This motto is not only the title of our project video for the Vientianale 2017, an annual film festival held in Vientiane – it accompanied me from the consideration whether or not I should apply for this internship in December 2016/17 until we started our filming project in December 2016. I had a debate with myself about whether I should just enjoy my free time without putting myself into something new after graduating, or whether I should spend the four months between my graduation and the next (post-graduate) teacher training phase working in Laos, which would provide many new challenges, as the country and its language was totally unknown to me up to that point. But I do not want to bother anyone with these thoughts I had before I applied for the internship – as the outcome is known: I luckily went to Laos, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
The project itself took place in the last few weeks of my stay in Laos, as a member of Team III. It all started at the German Embassy where they announced the Vientianale Short Film Competition and explained what it was all about. I thought it would be a great chance for me and my students at the LGTC, because in order to take part it was not obligatory to be a professional film-maker.
Together with my students I decided to make our own short film and to hand it in/submit it to the Vientianale. The project leaders immediately gave their green light for the project and suggested I drop the regular classes for the last 3 weeks of my stay, to make time for it. It was too unique a chance to be missed and would open up new channels of learning, which is also one of the reasons why project work is a popular form of organizing class-work towards the end of an academic year in German schools.
Four groups with different duties started forming immediately: One for writing the script, one for translating the script into English for the subtitles, one for the filming and, of course, one for the acting. The students could enrol for any group they wanted to be part of. Thus the usual English classes changed into discussion and planning groups. We met in our groups and I taught some theory lessons for each theme aspect or area before we started the practical work. A big issue for the script writers which I addressed was the time, since the length of the film was not to exceed 3 minutes. So we discussed the structure of a film. The students then wrote the important scenes first and then added extra scenes we might use if there was any time left. For the camera team I got some help from a friend, Mr Michael Edelböck, who also helped me edit the movie. He gave me a short introduction to the different camera angles and the right lengths of a shot. I then passed on his knowledge to my students.
Each group was composed of a good mixture of students from the BHS apprentices as well as the Beginner, Elementary, and Technical English classes. I of course wanted everyone to speak English so I expected each person to summarize at least once what they had achieved so far at the end of each meeting. It was a good chance for the students to learn from each other, as they had to communicate their ideas in English so that I could understand what they wanted me to organize, or to get some feedback from me. It was an authentic communicative situation – and this is precisely what we need in our English classes to make our students want to talk.
The filming brought with it some of the best moments I was going to have with my students in Laos. I have to say that punctuality is not exactly one of their strengths, but their dedication makes up for that. They did everything to make this short film something very special. They organized a Tuk Tuk driver who drove down the road at least seven times and said his part of the script over and over again. They organized enough cars to drive us all down to Hatsady’s family, who lives more than an hour’s drive away from the college, and Hatsady’s family did not only let us use their house and field for our filming – they even cooked for the entire crew (see photo).
I am very thankful for all the work my students have done. It was not always easy for them as the script writers had to unite different ideas and thoughts, actors had to combine studying the script with their daily work, the camera men had to film each scene from different angles, and the translators had to find the correct words.
Sadly we did not win a prize at the Vientianale 2017, but then again we were of course competing with professional teams. Apart from this, we produced a great short film which will now remind us all of the great moments we spent together and of all the hard work we put into this project. We have something we can be very proud of. I watch our movie every time I want to get back to “the Laos experience” – and I can tell you this is very often.
It is now time to thank the project leaders Isabel Martin and Johannes Zeck, who gave me the chance to be part of this amazing project, my co-volunteer Lena, who supported me and my idea, my students, who made this journey very special and unforgettable, and especially a few of my Lao students who also became close friends. I am happy to see you again in a few days – back in Laos.
And now have fun watching our short film “Don’t miss your chance”!
A farmer’s boy and his friend get an internship for the Lao-German Technical College. Saying goodbye is hard for Khamla, as the college is far away from his hometown and his parents. At the beginning it is not easy for him to follow in class (especially in English!), but then he remembers the words of his father and realizes that he has to take his chance. He starts to participate in class and to study hard for his certificate. In the end Khamla can be proud of himself as he gets his certificate and soon after a job with the Toyota company. Sometimes you only get one shot!
Text & photos by D. Burkhardt
Recommended further reading for teachers: Diana L. Fried-Booth, Project Work: Resource Book for Teachers (2nd edition, 2002): Oxford, Oxford University Press.