Eighteen of us piled into a Chi Dat bus and headed for the Mekong Delta country side. I had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City two nights before and was already overwhelmed by new experiences. As we drove over a branch of the Mekong River crammed into a bus made for individuals with smaller legs than my own, I was greatly anticipating the weeks to come. The group of US coaches already had some time to hangout in the city, and I was looking forward to learning more about each of them and the others. Also, I had never taught before and was eager to get into the classroom.
However, as I looked out the window at the rice field, it was not Vietnam that was not on my mind, but home. The two weeks before, I was playing hockey in Argentina and I only had about twelve hours at home before turning around for the airport. The day I got home from Argentina I received news that my grandpa had passed away. Not only was I heartbroken that I would never hear his laugh again, but I was also selfishly dreading not seeing my mom for another month as she was in Tennessee with family. The wheels on the bus kept on turning closer to our village, Long Mỹ, but my mind was far away in the States.
After Day One, Morning One, I was ready to buy an early plane ticket home. I sat on the hot bus, my knees pressed into the seat in front of me and was dumbstruck I had not finished more than half of one day; it was going to be a long month. Every word I said had to be translated, the children did not stay quiet for more than two minutes, and I was tired of my damp shirt sticking to my body.
My fellow coaches and I had taught no more than two biology classes, two soccer practices and one life skills class for a grand total of four hours, yet I felt like I deserved my teaching tenure. Then, as the little blue bus pulled out of the school’s front gates, it stopped. One of the Vietnamese directors jumped out and ran back to the school, a bag was forgotten. We hungrily sat waiting while the bus heated up and moral dipped further down. Only one thought kept racing through my mind, “We have to come back and do it all again in 90 minutes.” I can honestly say for the first time in my life, I was seriously unsure whether I would make it through the month.
Three days later we are back on the bus. My knees are being crowed out by the same seat back, too many people are still packed in, and the air condition is still sub-par. But there is a great difference in the atmosphere. This was the first full good day for almost all the coaches. We had finally begun to build relationships with the kids and get to know them personally and were understanding how to make teaching intentional yet enjoyable. I sat on the right side in the second row from back of the bus and took in the sight. People were hollering four rows up about a funny interaction with a student, others were chanting “punish him!” because our director Minh had forgotten his name tag that day (so he must draw from a pile of silly punishments which we made up on day one).
“I was amazed I had known them only 5 days because together we shared something incredible: a purpose. Through this common purpose we were all feeling exhausted and completely energized simultaneously.”
Then our director Nhi pulled out the mailbox (a cardboard box in which we can send appreciative notes to one another). As she said a name and handed the letters out we all cheered as aggressively and obnoxiously as we could. Each of the Vietnamese and US coaches have incredibly unique personalities with so much to offer. I was amazed I had known them only 5 days because together we shared something incredible: a purpose. Through this common purpose we were all feeling exhausted and completely energized simultaneously.
The Mekong Delta is large. We discovered this on the first weekend as we headed, on our faithful blue bus, to an island about 2 hours north of Long Mỹ. We drove through village after village and Jang, a Vietnamese coach, patiently answered all of my absurd questions about the sights. Through the bus windows we observed miles of rice fields broken up by market towns and beautifully dense forest.
“I have learned so much and still have plenty of work to do. We are not finished here. I am not done being enlightened.”
Soon I found myself crawling two rows up over legs and backpacks to join a conversation I overheard between our director Oinh and a Stanford coach, Jake. The topic: religion and political philosophy. Oinh was sharing her Buddhist beliefs, one of the most common religious in Vietnam, and I was intrigued to learn more about the practice. Soon the conversation shifted to the importance of leadership and influence in the government, then to the “Communist Manifesto” and finally back to religion but this time Christianity. As the road passed beneath the tires, we learned about one another’s personal experiences.
Dat, our bus driver, named his bus upon receiving it “Chi Dat.” One definition for “Chi” in Vietnamese is “enlightened.” In the past week, I have spent quite a few hours on that bus, and in the past week I have learned more about myself than I could have imagined. People always talk about overseas experiences and culture differences and use fancy words like “adventure,” but I can honestly say I am amazed I only landed in this country a week ago. I have learned so much and still have plenty of work to do. We are not finished here. I am not done being enlightened.