As a volunteer of a Peace Corps mission to Vietnam, Isaac Barnes, 28, shares the idea of Ethan Light, who attended the swearing-in ceremony last December on behalf of the nine members, "Although we are English teachers, we know that we are also students in Vietnam."
"Teacher Isaac is very good!" a student praised the American volunteer after an English lesson.
Students here refer to Barnes as 'Teacher' when this Peace Corps member came to their school to participate in a volunteer program in the role of an English teacher.
Barnes has been at the school on the outskirts of Hanoi for three months. This is the first time he has volunteered in Vietnam.
Here, it is his task to put forward suggestions on how to make English classes more attractive and teaches students how to write and pronounce English correctly.
In his teaching, Barnes focuses on a method that helps students learn vocabulary and discussion through cartoons.
The biggest challenge in teaching, despite having the same alphabet system, is the big difference in pronunciation between English and Vietnamese, he said.
Barnes is also in charge of the school's English club, where students often meet after school.
He encourages them to improve their speaking skills through simple topics they can choose themselves.
"Students can speak in a relaxed way without fear of grades," the young man said. "This way, they can speak English confidently."
Despite the popularity of foreign teachers in English classes at many high schools, there is still a shortage of them in some rural areas of Vietnam.
Nguyen Van Dong, principal of the high school where Barnes volunteers, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that he is glad to have volunteers like him at the school.
"The vibes in the school's English classes have become completely different since Barnes came," Dong said.
The principal hopes his students can build their confidence in English thanks to the help of Peace Corps volunteers in Vietnam. If they are fluent in English, they will have better job prospects in the future.
"I have spent so much time trying to understand our students as well as letting them understand me. After three months, we do not seem to be strangers anymore, the students have acquired knowledge very quickly," the young man from the U.S. talks about the charming students, adding that he is impressed by the well-behaved learners who always pay attention to the lessons he has given to them.
"Vietnamese students inspire me. When I see how seriously and diligently they study and how ambitiously they strive for success and manage to speak English fluently, it is a source of inspiration for me."
|The swearing-in ceremony of Peace Corps volunteers in Vietnam in December 2022 in a photo provided by the Corps
Immersing themselves in Vietnamese culture
All American Peace Corps volunteers in Vietnam must complete a 10-week training program to immerse themselves in the Vietnamese language and culture before they assume their duties.
During this time, they talk with locals, learn Vietnamese, and visit relics and sites in Hanoi. After being assigned a task, each of them will live and work directly with the community.
"Now I know how to buy things at the market, chat with the locals, and name some animals and sports in Vietnamese," Barnes said, pleased that he has been able to improve his Vietnamese over time.
As a 'rare' foreigner in the local community, the U.S. volunteer unintentionally became a famous young man.
Principal Dong is impressed by his behavior, which honors Vietnamese culture, as well as his lightheartedness and friendliness.
"He is aware that the ceremony of raising the national flag is a serious matter, and he shows respect for the event," the school principal remarked, adding that "Barnes even performed with his students on the school's stage one Monday."
Dong has several memorable stories about the young man from the U.S., including when he visited a pagoda with school teachers earlier this year.
On that day, Barnes was told not to wear a hat when entering the pagoda to show respect for the deities.
"So, he insisted on keeping the hat in his hands even after he left the pagoda," laughed Dong.
According to the principal, the young foreigner later got used to the lifestyle and was able to flexibly fit into the surrounding community.
Interestingly, he became good at using chopsticks, one thing that may be a challenge to foreigners.
After three months of service at their respective schools, Barnes and his fellow Volunteer Mission members were recently reunited at an event at a Vietnamese cultural village where they had the opportunity to gain more experiences of Vietnamese culture by cooking rice in a pot and making cakes out of sticky rice.
"The Vietnamese people are extremely friendly. They always give me a smile when I meet them, and they also help me buy things at the best prices in the market," another volunteer told the meeting.
While the U.S. and Vietnamese governments are promoting the friendlly and promising relationship, the new generations born after the war, including young people like Barnes, also see the positive side of this rapport.
"I come from a new generation in the U.S., and I hope I can contribute something to help our two countries make a new, better, and friendlier history," Barnes said.
Mikel Herrington, Peace Corps Vietnam country director, emphasizes the goal of mutual understanding and respect between the U.S. and Vietnam in Peace Corps Vietnam programs.
"The members who participate in the Peace Corps Volunteer in Vietnam program will return home after two years. They will share their deep knowledge of and gratitude for Vietnam, for the culture and also for the Vietnamese," Herrington told Tuoi Tre.
The Peace Corps program was established in 1961 by then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
To date, the program has been sustained for 60 years and has brought together some 240,000 U.S. citizens who once or now serve as volunteers around the world.
Vietnam is the 143rd country to host Peace Corps volunteers.
On October 27, 2022, the very first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Vietnam.
This event was not only a milestone for the completion of 17 years of negotiations on Peace Corps activities in Vietnam but it was also considered a success for building mutual trust between the two nations.