Read Sam Boutelle's expectations and exciting preparations for the next eleven months he will spend living and teaching in Vietnam, as WorldTeach begins its inaugural program in the country.
One month ago today, I graduated from my year of service with City Year in Seattle, Washington. One month ago today, I had a midday interview with WorldTeach, an education-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that sends people, young and old, to developing countries around the world to teach English and offer their perspectives to modernizing communities. One month ago today, I learned that I’d been accepted to teach English in Hanoi, Vietnam, for eleven months, just in time to report the big news to my friends and colleagues at our graduation ceremony. Just one week before that, I found WorldTeach in the back pages of an old spreadsheet. So it goes.
Vietnam, so often seen in seventies war flicks, in grizzled memoirs, in the back pages of the international section and through the History Channel’s loving ministrations, is now coming into focus across a great gulf of space and comprehension. Vietnamese? No more than hello… Xin chào (sin jòw, according to Lonely Planet). So what inspired this leap across the Pacific, into a place that laid to rest so many American ambitions past? A fair bit of naiveté, of course, a desire to explore another adventure before responsible salaried life closed in upon me, and a hope to both teach and learn in something completely different.
Asia, mother of billions, host and grave of empires, embalmer of armies and expectations, had only greeted me on its western fringe, in the occident of Lawrence of Arabia and President Assad of Syria. I know relatively less of eastern Asia than I do of the Middle east and Europe—far less, in fact. I am extremely grateful to the New York Times, Karl Marlantes, Pearl S. Buck, Factory Girls, and The Quiet American for some of my understanding, though there are far more authors of my information than should be recounted here. Suffice it to say, I’m woefully under prepared to know my way around Hanoi and perfectly positioned to learn quickly.
Before I get lost in the air or in this first post, let me illuminate what little I know of my circumstances for this year. I will live in staff housing with my six colleagues and other faculty next to student dormitories on Wellspring International School’s impressive, isolated campus (if I’m horribly wrong in this, I’ll be sure to share my disillusionment). I’ll teach English—perhaps other subjects, as well—for approximately 20 hours a week. Staff-student soccer games occur each afternoon, and curfew cuts in by midnight if not before. I’ll eat breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria, receive a living stipend—would that I knew what I’ll be living on—to pay for my dinners and sundries. Classes will not exceed 24 students in a session, and my pupils are likely to be more prosperous than poor (I didn’t work that out until after accepting my invitation.)
Parting thoughts? I’m eager to find out my immediate future—from curriculum to calendar. I want desperately to learn enough Vietnamese (how much that is, I don’t rightly know). I intend to miss my family, as I have at each step in my journeys apart from them, and I have every confidence that we’ll get along with Skype and emails as we have in the past. I’ll also miss the striving grace of Seattle and the wonderful friends I found there this year. So many mountains and trails remain unmet, and I’ll only encounter more could-be adventures for my agenda in my absence. Germany and Jordan, my previous international homes will feel apart and yet present, reminding me of the kindness and wonder that lives across oceans. So many friends and faces to follow, I hope I can keep up. So, it begins.
Wish me luck.
- Sam Boutelle, WorldTeach Vietnam '13