Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vocational Training: Garment Factories and Souvenir Handicraft

Hello All!
So this week in lecture we focused on vocational training. High school students who don't get a high enough score to enter college or university have the option to go to vocational school for vocational education training (VET). Many of these workers come from the countryside. This is partly due to the cost of higher education and the extra cost for tutors in high school who help to improve testing scores. Rural families encourage their children to fallow the path of vocational training, because the schooling is shorter and training usually results in immediate employment. In contrast, a university education is a four year investment that does not guarantee a job right after graduation. Vocational training is a good option for people who don't have the option of going to the University  and need a fast, steady income.

On Wednesday our Vietnamese class went to a handicraft store where all the products are made by people with mobility handicaps. Almost all of the souvenirs are made out of coconuts. Within an hour we were all taught to make heart key chains by carving a heart out of a coconut and polishing it several times. I used a small detailing hand saw with the help of my teacher to carve out the heart. Then one of the workers showed me how to polish the heart with three different sanders before I finished it with wood polish. It was fun getting to do a bit of carpentry. I went to carpentry camp for a few summers when I was younger and I enjoyed our Wednesday lesson as much as I did those classes. The business is able to provide jobs and income to those who are usually not able to work because of their disability. The owner of the company told us that her business is a good way for handicapped people to meet each other and make new friendships, and even relationships.

We went to a garment factory on Thursday. I was really surprised that the conditions inside the factory were so good. The factory floor was cool, clean, bright, and the employees were organized. We met with a company manager who told us that the average employee makes between $150 to $200 every month. To put things in perspective, teachers make around $300 a month. So it would seem that garment factory workers can make a livable wage, depending on their family size. Sweat shops do exist in Vietnam and I realize that the factory we saw is one of the best. We wouldn't have been allowed to see it otherwise.

Spence is spending this next weekend with me! More pictures and stories to come!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

We had our last week of classes for Stephanie and my's American culture course. We finished up the class with a discussion on media influence in American on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the students gave their presentations. I was really proud of our students for presenting on Wednesday. I knew all of them were nervous to stand in front of the whole class and talk in English. Stephanie and I attempted to do a musical performance for our class, because our boss is very musically inclined and suggested we perform. Steph and I decided to do the cup song from the movie Pitch Perfect. We practiced all weekend to try and learn to movements and song for the class. Let's just say it took us three times to even finish it for the students. After the second try I wanted to hide under the desk, but luckily I had Stephanie there to force me to finish. I've really enjoyed teaching this class. I learned a bit about my own culture and I was able to compare it to my student's knowledge of Vietnamese culture. I also learned that it takes a lot of time and energy to be a teacher. I am a fairly introverted person, so it takes a lot of energy to "perform" for students for an hour and a half. Even though it was a lot of work, I'm glad I got to experience what it is like to teach on a somewhat professional level.

This week in class we got to learn about the economic development plans for Can Tho.The Mekong Delta is rich in natural resources and is the largest provider of fish, rice, and agriculture for Vietnam. Labor is cheap and there is plenty of land available for development. The Delta seems like the perfect place to develop, except for the fact that there is little to no established infrastructure. Investing money in the Mekong would be very unprofitable, because there is very little to invest in. However, once the Mekong Delta becomes established this area will be the new hot spot for development. Can Tho City plans to create many more manufacturing factories and companies in order to increase land profit. By the year 2020 Vietnam plans to be an industrialized nation. Among other things, this means being able to produce their own technology to create their own products, rather than importing most of their technological products from other countries. From the information I've gathered it sounds like Can Tho is going to change drastically in the next 5-10 years. With all this growth comes new product and product waste. I worry that Vietnam will cut environmental corners to reach their lofty goal of industrialization by 2020. Educated locals no longer swim in the Mekong that runs through Can Tho City. This was not the case ten years ago. There is a clear trash issue already evident in the Mekong river. Waste management seems to be one of the City's largest problems. When I'm out in town I usually carry my trash around with me until I return to my dormitory, because it is so difficult to find a trash can on the street. Most waste is either thrown into the river or streets, where is it later burned. I am scared to think what will become of Vietnam's contribution to environmental pollution once they ramp up their industrial sector. There are environmental laws in place to regulate businesses' pollution, but inspectors can be bought off and visits are scheduled. In an attempt to educate the public the government is implementing environmental awareness topics to be taught in early primary school. Children are taught to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The problem for Can Tho is that there is no recycling plant or system in place for these children to put into practice the theory of recycling. I do not think Vietnam is prepared to deal with the impending environmental implications that will come along with a fast growing industrial sector.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vietnam's Educational System

This week was a slow one at CTU. Professor Cary left on Tuesday and our new teacher Professor Glen should arrive sometime next week. So for the time being we are in the capable hands of our program adviser Hung. A new development on campus is that we have about 15 new students living in the international dorms. We have two boys from Denmark and everyone else is from all over the US. I got to say, its pretty nice having more English speakers around and even nicer to have some of the attention taken off of our group. I had another week of classes for the American culture class. The students have really come out of their shells and they are much more willing to participate. We had the topic of social interactions and dating on Wednesday. Everyone in the class was very excited to learn about what dating culture is like in the states. In Vietnam people usually start dating around the age of 18. Before a couple is dating they are boyfriend and girlfriend. There are very few casual relationships in Can Tho. Once students have graduated they begin to seriously consider marriage. It was difficult to explain all of the different kind of relationships that exist in the United States. The students were most perplexed by the concept of "friends with benefits".  I was asked twice if I was going to be marrying and starting a family with my current boyfriend. To be honest I didn't know how to answer the question. As a 22 year old living in California I don't think about marriage and family being in my immediate future. By the end of the class I think what most surprised me was the Vietnamese students' willingness to commit to marriage and a family at such a young age and after having so few partners in their life.

We focused our class research on education this week. On Thursday we had a meeting with an expert on Vietnam's new policies to revamp the education system. It seems as if Vietnam is moving away from an authoritarian system to an authoritative system. The difference between the two teaching styles is that authoritarian teaching favors blind submission to the teacher, while authoritative teachers have a set of rules and boundaries, but are responsive to the students needs.  The Vietnamese government is looking at the US and UK school systems and they are seeing which aspects can be applied in Vietnam. After our lecture on Thursday we went to visit a high school to see what a typical day is like for the students, High school students go to school for four hours rather than the US eight hours. During those four hours the students are just lectured at. In order to practice what they've learned they have to pay for extra classes or private tutoring. I found this to be completely unfair, because obviously only the more well to do students can afford tutoring. Senior high schoolers need to take a test to graduate and they need to take a second test to get into college. Depending on their score they will get into a university or college. A college here is like a junior college in the states. Similar to the US, it is possible to transfer to a university from a college. There is an issue with overcrowding for higher education here and not enough teachers to teach the students. To my surprise teachers have one of the lowest paying salaries. I suppose I thought that in a socialist system that teachers would have a higher pay wage because they have such a large influence in the shaping of the future generation. To compensate for their low wage, teachers need to have multiple teaching jobs. Through this system the students become more of a commodity to the teachers rather than pupils to teach. Vietnam's educational system has a lot of problems to face and I don't think that applying certain practices from the Western system will improve it. Nor does it seem as if there is a clear plan to revamp the system, because every outline I have seen just uses broad explanations for improvement. Regardless, if Vietnam wants to make the next step to join the international arena they need to improve their educational system and accredit their universities.   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Candy Colored Land

This week was quite busy for me. I had two lessons to teach for my American culture class. My roommate and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach this course to a group of 25 college students. Stephanie and I created the rubric for the course, so we have a lot of freedom to teach the topics which we feel best describe American culture. This past week we taught history and politics. Our students started out as a very shy bunch and its nice to see them open up as the weeks progress. I don't think I want to become a teacher in the future, but I am greatly enjoying the experience.
 Something else that I have recently started doing is volunteering at an orphanage that is close to my school. I am thinking that I will do my independent research project on this. Many of the children in the orphanage are affected by agent orange, autism, down syndrome, and other disabilities. I've always been interested in the Vietnam War since I read "The Things They Carried" in my sophomore year of high school. I am well aware of the chemical destruction that the U.S. government devastated this country and its people with. What surprises me is how prevalent the amount of people who are still affected by dioxin. Orphanages throughout the country are filled with kids suffering genetic defects due to the chemicals that were dropped during the war. It wasn't until this April that the U.S. government finished its first decontamination site in Da Nang, but over 20 sites still exist today. At the orphanage I spend time with the children. I teach the older kids English and I act as goofy as possible to get a smile. The toddlers love snuggling and the babies just want someone to hold their hand. I was so surprised to see how trusting and ready for love these kids are. Usually, when I babysit a child for the first time they are hesitant to leave their parents and distrustful of me. When I walked into the orphanage a little girl immediately jumped into my arms for a snuggle. I will try to spend as many Sundays as I can at the orphanage in order to spend time with these kids and learn a little bit more about Vietnam's programs for orphans.
On Thursday of this week our class went into the countryside of Can Tho to see a particular type of farming system. The farm we visited was using a closed system farming method which means that the farm was sustaining itself within itself. The farm was using the manure from the pigs to collect into gas and fertilize the plants. In turn the pigs were fed the plants. The only thing that made this system imperfect was that the farmer was also feeding the pigs grain from an outside source. I can see how this type of farming can work for one farm, but it would be very hard to implement this method on a broader scale, because it requires a lot of land. One of our professors works for the agricultural department at Davis, so he likes taking us to farms in order to see the different farming methods.
After the trip to the farm I hopped on a bus to Saigon to visit with my best friend Robin. Robin is teaching English in China for the next year and is only a four hour plane ride from me. I will be going to visit Robin at the end of my trip. We stayed in the backpackers district on a very touristy street. There are very few foreigners in Can Tho, so it was a bit strange to be around so many western faces. Robin and I filled our bellies with delicious Saigon food and we checked out the night scene. Robin was very happy with the availability of fresh produce and the "candy colored" Saigon buildings. I was just happy to see a face from home.
Love love,