Since my post New Year, New Job, New Country which introduced my new life in deep, dark Vietnam, I completed a four month-long teaching placement in Cam Pha. What was initially a daunting prospect and a huge culture shock, gradually transitioned into a familiar, everyday life that I called home and was sad to leave behind.
When I first decided to teach in Vietnam, I had expected to move straight to Ho Chi Minh City. In my head, living in Vietnam was all about the bustling cities, eating out, cafe culture and a hectic social life. When the opportunity arose to live in one of Vietnam’s small cities it seemed like an intriguing way to experience the country. Whilst I wasn’t sure what to expect, I certainly didn’t expect what I faced. It was completely different to all the preconceptions of Vietnam that I had built in my mind.
There was a lot I had to get used to in Cam Pha. It’s fair to say I was hit hard by the culture shock. The absence of English was an obvious biggie; it introduced daily miscommunications and confusions as I attempted to overcome the language barrier. There were only around twelve westerners living in Cam Pha (half of whom were my colleagues). As such, we drew a lot of attention from the locals; I was always followed by stares, laughs, shouts and even a man who enjoyed sitting outside my house everyday for a shameless peek into my life… Days had to be planned around the daily siesta. Initially unaware of this, it was rather surprising when I would turn up at the local market to find everyone snoozing in hammocks hanging over their stalls! There didn’t appear to be a great selection of places to eat out in Cam Pha (unless you want to eat fried rice every day) leading me to cook the majority of my meals. As I became more familiar with Vietnamese cuisine I ventured out for food more and more and found some real foodie gems. Most houses in my neighbourhood had their own allotments and chickens. While this was great for being able to pick up local produce, it also resulted in a nightly cacophony of guard dogs barking and chickens clucking. Combined with the rock hard Vietnamese beds, I can’t say I slept as much as I would have liked to. Public transport was also quite an experience; I’m not the most coordinated person but by the end of my four months I was just about able to both jump into and out of a moving bus!
Teaching was intimidating at first but I quickly settled into the role and had an incredible time. Since the majority of the children I taught were aged around 4-6, my classes were a cocktail of hyperactivity, tears, over excitement, timidity and laughter. I only taught my students for four months but even within this time, the growth and development I saw in them was wonderful. I really miss the wee ones and part of me will always wonder what they are up to and how they are doing.
Going on adventures around Quang Ninh province was a real highlight of my time in Cam Pha. With the developing Bai Tu Long Bay on my doorstep and the well-established Halong Bay as a neighbour, I was immersed in one of the world’s natural wonders everyday. There was a never a shortage of stunning views to admire!
Venturing along the lesser beaten track, I discovered Van Don‘s Long Beach, or Bai Dai, and the incredible Quan Lan Island which has only recently opened its doors to tourists. I was able to travel to places in Vietnam that I otherwise would never have even heard of.
Luckily the teachers and Vietnamese staff were a really cool bunch of people who I could call both my friends and my Cam Pha family (or Cam Pha-mily if you will). No experience is complete without amazing friendships and a supportive community!
I am proud to say I survived my time in Cam Pha and better yet, I had a fantastic time. I inevitably enjoyed my time in Cam Pha the most in the last month or so when I had grown accustomed to it, and like most of life’s challenging experiences, I have truly appreciated everything I have learnt from living there since leaving.
I have now begun the next stage of my journey: teaching in Ho Chi Minh City. While I had initially planned to do this at the beginning of my trip, I’m really glad I had time to broaden my understanding of Vietnam and it’s culture by living in Cam Pha first. Being in an expat heavy city, it is very easy to resort to Western culture but now I know more about Vietnam I won’t be daunted in exploring all the nooks and crannies for a true HCMC experience.
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