Back To School

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.



26 Responses to Back To School

  1. Kathryn May 20, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Fraser!

    So great to read your post!! Been thinking about you — lots going on over here. Life has been a bit crazy and the past few weeks even crazier with all that’s been going on in Nepal… Just finished organizing a benefit concert with members of the Gurung Society here in New York — we’ve raised over $102,000 for earthquake relief in just three weeks and there’s still 40 days left of the campaign — It was really helpful to be part of something like that in the aftermath of the Earthquake (we began working on it the day after to quake!) because being so far away — you just felt so useless – it was good to be able to to feel like you were doing something! I will be returning to Nepal in early July when my school year is done.

    Good to hear of your latest adventures! I had no idea you might have had some trepidation about teaching children — it’s such a natural and easy thing for me — that the thought just never occurred that anyone would think it anything other than fun!! So cool that you pushed through that fear and just did it!! And discovered something new!!! (which – is not surprising as that’s exactly what you’ve been doing for years is would seem!!) And I love the idea of speaking through javascript!! Why not — the digital world and the language of programing certainly has become the new universal language!!

    It all sounds great!!! Thanks for the update!!

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 6:16 am #

      Hi Kathryn, Thank you for the update, what a fantastic fundraising effort, you must be delighted. Take care and good luck with the rest of the campaign. Fraser

  2. Jim May 20, 2015 at 11:48 am #

    hi Fraser,

    Good to hear from you. Glad you are enjoying development of others and of course yourself- win- win all round.

    Looking forward to seeing A&H next week in Edinburgh. John is getting married at the end of June.

    I am.just back from trips to California and Montenegro. California to see an old friend from Kuwait (who follows your adventures with interest and had been missing you recently) and Montenegro to meet John’s future parents in law. Both were great trips.

    keep safe and love from all of us,


    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:44 am #

      Great to hear from you too Jim. Thanks for the update and do pass on my congratulations to John. I didn’t make to Montenegro but heard it is beautiful, California still to come. Lots of love, Fraser

  3. GEOFF EGGINTON May 20, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    So pleased to hear you are safe and well. Great that you are teaching now – and it kind of makes me smile to realise that I’m not the only one with foreign language difficulties! Primaflow have been bought by Travis Perkins (some months ago) but it doesn’t appear to have affected anything. We are fond of the driver so wouldn’t like him to be upset by any changes.
    All well here!

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:41 am #

      Hi Geoff, great to hear from you. I did hear about Primaflow it’s nice to know that it’s still business as usual. Glad you’re well, say hi to Karen for me. All the best, Fraser

  4. Gordon May 20, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    Good to hear your well and for someone who has English as a second language yourself it should be interesting for your students, when I hear someone from Vietnam speaking perfect English with a Stonehaven accent I’ll know why.
    Take care and keep writing, your readers are waiting for the next missive.

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:36 am #

      Hi Gordon, sssssshhhh! I think I’m getting away with it 😉

  5. Anne-Laure May 20, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    Glad to hear all is well for you and that you’re enjoying your time in Vietnam 🙂

    It’s good to know you’re enjoying teaching. I always find it a very rewarding experience.
    Are you planning to cycle further or are you settling in Vietnam for the foreseeable future?

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:35 am #

      Hi Anne-Laure, I will be continuing for sure, the rest of the world, or at least a wandering tyres width of it, beckons. Not sure when just yet. I’ve been reading about your own adventures, keep up the good work! All the best, Fraser

  6. Jane May 20, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

    What a lovely surprise when I picked up the old tablet after an exciting evening of ironing!!!!!

    As always you have done what was not expected and seemingly have thrived in it

    Looking forward to more blogs soon

    Lots of love
    Jane xx

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:32 am #

      Thanks Jane, surviving/ thriving with equal bounce. Lots of love, Fraser xxx

  7. Dorothy May 20, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

    Hi Fraser,

    Good to hear from you again, I’ve missed your blogs. Can’t help but admire your
    determination and dedication, keep up the good work.



    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:27 am #

      Thanks Dorothy, more to come….

  8. Ashley May 20, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    Fraser I have an unhealthy obsession with looking forward to you updates, and in the words of the the late great Jesus Christ ‘Keep on truckin dude’

    Glad your having fun

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:26 am #

      Hi Ashley, nothing unhealthy about that, ha ha…

  9. Sanjay May 21, 2015 at 2:42 am #

    Hi Fraser,
    Great to read your insights into living and working here.
    Especially that bit about having to abandon your hopes of learning Vietnamese. I soooooo know what you mean!
    Keep up the good work, fella.
    It’s always nice having you in the classroom 🙂

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:25 am #

      Cheers Sanjay, perhaps I’ll have a bit more time for language learning over the summer!

  10. Jill May 22, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Wow Fraser what a lovely surprise to receive your blog. So pleased you are enjoying Vietnam while adding to your knowledge and skills and of course helping others. Very satisfying I am sure. Always take care. Woth love Jill x

    • Fraser May 29, 2015 at 4:24 am #

      Thanks Jill, lovely to hear from you too, feels like I haven’t seen you in ages!!! Lots of love, Fraser

  11. Ben Gough December 2, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    Well Fraz B. I’m temporarily working at Gaydon for the first time since 2000, possibly also the last time we had contact too, after we all moved out of Leam? I bumped in to Pete Attewill and he casually said, “Fraser is stlll cycling around the world”. He told me about your blog and I have now spent two evenings following you in to Iran, with more to go. Wow, you nutter. Initially I thought it’s a long way from your dreams and schemes to be a millionaire by the age of 25 (?). However, after reading more, I thought the the millionaire aspirations were just part of your journey to find yourself, that see’s you travelling thriftily (like a true Scot) around the world and living in the moment. I checked out a few of your You tube posts too. I love the SABAIDEEEEE one. It reminded me of your uncontrollable decent in to unstoppable laughter, on evening in with all the crew at our house.

    When I see people doing these trips, I wonder what drives it. It’s fun to see someone who I once knew reasonably well doing this sort of trip, and although it was an unexpected suprise, I can see how this could (not definitley) have developed from where you were all those years ago.

    If nothing else you have prodded me to think that I really should make some effort to stay in touch with people, rather than the zero effort, that is my norm.

    Great to see you doing something great. Oh, and nice intermittent ginger beard!


    • Fraser December 8, 2015 at 2:31 am #

      Hi Ben, Good to hear from you. My dreams of being a millionaire were never really about the money per say, but about the (perceived) freedom the money would bring. Spending years trying to amass a fortune to then go and do whatever I wanted seemed unnecessary, not to mention soul destroying! Freedom, it turns out, is much cheaper without the desires for “stuff” you just don’t need. Hope all is well with you.

      • Ben December 9, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

        All is indeed well here.
        I’ve enjoyed reading about your travels thus far, I hope you keep it going. You seem to have developed a good way of applying your learning to whatever the situation in hand; then expressing it well in your writing too.
        Is “sole destroying”, wearing out shoes quickly?

        • Fraser December 10, 2015 at 1:51 am #

          Haha! Oops, where’s autocorrect when you need it.

  12. GEOFF EGGINTON December 9, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Fraser

    Just thought I would drop a line to see how you are. All well here as we complete year 10 of AA (that was my dream – freedom to run/make a mess of my own business). We are now buying the property so I don’t have to be nice to a landlord anymore!! Although I still have to be nice to the bank manager as we still dip our hands into his pocket from time to time.

    How are your plans progressing? Will you be moving on at some stage to complete the trip or have you found something more long term where you are?

    December here very dark but unseasonably warm at the moment.

    Best wishes!

    G & K

    • Fraser December 10, 2015 at 2:07 am #

      Hi Geoff,

      Great to hear your still going strong. With so many businesses failing in the first year it’s a testament yours and Karen’s hard work, innovation, and the way you do business.

      I will be staying in Ho Chi Minh until the end of June 2016 before continuing on as planned with a few, eh… alterations. More on that later though.

      Rainy season has come to an end and it’s now just hot and sunny instead of hot and sunny with heavy downpours.

      All the best and say hi to Karen,


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