Traveling and travel blogging have allowed us to meet so many inspiring people around the world. If you’re following us for a while, you’d know that we highly recommend volunteering abroad not only as a way to travel and explore a new place, but also to contribute to a better world and grow yourself personally and professionally. That’s why we’re extremely happy to introduce Antonio to all of you. Antonio is a digital nomad who stepped out of his comfort zone to… volunteer in Vietnam as a teacher. This is our interview with him. Enjoy!
Hi Antonio, thank you for agreeing to tell us more about your volunteering experience in Vietnam! Can we start with a short intro of yours, so all our readers can get to know you better?
Thank you very much for having me. Really appreciate it! I will try to keep it as short as possible in the introduction. So, my name is Antonio and I’m originally from Croatia, but seeing myself as the citizen of the world, not any particular country. I love slow traveling and learning about the history and culture of each place I live in. Also, always trying to live with local family to get the best taste of life in a foreign country. I run few websites and one of them is BalkanDigitalNomads where we are sharing stories from travels and experiences in order to inspire some people to take similar steps. Right now, I’m volunteering in Vietnam as an English teacher and preparing for the epic motorbike trip around the country with my brother and my best friend.
How did you decide to volunteer and how did you choose teaching and Vietnam?
I dropped out from college in September last year and started to work on projects with my friends in the city where I studied. We rented a nice apartment and made an office from that. It was a fun time, but in December I kinda run out of money and needed to come back to my hometown. The life there was hard since it is a small town and not many like-minded people, so I struggled a lot. It made me think about my next trip and I was working on the project about volunteering for one of the clients. The research from the project opened my eyes and I tried to apply on some projects since the idea of volunteering sounded amazing to me back then. I applied to Vietnam after a week and that is basically it. I’ve never taught before nor had any extensive experience with kids, but I was open to grow, learn and get new experiences. I bought a one-way ticket and here I am for more than 3 months now. 😃
I’m all about helping people and communities to grow while having an amazing time and learning about the cultures and traditions. What could be a better way to do it than immersing yourself in the family and helping the community?
Did you have any obstacles or problems arranging your volunteering commitment? E.g. is it hard to convince organizations that non-native English speakers can teach the language to kids and students.
Actually not at all. In Vietnam, there is a huge demand for English teachers. I didn’t know that before I came, but after some time I realized how huge demand here is. English centers are popping out every day, new teachers are coming, many people that are non-natives work as teachers and getting an amazing salary! I also started to work as an online teacher while making quite nice money on that.
What was your first impression of Vietnam? What was your first impression after your first class?
I landed in Hanoi and I was blown away by that city. It is just an amazing city to be around as the culture there is so strong. Old District is an amazing part of the city as it is a center and every street is kind of thematic. For instance, you have a beer street, a backpack street, basically a street for everything. Also, I was blown away by traffic there. So many motorbikes and everything seems very chaotic, but they are used to it and I like to call it an organized chaos.
Regarding the first class, I was very nervous as I never had the experience of teaching before, but kids are very curious as in rural Vietnam, it is rare to see foreigner so we became friends instantly. Right now, I love kids so much and it is amazing when you have a bad day how these kids can make your day on the right track again!
How did the students and the school accept you?
I think we’re really good friends now. They usually love to climb on me, kick me sometimes and other kid stuff. But at the end of a day, we have a lot of awesome time there and it will be so hard for me to tell goodbye to those kids to be honest.
How does a typical volunteering working day look like for you?
I have a lot of free time as our classes start at 5:30 pm and we have usually two classes per day. One class is one and a half hour long and you’re free to do anything you want in your free time. That is just perfect for me, or any other people who’d like to build their online businesses as it allows you to work much on your projects. Also, I need to prepare the materials for each class, but with the help of teacher assistants, it takes only like 30 minutes for two classes.
What did you bring to your students, what did you teach them (except for English, of course)?
My biggest goal is to teach them about manners and simply thinking outside the box. We are playing a lot of mimicking games and draw a lot to test their creativity and I’m always trying to challenge them outside their comfort zone. I believe that approach is far more beneficial than just teaching them the language. As I said before, we’re very good friends now so I’m giving my best to teach them how to be good and creative people in the future.
What did you learn, maybe a new skill or a new realization appeared in that creative environment?
Woow, so many things I learned here, about myself and about people in general. I could write a whole post on that, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned during my teaching experience is to be patient. Sometimes, you will have a hard time to present the lesson to kids and if you’re not patient you will just take away from your day. You know, these are very young kids and they are learning a new language. I can put myself in the perspective so I’m very patient with them and it yields results. Also, that experience taught me about being patient in other aspects of life. I’m kind of hot-headed, and what I usually chase what I have in mind, even if that is not the smartest decision. I’ve made so many mistakes doing that, so I believe I’ve become more patient now and I learned to wait for some things or simply let them happen. Just go with the flow and everything will be fine.
Tell us more about Vietnamese people and what can we learn from them. How can we follow them to better understand the country and maybe the world?
They are tough people and very friendly and positive. The biggest thing I’ve learned from them is just to take a time for myself and chill every day. They are known for taking their Siesta time each day for few hours. Just drinking tea, sleeping and relaxing. I was lacking that back home, but here I really love that time and really feel it’s the right thing to do. Majority of people I’ve had the experience to talk to doesn’t chase material things and they don’t have much money, but they are giving and very happy. It’s amazing when you see people having the lunch and just inviting a stranger. You don’t know their language, they don’t know your language, but somehow, you understand each other which is a very amazing experience.
How long is your assignment going to be and what are your plans after it finishes?
I’ve done with my first three months and plan to do a month more. So basically, teaching for 4 months in rural place, then one month of traveling around Vietnam on a motorbike with my brother and my best friend. After that, I’m planning to move a bit south near Pleiku to help with a coffee farm and one smaller English center. In September, my visa is running out so I have few options. Maybe I will come to volunteer in Cambodia or Bali, or help one woman with a guest house and coworking space in India. There are endless possibilities now and it is kinda hard to pick one! There is one thing I know for certain, I’m not coming home this year! 😃
Would you recommend such an experience and what kind of people would fit best and benefit most of this opportunity?
Open-minded people who want to challenge themselves and learn about themselves and people around them. You don’t need to be open-minded, but this experience will change your perspectives and thinking. I became so much different person in terms of my perspectives and I think these three months added so much to my maturity. So if you want to change the world, what could be better than changing yourself first?
Did this whole thing change you as a person, as a professional, as a traveler? Are you planning to continue volunteering and where/how?
Absolutely! When I first arrived, I was still kind of anxious person, and I wasn’t prepared for a solo-traveling thing. Right now, I’m on the level where I think I’m ready to travel around the world alone. That is a huge thing for us, travelers! As a professional, there are just so many opportunities and things you have seen as challenges before, but now you see them as opportunities.
Thank you, Antonio, for answering our questions and showing us your volunteering and life in Vietnam! We wish you all the best with his future endeavors! We hope he’ll keep the open-minded and inspirational spirit so he can make the world a better place!