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Published: September 11th 2009
Well… after numerous sleepless nights, several really bad lessons, a few tears here and there, one stomach flu, a “gazillion” laughs, and about two dozen smiling, warm, loving, and most importantly - forgiving - Vietnamese students, JOE AND I PASSED OUR CELTA COURSE! We now hold a “Certificate in English Language Teaching for Adults” and are free to befuddle and perplex even the most talented Vietnamese student.
We took the CELTA course at Apollo Education and Training Center in central Hanoi- just steps away from our apartment, and now the location of our new jobs! We had three amazing EFL teachers as our trainers - Nick, Simon, and Claire (all Brits, but we don’t hold that against them …too much). They suffered through a month of ill-conceived, poorly delivered, and sometimes just plain incorrect English lessons, and still managed to be supportive, positive, and encouraging (most of the time). We trained with seven other students who were our constant companions and friends during the month long training course - not to mention our source of support and advice, collegial critique, and lots of laughs! Our class was a mixture of Americans and Brits - which provided the fuel for
Nancy in the classroom
Nancy plays a sentence game with the elementary CELTA class. This was "Team Obama" (their name, not mine) consisting of (from left to right) Quang Anh, Linh Nham and Binh!
a great nationalistic rivalry - with a Phillipino and a Belarusian thrown in for good measure.
We were split into two teaching groups. In my group, there was Malcolm - a 42 year old Brit who lives in Japan and has been teaching English for 15+ years; Brian - a 26 year old young man from L.A. who probably needed to take the CELTA course to rescue himself from a 5 month drinking binge in Nha Trang, Vietnam; Ashley - a 28 year old IT graduate from London who has been traveling around the world for several years and most recently served as a volunteer English teacher in Siem Riep, Cambodia; and Tim - a 26 year old young man from Belarus who I found endearing (in a strange sort of way) but who everyone else loved to hate because he was somewhat of a loose cannon.
Joe trained with David - a handsome and talented 20-something young man who taught English so naturally you would have thought he had done it all his life; Shawn - a 40-something former salesman from Chicago who has been teaching English in Taiwan and Korea for the past couple
Our CELTA Cohort
From left to right, Sandra (fellow student from the Phillipines), Nancy, Joe, Shawn (fellow student from Michigan, US), Nick (our trainer from the UK), Claire (our trainer from the UK), Simon (our trainer from the UK - noticing a pattern here), Malcolm (fellow student from Japan - originally from the UK), Brian (fellow student from California, US), David (fellow student from the UK), and Ashley (fellow student from the UK). We went through hell together and had lots of laughs with our fellow students . We were all good friends by the end of the month.
of years, and Sandra - a 20-something young woman from the Philippines who has been teaching English in China most recently.
For the first two weeks of our course, we taught a group of either elementary or intermediate English students and then switched for the next two weeks. Joe and I taught a 40-minute lesson every other day - each lesson took us between 6 and 8 hours to prepare. We were up between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. each morning and tried to do some yoga in our apartment before getting to school at around 8 a.m. to prepare for teaching between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. From 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., we received feedback on our teaching and assistance with our next lesson plan. For lunch, we usually grabbed either an egg, cucumber, and chili sandwich or some fried tofu and spring rolls from the roving vendors who worked our street, and then went right back to work on lesson planning or completing one of the four assignments we had to do for the class. From 2:15 to 5pm, we put on our student hats and learned about different aspects of EFL and/or teaching methodology. At night,
Our students, hard at work
Im sure this wasnt my lesson, but here is (from left to right) Hue, Manh, Phi, and Viet hard at work doing something. We just LOVE these students so much! We had dinner with Phi after the CELTA class ended. He is such a cutie - off to Switzerland to study at University for his MBA!
we usually worked on whatever was at hand until 1:00 a.m. or so, with just a quick break for dinner. On the weekends, we got to catch up on our sleep, do some yoga, go to the supermarket, and prepare a nice dinner, but we still worked on lesson plans and assignments for most of the day on Saturday and Sunday.
For the first 2-3 weeks, we alternated between wanting to quit and thinking we were going to fail. We are humbled by all the teachers we know back home - and those around the world that we don’t know yet - for doing one of the most difficult jobs we could ever imagine! The saving grace in this exhausting endeavor was the love and warmth that our students lavished on us. They were unfailingly friendly and kind no matter how we confused and/or bored them. They threw us a grand party - Vietnamese style - on the last day of class, complete with cake, watermelon, Coka Cola, peanuts, and hundreds of hot, sweaty photos, hugs, kisses, and e-mail exchanges. We are forever indebted to them!
Now that the course is behind us, we are thrilled
Nancy with the elementary level class
Nancy's teaching group spent the first two weeks with the elementary-level class. This was our last day with these students before we switched and taught the intermediate-level class. Teachers: Malcolm, Brian and Tim (front row); Ashley and Nancy (back row).
that we took it despite the hard work and long hours. Our marriage not only survived the stress (although I was constantly envious that Joe was a much better teacher than I), but was strengthened by our shared struggle and accomplishments. We went out of our way to help each other when one of us was preparing a lesson for the next day and the other one wasn’t. In addition, we feel genuinely blessed to have made such wonderful friendships with our students and fellow teacher-trainees.
We also got decent jobs pretty much immediately after we graduated (CELTA graduates are in high demand in the Asian EFL world). Joe and I will both work part-time at Apollo where we took our CELTA training. Joe will have a second gig at Oxford English UK Vietnam, which, contrary to its name, is an American-run school headed by a fellow New Yorker who we met way back in July. I will look for private tutoring to bring home some extra "noodles!"
Many of our students extended their kindness to us outside the classroom. Our new friend My (pronounced “me”) took me shopping for clothes, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, and CDs
These students love to party!
The intermediate students and I threw a little birthday party for fellow-Celta teacher, Malcolm (front row, pink shirt and tie). They organized the whole thing in a matter of minutes - complete with flowers, Coka Cola, and decorations. All I had to do was bring the cake!
the Saturday after our CELTA class ended. My is a 29 year old single, professional woman with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a heart of gold. Our shopping spree was followed by dinner at a lovely vegetarian restaurant with Joe, our other student Phi (pronounced “fee”) as well as our fellow teacher Ashley and his girlfriend Loc (pronounced “low”), who is now also a great friend of ours. My (the friend) hooked me up with a free cooking lesson taught by the owner of the vegetarian restaurant, and she may have a line on some private tutoring for me. Phi was recently accepted into an exchange program in Switzerland where he will get his MBA, and we see Loc regularly now even though her boyfriend Ashley went back to the UK. Loc is a 21 year old Vietnamese student who has been studying English at a University in Hanoi and who knows ten times more grammar than Joe and I do. She is a lovely young woman who recently gave me a beautiful silk purse as a gift from her hometown.
We have lots more stories of like this. Our former student and new friend Van came
Nancy with Linh Nham
Adorable, and smart as a whip! Wants to be a writer (and she will, trust me!)
over to our house and brought us a gift of traditional food from her motherland in Thanh Hoa city. Our other new friend, Diep, invited us to her house for a day of cooking lessons, playing with her children, and feasting on the traditional Vietnamese food we cooked together. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we were deeply moved by the warmth and generosity of Diep’s family.
If all of this socializing with our students and new friends weren’t enough, we have had two other friendships blossom. In the last post, we introduced you to Hien and Trung, the young couple who were the first guests in our new apartment. They are getting married in early October and have invited us to their wedding in the countryside! We spent a lovely evening with them recently, feasting on another fabulous meal, in the new apartment they just rented. They are so generous - Trung came over to our house to pick us up so we wouldn’t have to take a taxi. He could only take one of us on his motorbike so he hired a motorbike taxi to come with him so he could bring us both over
Nancy and Joe with our student Diep and her son
Diep is wonderful. Everytime she calls or emails, she says "I cant believe how much I love you." She has invited us over for dinner and cooking lessons this weekend. We will see her 2 children and meet her husband who is a doctor!
at the same time. He wouldn’t even let us buy beer to go with dinner, and we left their house with gifts they gave us!!
We were also contacted recently by the Vietnamese family who we met on Phu Quoc Island back in June (see Post #3: Saigon to Phu Quoc). Since we met, I have been emailing regularly with 12-year old “Sally” who speaks limited English and her 30-year old aunt “Amelia” who is fluent (actually, she speaks better than Joe and I do). The family lives in Hanoi and they invited us out to dinner at a delightful “mushroom hot pot” restaurant and then back to their house for some more socializing, speaking English with the children, and best of all - Karaoke…Vietnamese style. We were a bit concerned because the parents - Van Anh and Tuan - don’t speak English at all and their 9-year old son Peter just knows a few words! It turns out that it didn’t matter - a grand time was had by all. For those of you who know this reference, it was just like being at Matt and Pam DeCarlos’s house - just in Asia. Moreover, Sally and Peter
Nancy and Joe with Phuong
Elementary student Phuong is a lovely young man who always invites us for coffee after class.
recently visited our apartment for an English lesson and some ice-cream eating! We are hoping that this will be a regular occurrence. It’s hard to believe, but our social calendar in Hanoi has been fuller than it ever was in Denver!!! Ever since our CELTA class ended, I have been texting like a mad woman on my new cell phone (most of you know that I didn’t even own a cell phone in America) and putting all of our social commitments in my Yahoo calendar so I can keep track of who we are meeting and when!
Meanwhile, the weather in Hanoi is slowly beginning to cool off (its now only 85 degrees with 75% humidity) and the rains have subsided. Some (but not all) of our Vietnamese neighbors now smile at us and greet us with a wave and a friendly “Xin Chao” when we pass by. The vendors in our neighborhood market recognize us when we come in and don’t overcharge us (too much). We bought prawns at the market today, after a month and a half of only having enough courage to buy fruits, vegetables, and tofu. And we can confidently saunter into almost any
shop or street-side restaurant without feeling (too much) like we don’t belong!
We have been blessed so far in Vietnam.
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