Arriving in a foreign city in search of work in a profession in which I had no previous experience was beginning to feel as stupid as it sounded. Everything seemed so absolutely certain while drifting along the dusty tracks of Cambodia, high on endorphins. Fast forward to the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City where I had already sent my CV to every online English tutoring website I could find to no avail, and I had to remind myself that I’d been there before, many times. I changed the direction of my ‘career’ (if you can call it that) from engineering to project management, to finance, to purchasing with a good measure of salesmanship woven throughout. Not to mention the many side-gigs I’d pursued along the way.

Whatever the industry or position there is always a way in you just need to find the man, ‘the man who can.’

What I didn’t realise was that I’d already met ‘the man who can’ in Stewart. He had wasted no time filling my diary with tutoring opportunities when the position of learning support assistant became available in his department at the British International School (BIS). BIS is the top performing international school in Vietnam, possibly Asia. The standard of teachers and students is exceptionally high creating a fast paced environment geared up to enable students to reach their full potential.

The syllabus follows the British curriculum eventually leading to IGCSE and IB qualifications. All lessons (except foreign languages of course) are taught in English and a large portion of the students have English as their second language (ESL). The combination of a fast paced learning environment and ESL can cause some students to struggle to keep up. Struggling students, in addition to students with minor learning difficulties, are referred to the learning support department. My role is to help these students one to one and during some of their lessons.

When I originally researched teaching English I was naturally drawn to the prospect of working with business people. The idea of working with kids couldn’t have been further from my mind. In truth, the thought of working in a school filled me with trepidation, not in small part due to memories of my own prepubescent misadventures. Working with kids, in a school, was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I was, however, really enjoying the private tutoring work which helped bridge the psychological gap enough to spike my curiosity. What would it be like to go back to school?

Taking opportunities as they present themselves, particularly when they take you somewhere you weren’t expecting is essential in my opinion. And usually uncomfortable, at least to begin with.

So in my usual all-or-nothing fashion I started working at the school in addition to tutoring students in the evening in both English and maths. In the beginning, as I brought myself up to speed with the syllabuses of years seven to ten, the schedule of work and preparation required for tutoring was all consuming. Now, after four months of periodic flashbacks triggered by students that reminded me of my own struggle to keep up at school, I find satisfaction in giving them a leg up.

What has been most intriguing is the importance of context when it comes to learning. During my years at school I found myself doing just enough to stay out of trouble (most of the time). It was only after leaving school that I took an active interest in learning within the context of how it could affect the way I spent my time at work. I know, what a revelation but that shift in context had a massive impact on my motivation and ability to learn. My appetite for learning continues to be insatiable and the context of how I spend my time at work still impacts which topics I choose to study. Working with maths again rekindled my interest in the subject and in the broader context of solving problems, something I have grown to miss from my days working in engineering.

Keen to use the time off the bike productively I have enrolled in several web development courses. Ambitions of learning the Vietnamese language have been replaced with computer programming languages. Besides, I probably stand a better chance of being understood speaking Javascript to the locals. I have started to wonder if the unfathomable combinations of words and intonations are also influenced by seemingly unrelated factors like the wind speed and direction, or the cycle of the moon, such is my utter bewilderment. A not uncommon encounter found me successfully ordering a black iced coffee, no sugar, thank you – ‘Ca phe den da, khong duong, cam on.’ Then 30 minutes later unable to reorder with the same words? I had to just leave, dejected and coffee-less!

My time in Ho Chi Minh has been a combination of following my curiosity and doing what is necessary to keep the wheels rolling. Which is really just a by-product of riding off into the sunset in search of adventure. There is no blueprint or path to follow which is precisely why I’m doing it.

My contract with the school finishes at the end of June at which point I aim to stay on with a full tutoring diary and time to program computers. Conscious that I have somewhat abandon you dear reader, I hope to maintain a more regular writing schedule in the coming months.

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