1/4 First Impressions of an Infamous Foreigner in Rural Vietnam

Written July 5, 2019

Published October 11, 2019

Written by Arria Hauldin (former volunteer from USA)


Note: Arria Hauldin was a former volunteer with C4C in Rural Bac Giang Province. Her primary service was as a Teach for Change teacher, but she also spent her time conducting research on the experiences of ethnic minority single mothers in Vietnam. This blog was originally posted on Omprakash's EdGE blog (link: https://www.omprakash.org/blog/xin-chao-vietnam-). This blog was written at the beginning of her volunteer period.



With a four hour layover in Doha’s Hamad International Airport. I took in the sites such as brass art pieces that doubled as playground equipment and a giant yellow Teddy Bear who’s eyes seemed to follow you around the room... Since Qatar was practicing Ramadan when I arrived, I refrained from eating during my layover and focused on cramming a few Vietnamese words and phrases into my consciousness which failed horribly. Fours hours seemed to fly by and again I was on another plane, but this time heading to my final destination: Hanoi. The next seven hours felt just like the first 14 and by the time I landed in Noi Bai, I felt a rush of energy. “Yay, no more planes!” I thought to myself when we finally landed. I arrived in Hanoi Sunday May 12, 2019 at around 7:30 AM.  


"Hello Viet Nam!" Artist: Pham Quynh Anh


My first impressions of Noi Bai International is that it was smaller and more streamlined than the last two airports. As soon as we entered the terminal, there was a station for VISA processing and then 12 lines for entry. At the VISA station I noticed a trend that will follow me throughout Vietnam- people just skip me because why not? Like who am I waiting patiently to be called? While I was waiting for my VISA, I also noticed a trend of men of European descent getting their VISAs processed first, regardless of when they submitted them, when women of color, such as Asian women from other Asian countries and other women of color, had to wait longer to get their VISAs. 


Once my business VISAs was approved, I headed for the arrivals gate and was happily greeted by my host, Ha, and two fellow teachers, Yasmin and Cherry. Once we all greeted each other, our host called a taxi to start the two hour drive to Chu (Chew) Town in Bac Giang (Back Zang) province. As we drove through the country I noticed how lush, green, and mountainous the region was. Northern Vietnam was a stark contrast to my hometown in South Florida. Rolling hills, rice paddy fields, and water buffalo galavanting on the side of the roads decorated the landscape and hypnotized me throughout the car ride. Once we finally arrived I noticed that the school I was teaching at was where we would be living! The building is a tall narrow building with the words “Sun School” written in the front. The school/house is five stories tall with a Buddhist prayer room, laundry room, and garden on the top floor. The bottom floor is complete with a kitchen, a rented out business space and a main sitting area. The three floors sandwiched between the first floor and fifth floor includes two classrooms, four bedrooms, and three bathrooms. Next to our school/house are two additional classrooms. 


Welcome to Chu Town! The Sun School is home away from home.


The first day included lunch at Ha’s parent’s home. We took a trip down the road on a motorbike which was very terrifying! Most people in Vietnam ride motorbikes, but I have never been on one until that point and it was a very different experience than what I pictured. For lunch, we had a lovely assortment of fruits and vegetables along with pork and boiled chicken (which is very popular here). And of course no meal is complete without the world famous fish sauce! For dinner we had egg tofu, white rice, and squid ringlets. The next day, Yasmin and Cherry helped Andrew and I withdraw some cash from the ATM and brought us to the market. Chu Town was not prepared. Bac Giang is not a tourist province and the area I am in is a very small town compared to Hanoi, so many people have never seen a westerner in real life, let alone a black person. The amount of photos I am in, that I know of, is way more photos than I have taken of myself in years. People would ask Yasmin and Cherry about me in Vietnamese, which they would quickly reply, “We do not speak Vietnamese. We are from the Philippines!” It felt like I was some sort of infamous foreigner that no one knew, but took pictures of anyway. 



Our family motorbikes. Voom Voom!

For the next few days, Andrew and I sat in on Cherry’s classes to get the feel of teaching. When I started on Thursday, it was a very different experience than what I sat in on. Many of my students were terrified of me. Some of the other students in the school were terrified of me too; some even screamed when I would walk by them. One of my four-year-old students screamed, threw up, and cried when I talked to him directly which petrified me! I thought he was dying or that I was an awful teacher who scared my kids instead of taught them. The first week was very discouraging because everywhere I went around the house/school or around town I was greeted by stares, pointing, laughs, and the much kinder “Hello!”. Children would laugh and point at me as if I was some weird alien and teenagers would whisper and cackle about me. I hope that the “excitement” of me being in town would die down after a few weeks.  



The two classrooms in the school/house: Bear room and Monkey room!

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Coins for Change Vietnam (C4C) is a nonprofit social enterprise that aids disenfranchised women and children throughout Vietnam. 

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