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An experience like no other

Nicholas McNulty is a current Macquarie University student who has recently returned from a PACE International project in Viet Nam. He has been working with PACE’s partner organization KOTO (Know One, Teach One), a social enterprise restaurant and training centre in Viet Nam which aims to positively influence the lives of homeless and disadvantaged youth.

For a first time traveller and volunteer, arriving in Viet Nam in the evening and with a sore back from the flight, wasn’t as pleasant as I had hoped. However, the excitement and busyness this South East Asian country displayed on arrival was more than I could’ve imagined! The bustling nature of the city, the lack of road rules and the complete sensory overload of a new environment were just the beginning of one month’s worth of cultural engagement. We were able to discover the richness of Vietnamese culture, the lives of the locals, and the challenges faced by the developing world. This is just a small reflection of the journey eight Macquarie students including myself and our team leader Will undertook while volunteering with KOTO: Know One Teach One in two different cities in Viet Nam.

The four Macquarie volunteers in Hanoi: Faye, Joyce, JiaTian and myself in front of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum on one of our weekend trips spent exploring Hanoi and the Old Quarter

KOTO is a not-for-profit organisation that offers street kids and the disadvantaged youth of Vietnam training in a two-year hospitality course involving additional studies in English and life skills. Four Macquarie volunteers, including myself, remained in Ha Noi to teach the English curriculum and life skills classes.

Faye and JiaTian teaching a life skills class on International Communication to some of the newest students at the KOTO training centre in Hanoi

Orientation took place in the first few days which involved learning the law of the land, becoming accustomed to local traditions and of course knowing the expectations and rules for working with vulnerable youth. On New Years Day, we waved goodbye to our team leader and the other four volunteers who were departing for Saigon (otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City) to work in the Human resources and Marketing departments. The long, yet very enjoyable task of teaching started the following day and from then on it was all systems go!

Each day, we would teach two English classes of 2-3 hours, which was both a challenging and rewarding experience. Particularly with the younger trainees, the language barrier proved a rather large hurdle when trying to explain concepts in English however this meant finding innovative and sometimes rather humorous ways to explain things by other means. Additionally there were a number of learning tools such as the phonetic alphabet, which weren’t taught to me when I was at school – (as I’ve learnt, listening plays a much bigger part in learning English than we realize particularly if it is your first language). This made teaching these concepts a learning experience for me as well. Nevertheless, my new learning experiences and the knowledge I was able to pass on to the trainees, made the experience at KOTO in Vietnam incredibly rewarding and valuable for me peronsally, as well as, for the trainees.

One Saturday, the four of us were able to visit a trainee house to help prepare and cook lunch while spending time with them outside the classroom

The volunteers in Hanoi were also invited to the Dream Bottle ceremony where we acknowledged the dreams of the newest trainees at the KOTO centre. The personal experience with the trainees was touching and moved many of us to tears and there aren’t really any words to describe the atmosphere in the room during the ceremony. All I can say is that the experience was an incredible opportunity to really understand and appreciate the work of KOTO and it was a privilege to be a part of the project.

Even though some days seemed to be much longer than others, the time at KOTO flew by and in retrospect, I couldn’t have asked for a more engaged and valuable experience of working in a new environment with a culture vastly different to my own.

The last weekend of the trip before heading home was spent visiting one of the Seven Wonders of Nature, Ha Long Bay

PACE International run projects in both the summer and winter breaks in places as diverse as Cambodia, India, and Peru.

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