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Sarah McGowan – English Teacher at Foreign Languages Department

Volunteer for Teachers for Vietnam Organization


On a cloudy day, with rain threatening, I can listen to my student more than I do in the classroom. I see the student struggling with what words to express herself with in English, but she is doing better than if we were in a classroom with all of her classmates watching. She is on the brink of tears, but she manages to sputter out her secret. We sit for a long time and look out on the river. I then decide that we should go back to beat the rain but right as we are starting, the rain begins anyway. She is sitting on the back of my bicycle, shielding my eyes so I can see but occasionally covering them as a joke.

The tears are now gone from her eyes, and she is laughing hysterically. She had mentioned to me earlier that she is a bad student and that English is not her passion. Yet, for the entire day, she was speaking English. I was helping her with vocabulary and pronunciation, and she was learning! Would I dare to call this work? No, but I realized that there is a fine line between teacher and friend, and it is crossed a lot. I told my student this. “Oh Sarah, the Vietnamese have a saying for this!” What don’t the Vietnamese have a saying for? I ask myself. I realized that when I am here, I never stop teaching and that is what I love. There is no lesson plan that could even come close to teaching a student what she had accomplished on that day. This is what it means to be a teacher in Vietnam.


– Sarah McGowan