Sunday, October 24, 2010

What does an Ao Dai really mean?

Today I went to visit my aunt and we were talking about how I wanted to get an Ao Dai made in Vietnam and how much all of the costs are and such things. We were talking about how the modern Ao Dai of today with like the halter top Ao Dai or the the ones with no neck, or puffy sleves, or really long tails, how they don't look nearly as beautiful was the classic ones. yea, there're more modern but not necessarily any more stylish. Then, all of a suddent she dragged me upstairs to try on her very own ao dai and wanted to give me it instead of going to get one made for me. I thought that this gesture was really kind of her and it got me thinking about what an ao Dai really means to girls and Vietnam. I have worn plenty of Ao Dais in my lifetime, almost every year I had to get one made for me because of weddings and other celebrations. Wearing an Ao Dai to me was a symbol of traditionalism and classic Vietnamese beauty and that each Ao Dai that I have worn was connected with a special event and meaning. Like this Ao Dai I wore to my cousins wedding or this one was for my grandfather's funeral.. etc etc. I could never think to part with any one of them and because that they are tailored to fit your body , that each ao dai specially belongs and and was meant just for you.

now here I am with my grand aunt's Ao Dai and she is so dearly giving away to me, another ao dai to add to my collection and meaningful events in my life. I just couldn't believe that she would give me one of hers because I thought that there was so much more meaning in them. When I asked her if she was sure, she said yes, that she had no occasion to wear them anymore and that she knew right away that they would fit me. Therefore, this Ao Dai is probably the most special one in my closet since it was given to me by my aunt from Vietnam.

Service Learning: Week 8 - Toleration and Acceptance

Working in Sao Mai, there has been many ups and downs. I think in my own ways that I have become more tolerant and accepted of this place. Starting out, I had this feeling that there would be some way to contribute more in the classrooms and with the children. However, coming there I realized that there was not much I could contribute to the school, or at least in the same way as I had hoped. Working there for over 2 months now, I have become more tolerant and accepted within Sao Mai and of Sao Mai. I have come to realize that a lot of the procedures and practices of the classroom, that I use to not like, such as yelling at the kids and hitting them, or the way they teach things here, that I have grown to accept and understand their practices and teachings. I have come to understand why the handle the kids the way that the do. When the teachers yell at them, it isn't to be mean or out of frustration and anger necessarily, but when raising their voices, it gets the children attention more and when they talk like that, the children listen. So now, when I walk into the classrooms, I no longer have this strange feeling as to why the teachers are treating the children this way or in this teaching method. Being there over the past 2 months I have observed and come to understand their teaching methods and have accepted them. Sao Mai is a very organized school with already so many things such as financial support since I saw one of the patrons coming into class the other day asking the teachers if they had met their "p3 level" or something like that. I asked the teachers who he was and they said that he was one of the patrons and the one that sort of started and gave Sao Mai it's curriculum. I realize that the practices of Sao Mai have been established for such a long time and that if there was something ultimately wrong about it, or that the teachings weren't helpful to the students, then the school and all of the other schools in the districts would probably be shut down already. Therefore, I think that I have come to accept that Sao Mai as an efficient school and that it has to be doing things right if the school has been going on for a while and has many family who wants to send their children there.

I have also accepted my part in Sao Mai as well. When I come to volunteer, I know that my presence helps in watching over the children and doing little errands for them such as setting up tables and cleaning up. It isn't a lot of hard work or some great contribution on my part, but it is helpful in the classroom. I now mostly enjoy coming to class just to see the children and teacher and watching their progress on a weekly basis. I like to see the children who when I first came to volunteer that they couldn't say anything and now they are sounding out sounds and some of them even words. It is nice to see the teachers and children and just talk and interact with them. In doing this, I have accepted Sao Mai and I think the teachers have accepted me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I survived SAPA!!!

1)Went on a nice train ride there and arrived in the freaking cold at the Lao Cai train station.
2)Ate some bombass Com Ran and Thit and Chao Ga.
3)Went to Dragon's Jaw and saw an amazing view of Sapa Town, experienced the fresh air and misty morning dew, took wonderful pictures and ate seaseme ice cream.
4)Went shopping around the market and got suckered into buying a bracelet from a cute hmong girl.
5)next day, went on a survival hike to Ban Ho and needed assistant from our little Hmong friends who were trekking through that mud like it was nothing while we had to nearly hold on with our dear lives to survive.
6)Bombass food at the stay home once we survived all of the mountain trekking.
7)Thank you Anh Thai for organizing our excursion and playing tour guide. I will gladly go work for our company if you ever open a tourist agency.

Service Learning Week 6?? or 7 - Exclusion and Inclusion

In the classroom that I help out in Sao Mai, there are definitely many different levels which the children are all mentally at. My 3 and 4 years old are all different with different mental capabilities. They range from the children who can barely hold attention, or listen to any authority and can only sit quietly. There are some who have the energy of a 4 year old and know nothing but running around without listening to authority. There are some who can listen to the teachers and sit there quietly but cannot comprehend anything. Then there are some who seem perfectly normal 4 years old to me. These ones are the ones who are more progressive in the speech training. All of my children are at the age where most normal children start speaking, 3-4 years old, however, my kids take are not at that level and so special teachers come in and work with them. Therefore, those who are farther along in their speech training are looked at as "smarter." These "smarter" children are the ones who are included in activities and get special snacks. While the other ones who's progress are slower are excluded. There is one boy who has the capabilities to say words and repeats after the teachers after a few trials who is also probably the worst trouble maker in class. All he does is steal other kids toys and runs around and never sits in his seats, however, the teachers are more lenient on him I would say because of his speaking progress. Another child who cannot speak at all, but is obedient and never causes trouble gives the teacher headaches when he cannot repeat such words as water. therefore, there is a separation between the excluded and included children. The children who can speak are included more in activities and are the ones the teachers love the most while the ones who cannot speak are excluded and are treated less lovingly. This makes me think that although Sao Mai is an effective organization, that its goals and progress are based on their own personal satisfaction. Teachers become proud when their students do well in school, so when a student does not do well, it makes the teachers look bad as well. therefore, the ones in my classroom who can speak are included more because the teachers thinks that this is a good reflection on their work. The children who are excluded are the ones the teachers feel that they fail at being a student and cannot learn. However, in my opinion, a truly great teacher can take the worst student regardless of any circumstances and teach them well enough to become the best student. Therefore, the teachers in Sao Mai should not show favoritism and exclude the children who cannot talk but instead, include them and work with them even more than the other ones to make them all better.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2 months left??

My meeting with my teacher about the half-way mark sparked some discontent with me. What am I in Vietnam for? Why am I here? What do I want to achieve or experience? All along, i have thought about this studying abroad experience just as that. Study abroad. I came here to learn about this country, school, and its people live. I feel that in the little time that I have been here, i have done a lot of things that I never knew I could do or had the courage to. Crossing a crazy traffic street, eating food on the sidewalk while sitting in a chair that I can barely squeeze into, seeing my father's hometown and the relatives' faces who I have never thought I would get a chance to meet, seeing my parents in their natural habitat, drinking bia hoi on a tuesday after classes, riding around on the back of a motorbike, xe oming it with 3 people on a bike, eating sua chua nep cam maybe 2-3 times everyday and my favorite banh mi lady around the corner every morning for breakfast. All these things are experiences big and small which I will miss when I have to go home. While at the same time, I feel that I have so far achieve what I wanted coming to Vietnam for. Which is to learn, in and outside of the classroom, through books, people, and my own experiences. So with 2 months left of this program, I have nothing else that I want to achieve. Now, with this 2 months, in a sense, I am free. I am free to do whatever I want here while I still can because in a sense I have gotten all of my goals out of the way and now I can just relax and enjoy my time here. however, there is this panicky feeling within me every time I go out now saying " this might be the last time you..." and I hate that feeling. I feel so sad when that thought pops into my head and instead of enjoying the moment, I fear when that moment is over and afraid that i will never have the chance again to live in that moment. I think this being said, I will miss Vietnam when the time comes to leave, and I do not know how I will be able to say good-bye.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Service Learning Week 5: Organizational Structure

When thinking about what organizational structure means, I think of the hierarchy within the institution. i.e., who's in charge, who has to report to who, what are the different ranks. In Sao Mai, I would definitely say there is a hierarchy within the organizational structure.Within in my first few weeks of working there, there has already been one teacher who was switch out of the class to teach another one, and 2 new teachers that have come in to take her place with one leaving. Now my classroom consists of 3 teachers, 2 old and 1 new. The new teacher seemed to be as misplaced as I was when I entered. What exactly are we suppose to do, what are we here for, what are we suppose to teach. Us two basically did the same thing in where we sat with the children for a long time and just telling them to be quiet while the other two teachers taught. Just yesterday, she had the classroom all to herself so she was held responsible for the children. However, when I asked her how did she feel about teaching at Sao Mai, such as if it is difficult, she said that it wasn't for her because she had yet to teach any of the kids educational stuff. She wasn't allowed to teach them how to read or identify words yet, but rather just fun things such as playing with toys and putting away blankets or pillows. Nothing too hard. Seeing how the new teacher has developed and the steps that they take in training the teacher shows that there is a hierarchy in the system. The teachers take a long time to learn and new comers are not so easily accepted because they can quit at any minute just like the previous teacher. Therefore, this just reaffirms my belief that Sao Mai is very organized in that every teacher has to go through training and that they are not trusted with handling the educational part of the school until the other older teachers feel necessary. I feel that if that is the case, the hierarchy has a lot to do with how the teachers organize their classroom. As before in my other posts. Teachers do not exactly get to choose what to teach their children, but what the school and program tells them to teach. this is why probably us volunteers are very limited in what we are able to help with, I.e. teaching the children. We are not within their higher hierarchy system where we are trained to teach the children and within the little time we have here, we probably will not be able to reach that level. therefore, we have to come up with a way to put ourselves within that organizational structure so that we are needed and a valued member.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Harvesting Rice! for the people who Harvest Rice!

This weekend we went to harvest rice. however, I was one of the cooks who was in the kitchen, so I missed out on the chance to harvest, but it was still fun being in the kitchen. I'ver never had to make a full meal for 50 people, so it was kind of cool, and I learned how to make nem :) It took a really long time to prepare and make everything, we wanted to finish early to go out to the rice fields too, but the kitchen was so small and there weren't a lot of places to cook, so we had to take turns and rotate. Then, when all the people were back from cutting rice, we still weren't done, so they had to wait and some of them were nice enough to help. However, after the meal, everyone just knocked out and it makes me wonder about when all the rice farmers come back how tired and hungry they all are. Even though they were hungry, everyone was even more tired, so we seemed to overcooked. It was nice to work in the kitchen though cause I do like to cook, but it wasn't really cooking, but preparing really was what we were doing. I just wish I was able to go out into the fields for just a litle, but and take some pictures, but I'm glad I was in the kitchen or else my eczema would probably go into overdrive.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Service Learning: Week 4 - Public, Private, and Physical Space

In Sao Mai, every room has about three teachers to attend to 10-12 children. While the teachers have control over their children, it seems to me that there is not so much control in the classroom. The teachers follow the bells and schedule that Sao Mai sets up for them. Their daily routine isn't something that the teachers seem to pick, but more of what the whole school does. When the bell rings, it means it's time for studying, eating, sleeping, etc. The teachers don't get to decide what to with the children per say and that in itself, I think is something that needs to change. Each children in the classroom is at a different level and unique. Sometimes, when it's time to study or play, the children who arent't capable of playing seem to be left out. The other day when it was time to learn and the teachers focus on one kid at a time, the other children always seem to be really bored, or think it's time to go crazy. While that one child doesn't have the full attention from that teacher. Or what they are teaching the children, seems to be unnecessary. One time, the teachers were teaching children how to stack cups and one of the boys was already passed that and thought stacking cups was a waste of his time, so he started crying and wandering around. However, Sao Mai does offer private lesson to the special kids who do seem to be making a progress such as in speach. During certain times, another teacher will come in and take one of the children away for speech therapy. This makes me think that in terms of public space, the classroom is a public space and the children and teacher all share that one space. The term in itself gives the impression that the public space is something that should be shared and equal. The children in that classroom should all be treated the same and do things together and the same. But privately, the children do get private treatment. They go have individual lessons where I assume that teaching is done one on one and is more focused. So in that private space, the child is able to progress more. This makes the me think that although Sao Mai is a very structured and organized school, the classroom being a "public space" in my eyes is not as effective as it could be. The individual classes seem to garner more success. Also, thinking about Sao Mai in itself is a private school, only special students and the ones that have parents who can afford it, send their children their for their special needs. However, the classrooms being a public space do not actually have much focus on their children and their learning. It is only with the private lessons that their needs are more addressed.