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English Language SchoolOn my third day in Vietnam, I woke up and headed into town after a quick breakfast on the ship. I stopped in the shopping center near our shuttle bus. I knew I was going to be doing a lot of walking, so I supplemented my breakfast with a strong cup of Vietnamese coffee and a couple of the tastiest cheese pastries I've ever had. I then headed off to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens. On the way to the zoo, I turned off the beaten path to explore a narrow street that led into a neighborhood. It was interesting walking through down the street and seeing people doing everyday things like laundry on upstairs balconies while this tourist walked around lost down below.
I got to the end of the street and realized it dead-ended into a church. It looked interesting, so I wandered into the courtyard. An older woman motioned me over to a room. I went in, and tried to communicate with her. We were having difficulty overcoming the language barrier when a guy about my age came down and asked me what I was looking for. I explained that I was on my way to the Zoo and got lost. He told me I was at a convent. He introduced himself as Thoai, but told me I could call him Peter. We talked for a while, and I explained the Semester at Sea program to him. He asked me to meet him later with his English language club. He gave me directions and told me to meet at 4:30pm. I decided I would try to make it if I had time.
I visited the zoo and the Reunification Palace. I got out of the palace a little after 4pm. I looked at my map and saw that the address Thoai gave me wasn't very far away. I walked to if and found that it was actually an English language school. I was led upstairs to an outdoor deck where the group would meet. I couldn't remember Thoai's name, so I kept telling people I was invited by a guy named Peter at a convent. They probably thought I was a little crazy, but they were all happy I was there. Thoai showed up a few minutes later and gave me a warm greeting.
The group was mostly made up of college students who want to practice their English outside of class. They have a topic and a loose lesson plan facilitated by members of the group. The topic was a trend called gap year. The gap year is when students take a year off between high school and college to travel or volunteer. It was an interesting lead in for me to talk a little about what I was doing. I helped a few of them with a few words and phrases in English. In turn they helped me with a few things in Vietnamese. Apparently I say "thank you" correctly, but what I thought was "hello" sounded more like "rice, please."
After the meeting I learned that one of the girls was celebrating her birthday. They invited me to join in the surprise party downstairs. Usually in the States, we write all of our birthday wishes on a card. They gave her a card, but they also went around the table one by one sharing their birthday wishes for her. It was very touching. She told me it was very exciting because it was her first birthday party with a foreigner present. All of them were so kind and welcoming. The evening spent at the school was my best in Vietnam and is one I will always remember.
Eric Baldwin, Resident Director