Oh say, can you see?

Happy Fourth of July - it was pretty epic over here! Today my class was the biggest it's been so far - 18
students! The boys (and men, the brothers from church were there again!) sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other. They told me that some of them are reading my blog (hi guys! You are AWESOME!). I started by teaching them "The Star-Spangled Banner." We spent an hour learning new vocabulary like "pride" "dawn" "hailed" "twilight""rhythm" "note" and "pitch." We practiced pronunciation, then I clapped along the rhythms, then we added the pitch, then finally we sang along to some very patriotic music. It was a lot of improvisation! I didn't think to teach them about rhythm until I realized how difficult it was to sing the words in the correct rhythm. Teaching requires a lot of present moment awareness and spunk! I was singing high notes (I sounded like an alley cat, it was not so good), clapping along like a nut and jumping around when they sang the phrase correctly.

I shared with them how I spend my fourth of July - I take the train to Connecticut, I hang out at the pool, I have a barbeque with my little cousins, etc. "Connecticut" was a hard word - we talked about the 13 stripes for the 13 original colonies and the 50 stars for the 50 states. I asked if anyone knew all 50 states (no), then I sang them the 50 states song I learned in second grade that I like to pull out as a party trick (all 50 states in alphabetical order). They cheered! And I almost passed out; I was so out of breath! After that, the students spent time writing about how they celebrate Independence Day in Vietnam. My TAs (I had two today - Duc and Le! It was great!) and I walked around helping the students. I sit down with a student and they eagerly put their notebook in front of me and point to the start of their paragraph. I read through each sentence, understand what they are meaning to say in English, then think of a way to rephrase it if necessary or add the correct conjunctions, punctuation, etc. Vietnamese has some words that we don't have in English - for example, one of the kids was asking for the word that means "to speak with family about feelings, friends, etc" - I told them "to speak openly" or "to speak intimately" - what a beautiful thing, to have a word that captures speaking intimately and sharing openly with loved ones. After writing each student came to the front of the class to read aloud. We learned the phrase "front and center!!!!" and they were projecting 100 times more than on the first day. At first I was standing up at the front with them, and they would read to me, more quietly - I would say "louder! Read to the class!" Then when that wasn't working I walked to the back of the classroom, sat down on a desk, and said "ok! I have to hear you from here! Go! Tell me!" That worked great. We had a lot of fun, there was a ton of cheering and some beautiful things were said like "my country is the best country in my heart" and "I am very proud of my country." A lot of the kids incorporated vocabulary like "twilight" "to go on a picnic" "fishing" "swimming" and "awesome." We started a little routine in my class - after a student reads aloud, they get to point to the next person to read - they have a lot of fun with that! So many giggles. I think getting to choose the next victim is 95% of what gets them up to the front of the room in the first place.

At the end of class we discussed our plans for the talent show next week. We have some ideas for songs (I will keep it a secret here, I don't want anyone copying us…) and plan to learn a dance. I dismissed the kids about three times before they left - Trang had to come get us for lunch and I was like "ok guys! Really! Go home now! See you later!" It was very cute. This afternoon we decided to go out and celebrate. We went to get sugar cane juice (my first ever!) around the corner – the woman had sugar cane that she cut up and juiced right in front of us, it was delicious! We all sat together, talked, and played games. I paid for everyone’s juice – it was less than $5 for 19 juices! After that we went on a huge ADVENTURE!!!!

The kids got on their bikes and I rode on the back of Huy’s bike. There is a metal “seat” on the back and Huy offered to be my “driver” – a word we learned the other day! I was holding on for dear life as we rode down the street like a gang, super close to each other as trucks, motorbikes and buses whizzed by. The other kids riding on the backs of the bikes were on their phones, not holding on, no big deal. Some of the girls had motorbikes and would take the hand of someone riding a bike to help them move faster. We biked about 2km and then took off down a dirt road. Pretty soon there were rice paddies to our left and a lake and mountains to our right. It was amazing! We walked across a VERY slippery dam (it was covered with algae), then hiked a bit (we crossed paths with an angry, smelly cow) and went to a rambutan garden. Rambutans are delicious, beautiful tropical fruits (check out the pictures below). We hung out in the trees and had a lot of fun joking around. Then we walked a bit more past lots of pepper trees, eating tons of rambutans (the kids kept offering me more and more). Throughout our adventure the kids were right by my side, holding their hands out offering to help me (I think they were surprised at how easily I hoisted myself up the wall on the other side of the dam!). We made our way back across the dam, and I told the kids I would meet them by the rice paddies while they got their bikes. I walked up a rocky path lined with trees, then the view came into sight – just huge space, beautiful mountains, ducks, motorbikes, rice paddies – and I thought to myself “holy crap. I’m in Vietnam. I’m in Vietnam! This is amazing!”

We had a fun ride back with two of the girls on a motorbike helping pull Huy and I along. When we passed some ducks at the lake one of the girls said “Laura – DUCK Linh!!” I died. That’s my kind of humor! At one point one of the girls said “Laura! You are a beautiful girl” and I said “you are beautiful girls!” and Huy said “no no YOU are a beautiful girl” and I said to Huy “no Huy, YOU are a beautiful girl!” and we all cracked up. “No!! He is a handsome boy!” “That’s right! Handsome.” It was an awesome afternoon – I bonded with my class and they bonded with each other, they are really starting to open up and have fun! When I woke up this morning I had no idea I would drink sugar cane juice, ride on the back of a bike with a 15 year old Vietnamese boy, walk across a slippery dam, be within inches of an angry cow and pick fresh rambutans. My plan was “teach them the National Anthem and see what happens.”

We got back just before five and it was time to make dinner – we decided to try making American food for the 4th of July (usually our cook prepares all of our meals). We made corn on the cob, French fries and hot dogs – Vietnamese versions, so it was interesting! We had a ton of delicious tropical fruits afterwards. While we were preparing dinner little Huy (not the one who took me on the bike, the one who can break-dance) said something to me in Vietnamese and pointed to a wall about 30 feet away. He said “one, two, three!” and took off running. He wanted to race me! So we raced back and forth “one, two, three, go!” He is so fast!

Currently sitting in the back of a classroom typing while the kids watch Kung Fu Panda 2 – they are cracking up! Map is sitting here with me watching me type, imitating my typing with his fingers, and saying my name “Lowra Vol-pah-key-oh.” I just pointed to the word “Map” and he looked at it and smiled and pointed to himself. Tomorrow we go on a beach trip – next blog post will be later this weekend. I hope you all enjoy the beautiful landscape in these photos as much as I did today! Happy Fourth of July! It was a day of firsts, adventure, and independence for me. First week of classes down!

 We learned the phrase "to be proud of" I said "who are you proud of?" one girl said "myself!"
 Hanging outside my classroom

 Look at that! He fixed his glasses himself!
 Hahahah! He came to hang with me in class today and is sending me cryptic messages on Facebook like "she has donated her Laura Volpacchio pen Liberty yesterday" (I gave him an NYC pencil the other day)

 Above the board in every classroom
 This was my board at the end of class after several rounds of erasing and adding new words!
They write on everything with the chalk - the doors, the desks, the walls, anything! Do you see the English word in the upper right hand corner? :)
 Yummy sugar cane juice!
Li and Huy!
The dam!


 Crossing the dam & pepper trees 
 Here come the girls


Le picking a rambutan!
 Being monkeys

 Buying rambutans!



  1. What a great adventure today! I almost feel like I'm there! Love you!

  2. Just caught up on all your posts so far, Laura. What an incredible group of kids! And what an amazing experience for you. Keep the pics and stories coming. xoxo