Skip to main content

In Vietnam, sharing is more than simply caring.  There, it is a way of existence — a natural inclination in all aspects of life to give a piece of oneself for the benefit of all. From the students at our camp, our fellow Vietnamese coaches, and individuals in the local villages, I discovered the value and reward of sacrifice, communal activity, and openness.

I initially observed this cultural difference at meal times. When ordering anything —regardless of cost, size, or their own hunger level — the Vietnamese always instinctively offer some of their dish or beverage to everyone else in the room. Oftentimes, they even intentionally order an extra serving or two to ensure that each person present can sample and enjoy the avocado smoothie, sweet potato patty, or fish sausage soup. During snack time at school, the same phenomenon proved true, as the campers consistently offered half of their rice cracker or cheese wafer pack to us despite our having our own snack. The opposite of superficial, these gestures stem from a place of genuine generosity — seen in the eyes, smile, and adamant nature of the giver.

In Vietnam, sharing is more than simply caring.  There, it is a way of existence — a natural inclination in all aspects of life to give a piece of oneself for the benefit of all. From the students at our camp, our fellow Vietnamese coaches, and individuals in the local villages, I discovered the value and reward of sacrifice, communal activity, and openness.

Similarly, in terms of chores, the Vietnamese naturally divide the work with each individual to assist in some way or another. In our classrooms, the children shared the load of facility clean-up. Unprompted, they would rotate who would erase the board, take out the group’s trash, turn off the light and fans, and shut the door. On the first few days when I was in the process of wiping off the chalk from the previous lesson and picking up a wrapper in the corner, a child would tap me on the shoulder, indicate his or her desire to help through nonverbal communication, and join in on the task. Similarly, the soccer coaching staff — made up of two American coaches and two Vietnamese — engaged in a daily, friendly battle over who would carry the bucket of balls and cones to and from the field each session. Due to the cultural practice of sharing, we fell into a routine in which one person snagged the bucket, two others grabbed a ball to relieve the strain, and the fourth enjoyed a quick rest or bathroom break. In Vietnam, teamwork is everything.

As an English teacher, at the start, I noticed a large disparity between the proficiency of my students; some could form full sentences with clear pronunciation, while others struggled to count to five on their own. By the end, almost every single child excelled on the oral tests, confidently answering complicated questions about their own lives and formulating nuanced responses in the moment. How? I attribute much of the success to sharing. Despite the exciting incentive of a sticker or public praise, I watched the most talented students sacrifice the reward in order to boost his or her classmate. A gentle hand signal, quiet whisper in the ear, or small gesture of encouragement helped the initially weaker students grow, gain confidence, and find a passion for the subject. Without revealing the answer, the kids’ ability to share in the classroom sparked class-wide participation, development, and success.

On a more serious note, during our one-on-one discussions, campers spoke of their personal and familial challenges — ill relatives, absent parents, and uncertain futures — allowing us to better understand, support, and build relationships with them.

Lastly and potentially most impressively, the Vietnamese willingly share their true, unmasked selves. Rather than putting up facades or conforming to the norm, both the students and coaches with whom I interacted carried themselves as authentic individuals, unafraid of vulnerability or criticism. When asked how a lesson went, the Vietnamese coaches would openly admit their struggle instead of feigning its success. Unique and proud individuals, the coaches and campers embraced their quirks and imperfections: a seventh grade boy belting out the lyrics to “Frozen,” a sixth grade girl attempting to kick a soccer ball with all of her might and whiffing only to fall to the ground in an unashamed and laughing heap, and a Vietnamese coach proudly patting his stomach and referring to himself in a joking manner as “fat belly.” On a more serious note, during our one-on-one discussions, campers spoke of their personal and familial challenges — ill relatives, absent parents, and uncertain futures — allowing us to better understand, support, and build relationships with them.

While American individualism has many benefits, I feel that I have learned a great deal from our Vietnamese coaches and students and hope to spread this generosity even further.

One response to “Sharing Is More Than Caring

  • Molly Pilson says:

    Isabelle,
    Your insights into the feelings and behavior of your students are a wonderful result of your experiences and love of your students. Your teaching resulted in much learning for both the teacher and the students. Your compassion is evident.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *