The First Week

Balance. Being in control. Two things that I struggled having in our first week in Quảng Trị

The first few days were great. We arrived at our guesthouse (Nhà Khách Thành Cổ), which had decent rooms, air-conditioning, and okay-ish internet. Vu even bought us a washing machine so we didn’t have to hand-wash our clothes. We explored the town and got fresh smoothies for 55 cents. Seriously. FIFTY-FIVE CENTS. Everyone was in great spirits and ready for the next seven weeks.

 

And then the first day of working came.

I remember getting on my bike for the first time. This bike was not like the one I was used to having in the United States. It was old, worn down, and flimsy. The seat bounces up and down when you ride it. It also did not help that I haven’t ridden a bicycle in nearly 4 years, and never for more than 10 minutes at a time. The bike ride to our worksite is 4 miles (~6 km) alone and takes about half an hour. I biked wobbled my way along the route, falling far behind everyone else. I even fell off my bike at one point and received a big purple bruise thus. I felt so dejected, so embarrassed and afraid that I was going to be the deadweight, or even worse, a hindrance to the group. I tried to make up for my horrible, toddler-like bicycling skills (or the lack thereof) by trying my best at the worksite, but still felt that I was not contributing as much as some of the other group members.

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When there are no more tools available at the worksite

After three hours of working and biking in the scorching Quảng Trị heat (real feel is almost always above 110 degrees Fahrenheit), I dragged exhausted body back to my bedroom and plopped down on the bed. However, the day was not over. We still had to teach English to kids at the youth center for an hour and half in the afternoon. Fortunately, we got to take a taxi to the youth center on the first day because of heavy rain. Unfortunately, my first class did not go as planned. The kids were much smarter than I had anticipated. They knew almost all of the material I had planned on teaching them for the day. Halfway through the class, I found myself running out of things to do. Thankfully, the kids were receptive to playing games and listening to American music, which was what we did for the rest of class.

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My students: Day 1

When I returned to my room at the end of the day, I was physically and mentally exhausted. My muscles ached, my butt was sore from the bicycle seat, my skin was stinging from a sunburn I had gotten because I forgot to reapply sunscreen, and my mind was filled with a million worries. How was I going to last for seven weeks?

 

That’s when the self-doubting hit.

Am I not trying hard enough? Am I too weak? Did DukeEngage make a mistake by choosing me instead of another person?

 

It took a few days and a motivational speech from Vu for me to realize that I was falling victim to the DukeEngage curse, trying to achieve the savior complex. Duke students are very diverse, but the one thing we all have in common is that we want to change the world and make it a better place. I am not an exception.

 

In the process of trying to accomplish that goal, I gave myself a superhero image, which I am most definitely not.

 

After I convinced myself of this fact, things began to look up. The rest of the week was tough, but got better as the days went on. I am no longer the last one to arrive at the worksite. I learned to make more detailed lesson plans that fit the needs of my class. I even bought a jacket and leggings to wear at the worksite to prevent sunburns and what Vietnamese people consider even worse, tanning.

Even though I’ve improved over the past week, I am not perfect. I feel like I still need to work harder on our concrete path. I need to continue trying to draw my students out of their shells and get them to be excited about learning English. Those things are just two of the many challenges I must face in the upcoming weeks. Hopefully I can take them on.

In the meantime, I will keep you updated on my progress.

Until next time,

-Thien

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