience to say the least.  One of the biggest factors in teaching an Asian classroom is the concept of losing face.  We have been taught that we are not to by any means single a student out in front of the class because this causes them, as my Sociology professors are so fond of saying, to lose face.  If they know the answer to a question and answer it in front of the class, the person causes the rest of the class to lose face.  However, if the person doesn’t know the answer, than he or she is embarrassed in front of his classmates and loses face himself.  Therefore, as I too quickly found out, questions addressed to the class will receive absolutely no response.  It is a very delicate line that the teacher must tread between prompting class participation and being understandable of cultural boundaries.

These students are extremely eager and extremely bright, yet I am amazed by both what they know and don’t know.  They are extremely well educated in English grammar and will call you out if you misspell a word and are constantly wanting to know the grammar rules associated with the language (things that the average English teacher has absolutely no idea about).  They will (eagerly) attempt any task you give them and try at a task until they succeed.  However, once I stepped outside the box of a classroom and brought content into my lesson from the outside world, their knowledge is extremely limited – unless it pertains to American pop culture stars like Justin Bieber (he is an Asian hero).  For example, I asked the smartest kid in my class today to show me on the map where the equator is.  Nothing.  I watched another teacher ask a student to write down the years of the 20th century. Nothing. Where is the Atlantic Ocean?  Nothing.  Have you heard of Communism?  NOTHING.  Can you sing all of the Miley Cyrus lyrics?  They know every word.  It is mind boggling.

About aweinfur

Learning and Organizational Change graduate student at Northwestern University. Yogi. Happy.
This entry was posted in Cambodia, children, Food, Photography, Saigon, Southeast Asia, Teaching, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to lesson one: A huge city trapped in a little box.

  1. martha.weinfurter@gmail.com says:


  2. Kelly says:

    i’m sad to hear justin beiber has crossed cultural borders…=(

  3. Eric says:

    Hey, I’m actually moving to Vietnam in October with language corps. Any worldly advice or comments would be greaaaatly appreciated, please feel free to email man. Thanks man.

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