More than English
“I want my students to take home more than English,” REI resident staff member Zonia Go said recently. Zonia is one of three REI staff currently teaching at universities in Hanoi. The mastery of English, as the world’s current lingua franca, is essential for Vietnamese to compete in the global economy and further their nation. But our staff are aiming at higher goals.
Zonia, who hails from the Philippines, has been teaching in Vietnam with REI for more than seven years now, initially at the University of Labor and Social Affairs (ULSA) for three years, then at the University of Technology and Engineering at Hung Yen (UTEHY) for two years, and most recently at the University of Posts and Telecommunications Institute of Technology (PTIT) for the past 2 ½ years. Just teaching her English classes is a full-time load.
“I work with about 110 students per week in six different classes,” says Zonia. “Generally my students are advanced compared to the average English student, though I have also taught students at a more elementary level. But while I teach grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation and all the rest, I also try to help stimulate my students’ thinking about life on a higher plane.
“For instance, in one of my recent classes, I brought up the subject of cheating. I quoted popular Japanese manga creator Ai Yazawa: ‘In this world, not everything will be won by justice. If you want to win, you have to learn how to cheat.’ After a lively discussion, I threw out another quote: ‘Better to fail doing what is right than to win doing what is wrong.’ And then we considered a proverb from Confucius: ‘If you lose your money, nothing is lost. If you lose your health, something is lost. If you lose your character, everything is lost.’
“My desire is that my students will not only advance in their English skills, but become better people. ‘Building people to build their nation means more than transferring skills that will help them succeed in school or in business!”
Chris Sayles, originally from Kansas, also works at one of Hanoi’s universities, the University of Languages and International Studies (ULIS). Initially a teacher in the classroom, Chris now works primarily in the testing center, preparing both written and oral materials to evaluate students’ skill in English. Chris also gives presentations to classes on translation an average of four times per week on a subject of his choice.
“Typically I select a topic on my observations of Vietnamese culture that interest me or have impacted me in some way. For instance, I have shared my observations on peer pressure to drink, on littering, on the widespread habit of smoking. My desire is not to pass judgment on these things, but to open up my students’ eyes on how foreigners (or one foreigner, at least) perceive these things. I’m seeking to reveal to the fish the water they swim in, so to speak, with the aim of helping them become better citizens.”
Alyssa Meyer, from Iowa, recently began teaching in the Biology Department at Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE). She currently teaches three classes alongside Vietnamese faculty, and teaches a weekly English class for the faculty members themselves. She also leads an English club for students that want to go further on their own time.
“I want to help stimulate curiosity and the desire to ask questions, rather than fall into a rote memory approach to English or education in general. For instance, I recently asked my classes, ‘What quality do you most admire in a person?’ And on another occasion, ‘What are you a slave to?’ Questions like these can help my students desire to think about things, rather than settling for repeating back to me the material presented.”
All of our resident staff educators also help in their universities through proofreading and editing documents in English.
REI also has a volunteer teacher, Loren Lancaster, who taught Entrepreneurship at Hanoi University (HANU) last fall and is currently teaching Project Management at the Foreign Trade University (FTU). Loren has been an important member of our business teams for the past few years, and has gone on to invest six months per year in Vietnam.
Helping students and faculty advance in their mastery of English for personal and national betterment? Absolutely. But we want to do more, and are doing more, as we build people to build nations!