How our journey to Laos began in October 2018
Seven months flew by after the Academic International Office at the PH Karlsruhe announced the project “The Laos Experience” at its information event by letting former volunteers introduce themselves and their internships. After collecting as much information as possible on the project and finding out that there were still some internship slots available for spring/summer 2019, we, Elisabeth and Vanessa, applied immediately. Especially the Lao-German Technical College (LGTC) caught our attention with its “Recruitment and Training Programme”.
In this particular cooperation between BHS Corrugated and the LGTC, graduates from Ban Phang Heng Secondary School are given the opportunity to start a dual education, in which they can study and get practical training in the industrial electricity and machinery sections.1 We wanted to be part of this project and help to provide the English tuition in this programme, to gain teaching experience ourselves and learn more about about methodology and didactics – generally to be open for something new and expand our tolerance capacity, which our own future classrooms would also only benefit from.
Both of us were invited to an interview by Prof. Dr. Martin and Johannes Zeck. Our first priority was to become interns at the LGTC. During the interview, they suggested splitting the internship into two parts because we wanted to stay for quite a long time – 5 months. For the first part of our stay in Lao PDR, we would be able to stay at the Lower Secondary School Ban Phang Heng, and then transit to the LGTC for the second half of our stay. We liked the idea of splitting our stay because we would gain different experiences at different institutions.
Before we left Germany to start our internships, the project leaders held three half-day preparatory workshops. We learnt about the project itself, about Lao history and culture, and what exactly our tasks and the superordinate learning goals for us would be and how they would be distributed amongst the team. We were taken through the new edition of the “Laos Reader”, a 110-page project manual for volunteers, and we learnt about the various “how to”s – how to name documents, where to save them, how to write blog posts or carry out team meetings.
For some of these agenda topics, former volunteers were invited – to give us the opportunity to ask them all the burning questions that we had. We could also ask the previous volunteers excatly how they had prepared before their departure, e.g. how they had nagivated this big load of information. The workshops definitely helped us to get an overview of our future work at the schools and to get to know each other in the team itself – so that we would be able to work effectively together in Laos.
18 February 2019 – Team VIII leaves for their work in Lao PDR
After landing, we were treated to our first Lao lunch by Mme Engel and our AfC contact person Ms Bouangeun Hanthavong at the Khop Chai Deu restaurant. Then the AfC driver Mr Viengkham made sure we arrived at “the villa” in Ban Sikeud safely.2 Pauline Faix (Team VII) was already waiting for us: She had agreed to do the handover from Team VII to Team VIII. Over the following days, Pauline introduced us to our tandem-partners, our workplace, and our new home Ban Sikeud. She helped us to set up our new timetables and to get orientation fast, and Prof. Martin also visited us during that time.
Working and living in Sikeud
A typical week of a volunteer at Lower Secondary School Ban Phang Heng might look like this:
Elisabeth had two tandem-partners: Ms Bounpheng Singhalath and Ms Nalee Vonkamsai. With them she had two hours to prepare the next lesson for the pupils and two hours of hospitation. In the hospitations, the volunteers have the opportunity to see how the tandem-work and joint preparation hours are contributing to the next lesson, and how the new activities or techniques were implemented. With Ms Bounpheng Singhalath, Elisabeth did two hours of English languages lessons as well, working on oral proficiency.
In addition, Elisabeth had two hours of English with Ms Daovone Chantabousy and Ms Amphaivone Chanthavong each. In this time, they had the opportunity to work on grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening exercises to make progress in English. Together, they also had a conversation lesson once a week to work on oral proficiency and communication. Elisabeth also offered a variety of activities in Activtiy Time at Lower Secondary School Ban Phang Heng in the afternoons, such as English Games Club, Drama Club, and Singlish. Here the students were made familiar with the English language through songs, games, and role plays.
Besides her tasks as a tandem-teacher in Sikeud, her special task was “Blog Mistress”. The task of a blog mistress is to communicate with the project leaders about blog-related matters and to organise their teams for the editing process, which is conducted in close cooperation with Prof. Martin.
Moving to Vientiane
After spending 6 weeks in Sikeud, it was time to pack our bags and prepare our transition from Sikeud to Vientiane. For this, we held a Skype-meeting with Johannes Zeck about the procedure of moving out. We had to fill the moving boxes with all the kitchenware and the books from the Lending Library3 and the office supplies (paper clips, pens, tape, stapler etc.) that we had worked with during our stay. It was necessary to check the inventory lists (a complete listing of all materials) to make sure everything was packed correctly and nothing was missing. Then we needed to agree with Ms Bouangeun, the AfC local manager, when she and the AfC driver Mr Vienkham would be able to pick up the boxes to take them to her storage room to store all the inventory until the next team would arrive.
Before moving to the LGTC bungalow in Vientiane, it was necessary to hold a meeting with our fellow-volunteers from the LGTC, whose work we were to take over after Pi Mai, the Lao New Year Festival, held in mid-April. We met at the “Taj Mahal” restaurant in Vientiane so we could enjoy delicious food while talking about our new tandem-partners, the distribution of tasks, the “Technical Dictionary”, 4 the teacher classes, and the BHS evening classes5. Besides, we spoke about how it is to live in the bungalow and in the capital city Vientiane compared to the village Ban Sikeud.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a few days off during the Pi Mai holidays. Then it was time to move to the bungalow, where our fellow-volunteer Siegfried Hadatsch (“Siegi”) was waiting for us to hand over the work from Anna-Sophia Ten-Brink, Thomas Pelka and him to us: They had been working at the LGTC while we were in Ban Sikeud and Ban Phang Heng.
Monday, 22 April 2019 – our new working place
On our first day at the Lao-German Technical College, Siegi showed us around the campus and introduced us to our tandem-partners Ms Moukdala Keomixiai (who also serves as our contact person), Ms Akina Yatsadahuk, and Ms Viengkhom Phyathep, but also to Mr Khamsavay Gnommilavong, the director of the LGTC, and of course, Mr Franz Schuetz, who works for the UeBZO (“Ueberbetriebliches Bildungszentrum in Ostbayern”: “Inter-company education center in Eastern Bavaria”, a former subsidiary of BHS Corrugated) as a consultant for dual vocational training and now leads the “Recruitment and Training Program” (RTP) at the LGTC. He is responsible for the development and implementation of the dual vocational system within this program.
We got started with teaching our first classes as well as observing our tandem-teacher classes in hospitations right away.
Two days later, on Wednesday, 24 April, a Skype-team-meeting with Johannes Zeck was arranged to talk about our first impressions, our first BHS evening classes, and our first teacher classes. We shared our thoughts and the problems we faced in our first days at the LGTC. For example, some pupils did not attend the first sessions of the BHS evening classes. Johannes advised us to get student lists at the office from Mr Franz. With the help of these lists, we could visit our students’ regular classes and kindly remind them that the evening classes had started. Moreover, the adaption to our new workplace and living quarters was part of the agenda, so if there were any new questions, we could always ask Johannes.
A typical week of a volunteer at the LGTC might look like this:
Elisabeth had one tandem-partner at the LGTC (instead of two as in Sikeud), Ms Akina Yatsadahuk. Throughout the week, they had two preparation hours together, during which they prepared Ms Akina’s English lessons for the apprentices of the LGTC. These prepared lesson were observed by Elisabeth for three hours per week. Afterwars a feedback session was held to talk about the details of the lesson.
In addition, Elisabeth taught the “Beginner” teacher-class for one and half hours, in which teachers take part – additionally to their own regular teaching hours – to learn English. After that, it was the “Beginner” BHS-students evening class’ turn to get in touch with the English language for one hour per day from Monday to Thursday.
On Wednesdays from 1 to 2.30 p.m., Elisabeth also offered an “Activity Time” for her BHS evening class students. The volunteers used these lessons to give two different workshops, which focussed on body language and writing a Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) and application letters. Elisabeth also continued working on blog matters, as her “Special Task” in this team was being the “blog mistress”.
Even though we applied for the LGTC only at first, we were more than glad that we got the chance to stay at Lower Secondary school Ban Phang Heng before transitioning to the Lao-German Technical College. Staying at the villa with its western standard helped us to assimilate to all the new conditions that were waiting for us at lower secondary school, such as the new workplace, the new colleagues, the language barrier, the hot weather, and living and working in Lao PDR generally – quite a culture-shock for some of us.
It was therefore easy for us to adapt to the local standard of the bungalow because we were already used to what it was like living in Lao PDR. Also, having spent time with Lao teachers and pupils before helped us a lot to adapt to our new schedules and slightly different tasks.
Moreover, we benefited from changing our location from staying in a small village to the capital of Lao PDR because we felt like we were gaining an additional set of practical experiences, e.g. organising living together in a new place, the bungalow, looking after lesson equipment and buying new equipment in the shops independently, and arranging visa extensions.
All in all, we can say that we made experiences we did not expect in the beginning, but we are more than happy that Angels for Children and BHS and the PH Karlsruhe made those unforgettable experiences possible for us.
Text & photos by V. Wecker & E. Heinz
1 The LGTC is divided into six main sections: Automotive, metal machinery, electro-electronics, welding-plumbing, heavy equipment, and agro-machinery.
2 Other articles related to first impressions on this blog by former volunteers M. Frahm, T. Wedemeyer & S. Röhm, S. Ud-Din, L. Herrmann, A.Reiling, C.Morlock, & S. Schulz, L. Jakob & T. Wintrich, S. Schaefer & T. Feldmann, S. Stoehrer, A. Broghammer, P. Kern, K. Petter & D. Schrepp, T. Mayer.
3 The “Lending Library” is a place in the villa in Ban Sikeud where all the materials and books are stored. The volunteers can use these materials and books for their preparation and lesson planning. All materials are listed in an inventory list. When we came to Laos we had also brought new material with us that was added to the inventory list.
4 The “Technical Dictionary” is an Excel document with many technical terms, e.g. terms for machines and tools that are used at the LGTC. BHS students worked on it to collate an overview of items they use for their work. The “Technical Dictionary” consists of the English term, the Lao term, the German term, a picture of the item, and an example sentence of how the item can be used. (cf. http://www.thelaosexperience.com/2019/10/13/we-are-team-ix-introduction/#f1)
5 “BHS evening classes” are English lessons for the BHS apprentices taught by the volunteers after regular lessons.