Perhaps you have seen our names on the Team VI page already: We are Anna Hajek and Tasja Reule, and together we are responsible for teaching different levels of English to different learner groups at the Lao-German Technical College (LGTC). Besides teaching, we take care of the Lending Library and the new Didactics Room. We have lived and worked in Vientiane for about five weeks now… and we cannot imagine departing in less than two weeks!
It feels like yesterday, when eight German students met up at Frankfurt Airport, waiting for their plane to depart. Of course we had met before in our preparatory Global English course of the University of Education in Karlsruhe in the summer of 2017, and we spent quite a bit of time together over the winter preparing our journey, too – but if we review this day from today’s vantage point of friendship, we can say that we know each other a lot better now and are very close today. On 17 February 2018, for us new volunteers “The Laos Experience” was only about to begin.
After a long flight, many interesting conversations, and some hours of sweet dreams in Bangkok Airport, we finally landed in Vientiane. We were heartily welcomed by Lea Herrmann (a member of Team V), Akina Yadsadahuk and the driver, the latter two from the LGTC. After a short but intensive farewell, we, the Lao-German Technical College team and the other group, which was headed for work at the Ban Phang Heng primary school, Bang Phang Heng secondary school and the Sikeud primary school, had to separate our ways to drive to our new homes.
After a short exploration of our bungalow near the College, we could not sit still for another second. We wanted to explore our new environment! Everything was strange and new and exciting. Anna had already been to an Asian country, but for Tasja it was the very first time. We were very surprised by the stark contrasts in the city: Some houses were built out of corrugated metal and wood, and just some meters away one could see grand buildings. On each corner, there was a shop, which looked to us like the owner was sitting on the front porch of his or her appartment, which also happened to be a little corner shop. We were amazed by the way the houses were being built: We could see a lot of construction sites which only used wood and/or bamboo. The scaffolding for a new construction in some cases seemed to be a combination of a tree trunk and two horizontal logs. The power supply lines are hung up very low and sometimes we could spot some bare wires, hanging down to the pavement. People with two huge baskets suspended by a long bar over their shoulder were walking past us. There were, and still are, so many things to explore. This was all very thrilling for us.
We found a map in the bungalow, left by our predecessors, who had kindly marked different relevant locations such as eateries, restaurants, shops, and ATMs. This is how we tried to find the nearest ATM to begin with. When we did find it, we realised that this ATM was no longer in use – perhaps a foreshadowing of yet another facet of “The Lao Experience”?
Since we were incredibly hungry from our journey and had no “kip” ກີບ (official currency “LAK”: Lao Kip) in our purses, this excursion turned out to be more difficult than it seemed at first. After a big detour to find another ATM, which luckily worked, we stopped at
“Romantic City”, a lovely restaurant which offers a large selection of Lao dishes, along with some foreign ones. In the evening there is some live Thai pop music you can listen to. That night, we slept like a log.
Early on the first morning, at 8 a.m., we were welcomed on campus by Ms Moukdala Keomixaj. She showed us around, gave us short explanations about each of the five different “Sections” (departments), and introduced us to several teachers we met on campus. The teachers were all very accommodating, but some were also a little bit reluctant, though all were very curious to meet the new team.
The students seemed a little bit shy at first. When Johannes Zeck introduced us to the ones working in the Agro-Machinery Section and assigned them to our evening classes – for the BHS-stipendiaries – which were new for them too, each of us earned loud applause and cheering. They seemed very happy about their newly-to-be-installed lessons. This was very revealing and motivating for us, since we did not expect such a reaction, especially not during our very first days. We were rather prepared for a more cautious behaviour.
In the next few days, we arranged our timetables, taught our first lessons, got to know some of the teachers and students and tried to get orientation on campus.
After an exciting first week and lots of new impressions, we had everything sorted for ourselves. We had lots of heart-warming welcomes and were even asked to join a traditional wedding.
Finally we were ready to start our daily school routine.
New books for the “Lending Library”
Besides organizing, re-organizing, and then learning to master our school days with many different classes, the two of us redecorated the bungalow and expanded the Lending Library as well as the Didactics Room: We checked the inventory, added the new books, organized regular opening hours and are about to organize a new librarian.
We made this place a home. By now, we feel incredibly comfortable and found ourselves a daily routine.
One of the first things we did was to start a new “Easy Readers” section in the Lending Library from the supply we all brought in our suitcases. Easy Readers are simplified and shortened novels. They had been generously donated to the AfC foundation by Ms Angela Bauer-Seekings (Pearson Deutschland GmbH), who had visited the project before, to help our tandem-teachers develop their reading skills. We first asked them to try to read one on their own at home, but – as Prof. Martin had already hinted in her feedback to our first weekly reports – we soon realised ourselves that this task was too difficult for the Beginner and Elementary classes. This is why we decided to read a novel together in the two Beginner courses and the one Elementary course.
The Technical English class, of course, consists of much more advanced learners, i.e. the English teachers. For this group the focus of our tandem-lessons needed to be on the use and implementation of completely new teaching material, so there was no time for anything else, but they, too, were very excited about the new opportunity and a little bit of a challenge to read a book for pleasure.
In our upcoming workshop we will show the English teachers and all others who are interested how to work with the Technical English coursebook/workbook/audio-material now. Tackling such a comprehensive new programme is a challenge in any Lao teaching scenario, so assistance is necessary and very welcome.
Obstacles – “The Laos Experience”
Of course, we had some problems which called for a solution, and some obstacles to overcome, too, like every new team (“The Laos Experience”). First of all, our bicycles needed repairing because of a dysfunctional break and several flat tyres. Therefore, we brought them to the Automotive-Section of the LGTC. With the help of the students, our first problem was fixed quickly, and we were finally able to cover longer distances to explore our environment further.
We also had to find solutions for different organizational problems that came up during our school day.
In the first week, we were only able to start teaching the teachers, but not our students, because the students did not know about the start of classes with the new team. After we assigned them to our different learner groups with the help of Johannes Zeck, they attended numerously. When we had finally sorted everyone and the students knew in which course they were assigned, we sometimes needed to search for another classroom to teach in. The ones assigned to us were locked now and then, so we needed to change rooms spontaneously. After two weeks, we received a key for some of our new classrooms. As for the others, we found some spare rooms that were open and free during the time slots we needed, so we could finally start all our lessons on time. But not only were the rooms occasionally locked, but also sometimes occupied. Luckily, most of the teachers are always very easily reachable via phone, so we were able to continue class without further delays. Since then, we understand a little better why Lao teachers pick up calls on their mobiles during lessons.
Another difficulty turned out to be the combination of our special tasks and the school day. Since we brought some new books – not only the Easy Readers – for the Lending Library, we needed to reorganize the shelves so that every Section would have enough room for all their books. We wrote a “How to” for lending the books and introduced new “Lending Sheets” for the new teaching material in the Didactics Room. Since we wanted to help the teachers as much as possible, we also made sure there were free shelves in the Didactics Room to be able to also store all the newly prepared material there. Now, everyone in the English department has access to different flashcards and illustrative material, ordered by unit. It is rewarding to see the shelves in use now, and we hope they will continue to be used also after we leave.
Free time and weekend adventures
In the meantime, we had the opportunity to see many new places and learn lots of new things about the Lao culture. For our weekends, we decided on visiting as many places as possible. Therefore, we travel whenever we can and visited places like “Buddha Park” near Vientiane, Luang Prabang and even some islands in Thailand, where we left our footprints.
On weekdays, we spontaneously meet with our tandem-teachers, invite them to our bungalow or cycle into town to grab something to eat. Sometimes, when we are lucky we can even welcome one of the Sikeud volunteers to our place!
In the name of a happy Team VI, we can say that we are very thankful for this internship and for the opportunity of meeting such lovely and heart-warming people!
Text by T. Reule & A. Hajek
Photos by A. Hajek, T. Reule, J. Grüttner, S. Röhm & S. Insarn