My Three Months in Laos01 Aug 2014
It started with some confusion over immigration forms at the airport. It took a long while to clear customs . Imagine my relief when help came, in the form of a young lady who approached me and asked, “Are you Jezreel from SIF?”
She was from the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA). I was surprised that someone from IFA would come to my rescue. No… not one but two ladies from IFA and an English teacher from Brunei met me at the airport. I was touched by their gesture.
I was very excited to be part of this three-month assignment to develop English training methodology and pedagogy for the training of Lao government officials and diplomats.
The next thing that hit me upon coming out of the airport was an unexpected blast of heat. It was summer and afternoon temperatures generally hovered around 38 degrees centigrade It would take some time for me to get adjusted to the overwhelming heat.
My first day in Vientiane was an exciting one. Immediately after I depositinged my bags in my rented apartment, I was ferried to IFA and Yean (the Bruneian lady) asked me if I wanted to join in her class. Of course I did! I was curious about how English lessons were conducted carried out there. It was the middle of the term, and Yean’s class was in the midst of preparing for their project work presentation on ASEAN countries. It was interesting to observe the students engaged in discussions and mock presentations. The students, all of them Laos civil servants, from mid-20’s to 50’s, were extremely friendly and it was easy to break the ice and make strike simple conversations. My heart was delighted when I saw the students participating actively in learning. At that point in time, I knew I would enjoy my teaching assignment immensely if all classes were to be that engaging and involving. It was a good start.
My colleagues, Touk and Yean, soon became my close friends in Laos. My colleagues in IFA were friendly and helped me get used to the Lao culture in their own ways, assisted me at the workplace, welcomed me to observe their classes if I wanted to (of course I did!) and brought me around to “see, smell, hear, touch and taste Vientiane”.
I started teaching English in Laos in my second week here. Even after being a teacher for three years in Singapore, I had butterflies in my stomach when I first stood in front of a class of over twenty adults. The initial apprehension soon disappeared as the students were encouraging and pleasant.
There were times when I did not know if I was on the right track due to the absence of a curriculum for this English course. It was a challenge to figure out teaching approaches that would work for these students – their profile was very different from the Singapore teenagers, and their learning needs were different too. However, conversations and feedback from colleagues and students helped me in planning and making the English lessons relevant and interesting for them.
Three months zoomed by. It was interesting teaching in an environment that was so different from what I was used to. The efficiency driven style that I have been used to in Singapore had to be toned down. In the process of navigating through different working styles, I found out new things about myself.
It was difficult to say goodbye to friends at the end of the term. But with today’s advanced technology, I hope to keep in touch with my Laotian friends regularly and continue the exchange of ideas and friendship across the 2 countries.
A photo taken during the graduation ceremony at the end of the term. Jezreel (in white shirt) with the graduates and teachers.
This account is contributed by In-field SIV, Jezreel See, who recently came back from our volunteering project in Vientiane, Laos, as an English Teacher.
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Siem Reap, CambodiaWater for Life Project (Siem Reap, Cambodia)