Guest Post: Another Day in Paradise

September 14, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen

Today’s guest post is courtesy of John Severin, a contributor at He is currently working on a project relating to¬†baby monitors.

I’m not a mom. I’m not even a parent.

What I am is a clueless 26-year-old guy who happens to interact with a bunch of two- and three-year-olds on a regular basis due to my job. I’m a teacher. I can’t say that I’m a good teacher, but I do make a solid effort every day. Oh, yeah – one more thing: I’m an English teacher in Vietnam.

Vietnam?! Isn’t it dangerous there? Won’t the communist government think you are a spy? Why would you go there?

No, it’s not dangerous here (the general levels of punishment for crime are extreme enough to deter violence). And, yes, the communist government does think I’m a spy; they have video cameras installed at my school and a direct wiretap on my Internet. It’s actually kinda fun randomly saying trigger words like “government” during Skype conversations…until you hear the little click signifying the beginning of their eavesdropping.

Why am I here? It’s simple, really. I was working in the States a few years back and my little sister said, “John, I’m going to teach English in Vietnam.” I replied, “Can I come?”

A few years later, here I am sitting in class with 20 little Vietnamese faces staring at me, and only one thought is going through my head: How in the heck am I gonna get through another 40 minute lesson?

The students don’t understand English, I don’t understand Vietnamese, my assistants are sitting in the corner playing on their cellphones, and two of my youngest students are kissing in the corner. AHHH! I jump out of my chair to stop Tom (two years old) from fully frenching Sandy (three years old).

Too late. The kiss has already gone on for several seconds by the time I get there. Tom is pretty pleased with himself. This is gonna be a long 40 minutes.

After attempting some failed “listen and repeat” drills, I have all the kids stand up to sing the song “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” The kids are more than happy to be out of their chairs, but somehow in the excitement, Brian loses all his clothes. And I do mean ALL his clothes. Bless his heart, he’s still participating by doing the actions to the song – much to the bewilderment of the little girl behind him.

A typical class consists of the above-mentioned “listen and repeat” drills for about 10 minutes, coloring or some other activity for 15 minutes, then listening to songs for the final 15 minutes. After the nude head-and-shoulders incident I was more than happy to move into coloring time. Upon receiving his customary blue and green crayons, Jerry begins scribbling all over the tile floors as is his wont. I ignore it.

The next 15 minutes are filled with little voices saying over and over “lam sao” and “mau gi” – which roughly translate to, “I don’t know how to do this” and “What color should I use now?” I want to enjoy the calm before the upcoming song time storm, so I lie down on the ground with the students and help them color. It’s my favorite part of the day.

Sadly, the 15 minutes of bliss end all too soon and its time to power up YouTube for song time. The kids have assigned seats for song time, but they are largely ignored. Kids are constantly shoving and jostling in attempts to get closer to the screen, but that’s to be expected. All in all, it’s going pretty well.

I’m standing up there doing my best to maintain some kind of order when I see Tom (yes, Tom again) trying to grab the picture little Sue has colored. A small power struggle ensues which predictably results in Sue’s picture being torn in half. Tom triumphantly holds his torn half in the air and, with a flick of the wrist, sends it floating down to the floor behind him.

Sue doesn’t even see him. She is looking at the paper scrap in her hand, tears welling up in her eyes. I try my best to salvage her picture, but she’s not having any of it. Her little heart was torn just as much as her stick figure drawing. Maybe next class I’ll bring her a special piece of candy or something.

Chaos reigns every single moment of the class. Somehow, despite my best efforts, the little ones managed to learn exactly zero percent of the lesson. Tomorrow is another day…filled with Vietnamese toddlers trying to pull down my pants, smacking my butt, and doing the same to each other.

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