We, Phi Ha Nguyen (PHN) and Laura Jakob (LJ), worked as volunteers at the pilot project “Bi-directional Tandem-Teaching and Learning in Laos” at the Vocational Education Development Institute, short VEDI, in the winter term (Lao winter-spring term) of 2019/2020.
The VEDI is an institute for vocational teaching and learning. Students from all over Laos can study a variety of subjects for a variety of degrees. Majors include, for example, engineering (electrical and mechanical), agriculture, tourism and hospitality, and tailoring. The students study for a Higher Diploma or Bachelor Degree. The Bachelor’s degree represents a higher level of education than a Diploma degree. The Bachelor’s degree is usually awarded by universities, and the Diploma by colleges.
Editor’s note by Johannes Zeck: Currently vocational school graduates with a diploma graduation can enter a two-year higher diploma study course at the VEDI, which qualifies them to become Technical and Vocational Education and Training, short TVET, teachers. Graduates with a higher diploma qualification can enter a two-year Bachelor study course.
When we first arrived at the VEDI, we spent our first days in the dorm and getting to know our surroundings. Five teachers from the VEDI lived in our dorm, across the hallway: Mr Bounthieng Sysavart, Mr Yeekeo Ounlarsith, Mr Thongvanh Thongsipet, Mr Bounmy Souksan, and Mr Khamphong Chanthala.
We received a lot of help when getting settled and quickly became friends. Not only did we get to know them as our students in our English classes, but also during our daily conversations at the VEDI Restaurant, where all of them worked and we regularly ate our lunch. The VEDI conducts a kitchen and restaurant on campus for training purposes. Here, the students from majors such as “Food Preparation”, “Tourism and Hospitality”, and “Food and Beverage Service” train their practical skills. It is a popular place for the VEDI staff and students to come and have their lunch.
Soon, we were very close to our “dorm buddies”, as we liked to call them. They would often invite us to have Lao dinner with them and we would invite them to have German breakfast with us in return. As we got to know them even better, we became more and more curious about their life stories and careers. We finally decided to conduct an interview, after getting information bit by bit, to share their intriguing stories.
Our dorm mates all speak very good English because they work in the tourism industry, except for Mr Thongvanh. This is why Mr Bounthieng kindly offered to translate for Mr Thongvanh in this interview. We tried to quote our interview partners verbatim as often as possible. Sometimes we summarised responses which referred to the same topic to improve readability. Only in some cases we rearranged syntax and grammar in order to improve comprehension.
Interview with 5 vocational teachers of the VEDI in the kitchen of our dorm on 26 January 2020
What are your names/nicknames and how old are you?
Almost every person in Laos has a nickname, given by his/her family or him-/herself. Contrary to Western nicknames which are mostly a shortened version of the full first name, Lao nicknames can be a new name. A popular Lao nickname would be for example “Noy”, which means “short”. Often the nicknames are not favourable ones in order to distract bad spirits.
Bounthieng: My name is Bounthieng and my nickname is Go. I am 25 years old.
Yeekeo: Yes, morning! My name is Yeekeo. My nickname is Keo and I’m 27 years old.
Thongvanh: My name is Thongvanh. Nickname is Yueng. I’m 25 years old.
Bounmy: My name is Bounmy. You can call me Toiy. I’m 23 years old.
Khamphong: My name is Mr. Khamphong. My nickname is Pong. I’m 22.
Where are you from (home town/province)?
Bounthieng: I come from Oudomxay province, Xay district.
Yeekeo: I am from Van village, Nalay district, Louang Nam Tha province.
Thongvanh: I’m from Luang Prabang, Nan district, Phon village.
Bounmy: I come from Champasak province. My hometown is Nonkhon.
Khamphong: I come from Khammouane province and my family live in Nhommalath District in Nong Hin village.
Where and what did you study (subjects)?
Bounthieng: I study at the “Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality” (LANITH) for two years to get a Diploma. And then I have been study at the “Vocational Education Development Institute” (VEDI) for “Tourism and Hospitality”, “Food and Beverage Service” for two years for a Higher Diploma. I’m finish the Higher Diploma in July 2019.
Yeekeo: I study at the LANITH and majoring in “Travel Tourism Operation” to have a Diploma and then I have been to study at the VEDI and majoring in “Travel and Tourism” for the teacher and then have the Higher Diploma.
Thongvanh: I study in “Luang Prabang Technic and Vocational School” for two years for a Diploma. Then at the VEDI for two years for Higher Diploma. My subject is “Food Production”.
Bounmy: I study about “Food Production”. I study at LANITH for three years.
Khamphong: I study Elementary school at Nong Hin village and secondary school at Nhommalath district. After secondary school study at LANITH in Vientiane capital. There, my major is “Travel and Tourism Operation”.
The LANITH is a public institution under the Ministry of Education and Sport, which has worked closely with the Luxemburg Development Cooperation. They provide training and education in the field of “Hospitality and Tourism”. They have two locations, one in Vientiane and one in Luang Prabang. Their aim is to continue to develop the tourism industry in Laos, a relatively small sector, yet, if compared to other Asian countries.
What is your current position at the VEDI?
Khamphong: I am a teacher. I teach students with major Housekeeping. Front office about the accept customers in the hotel. And the marketing and law tourism.
Interviewer: What is tourism law?
Khamphong: When customer do something in a restaurant you have to call the police when there is problem in your business. I have been a teacher for four month.
Bounthieng: I am a volunteer teacher. I start in October 2019.
Interviewer: Do you know how long you will be a volunteer teacher?
The others answered the same, they are all volunteer teachers at the VEDI. The VEDI has amongst others, a tourism sector with many different majors, such as “Travel and Tourism”, “Food and Beverage Service”, “Accommodation”, and “Food Production”.
|Major||Food and Beverage Service||Food Production||Travel and Tourism||Food Production||Accommodation|
How and where did you meet/get to know each other?
Yeekeo: We (points to Khampong, Bounmy, Bounthieng) know each other from the first day, first time, first year at LANITH. Thongvanh was a new friend. We met Thongvanh at the VEDI.
Khamphong: Yes, Bounthieng, Bounmy, Yeekeo we meet before in LANITH school, 5 years ago. Thongvanh meet at the VEDI so we are study together 2 years.
Interviewer: Did you become friends on the first day or did you just talk?
Bounthieng: Just talk, just looking. Around two or three weeks and then we become friends.
How long have you been living together?
Bounthieng: For me, Yeekeo, Khampong and Bounmy, we are living together for four years when we started at LANITH in 2015. We also lived in the same room at the same dorm. And for me and Thongvanh two years.
Yeekeo: No secrets when we live together (laughs).
Interviewer: Do you like to live together?
Bounthieng: Mhh… yes.
Yeekeo: Yes… it ok (laughs)
Interviewer: You cannot say no now (everybody laughs). Do you fight sometimes?
Bounthieng: … Uhh … yes (laughs). Last night me and Thongvanh we have fight. I’m sleeping and then Thongvanh came back and turn on the light and turn on the door and just move to his room. And I’m: “Serious? Why you do that?” I told: “Thongvanh, come on and turn off the light now!”
“Living together” means in this context that the five men share two bedrooms and small bathrooms with each other. In Laos it is very common for many people to share living space closely together. Consequently, we volunteers shared one bedroom as well, which we were not used to. In Western countries you usually do not share a bedroom with somebody other than a partner or spouse or baby. However, we quickly adapted to the new situation and actually learned to enjoy being so close together.
Why did you decide to study/teach at the VEDI?
Bounthieng: Because the first, I really love “Tourism and Hospitality” and then in Lao right now there are not enough of the teacher in the hospitality industry and then that’s why we become a teacher at the VEDI.
Yeekeo: I have another reason. For me, I want to share some my idea and then my learning. I want to teach about many students for improve or develop together. And then I love this job because I want to learn and to share and to teach other.
Thongvanh (translated by Yeekeo): I want to teach to another people my cooking and then want to share some experience.
Bounmy: I think VEDI is good place for teaching because when I finish learning they want me come to teaching, to be a volunteer teacher here at VEDI. And YES, I want. It’s good chance for me because I want to share experience and share skill to my students and I want to let them know about food production.
Khamphong: Because I like to teach students because you teach students it’s interesting. When I teach I know the students around in Lao – north, south – come together and you have to know is from Pakse, is from Luang Prabang, many people different.
How did you hear about the VEDI?
Thongvanh (translated by Bounthieng): Because the VEDI and Luang Prabang Technical they have some cooperation and then the VEDI give some scholarship to the Luang Prabang Technical.
Bounthieng: For me, also they have some scholarship with the project “Lao/029” (note: It is a project for vocational education and skills development by the MoES of the Lao PDR and Luxembourg and Switzerland to promote the growth of the hospitality and tourism sector in Laos) and then I applying to.
Yeekeo: Because the first, we work our job and we cannot be a teacher and then after finish the school, study at the LANITH we have scholarship from project “Skills for Tourism” [Note: by “Lao/029”] we come to study at Vocational Education. They are looking at the scores. The best one get scholarship. Maybe my grade is B.
Many students and their families in Laos struggle to financially support their education. Scholarship programs by the Lao government and foreign governments help students such as our dorm mates to get access to higher education.
Can you describe a normal working day at the VEDI?
Bounthieng: For me, I come to cleaning the office and operating the restaurant in the morning. During lunch I’m take care the customer in the restaurant, serving some food and drink and doing some cashier. When everyone left the restaurant I’m cleaning and clear the glass, plate and cleaning the restaurant. And I’m also teaching the student in the morning, only Monday, from 8 am – 12 pm. It’s one class. Because I’m teaching them practical to make some mango juice, how to make pineapple juice …
Thongvanh: In the morning I go to a market. (translated by Bounthieng): When I come back from market, preparing some food. After preparing the food, i wait to cook when the customer coming and they are order. And then, when the customer left from the restaurant, I clean the kitchen. I teaching practical class for four hours on Monday.
Bounmy: When I come to VEDI I work in the kitchen and make food. And serve the food. And teaching to students. I practice with students in the kitchen.
Khamphong: Normally, in the morning I’m at the dormitory. I have to come to work at 7:45 and prepare. Prepare information and then go in the class and teach the students just for one day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Then I finish school 4 o’clock in the evening and go to the dormitory and take a shower and go to work again.
Interviewer: Where is your second job?
Khamphong: Bartender at restaurant near Mekong riverside. Phi Ha visit before. Make the cocktail for Phi Ha.
As a volunteer teacher at the VEDI, teaching is not the only task at hand. Our dorm mates also have to run and maintain the VEDI restaurant, which includes duties such as shopping, cleaning, cooking, and paperwork.
Further, because volunteer teachers do not get a salary, many have to work additional jobs after their teaching work, such as lottery ticket seller, bartender, waiter, etc. The dream of becoming a teacher in Laos is a hard-earned one.
What are your career goals?
Bounthieng: Mhh, my career goal? I want to be a expert teacher (smiles).
Thongvanh (translated by Bounthieng): I don’t know how to say it. I want to be a teacher, but not volunteer (note: government-employed teacher that earns a salary).
Bounmy: My goal? I want to be a teacher and school teacher at school for give everything. In the 5 years or the 10 years I want to be the owner of own restaurant. In a bakery for sweet food, croissant and bread and cake. If I have money or more experience. I like bakery because when I come to study at LANITH I have internship two month and I have to work in a bakery kitchen and then the next year I have two month for internship and I choose bakery and I work in a bakery kitchen too. I come to VEDI and I have two month for internship and I go to Bangkok Rembrandt Hotel and I have bakery one month and kitchen one month. I like to make dessert.
Khamphong: I want to be study abroad. About technique how to teach students. I want to learn together with foreigner technique how to teach students. And how to make more knowledge, skill and experience.
During our stay in Laos we noticed that many teachers at the VEDI were not only teachers but also worked in other fields, such as owning their own restaurant or construction company, selling their own produce or working additional government jobs. Working only one job is often not enough to support their big families and realize their dreams such as better education for their children or owning their own house.
What are your personal goals?
Bounthieng: Personal goals? Hmm, maybe I want to study abroad. I think the best country in Europe because I think in there there are good study system and good weather. I don’t like the hot weather (laughs).
Thongvanh (translated by Bounthieng): I want to be a restaurant owner and cook Lao food. I like in Vientiane because there are many restaurant and many people, but in Luang Prabang small country and cook for me, so Luang Prabang is better.
Bounmy: I want to have more experience. I want to learning English more and I want to clearly. Speaking clearly, writing clearly, everything about English is clearly. I want to get two languages – English and Chinese. I can speak Chinese already a little bit. I learn from my phone and I have course.
Khamphong: My personal life I want to be a good teacher and I want to make business. And make house for when I’m thirties. Sometime, for me, I want to live outside the capital in a rural area because in the capital the daily life is have a lot of restaurants, food, lots of people and car. But actually I like it right now.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Bounthieng: In five years I think I will be a (thinks) speaking English better. Maybe a teacher in the VEDI and somewhere else.
Thongvanh: I don’t know (laughs).
Bounmy: In the 5 years I think I will be a good teacher. And I will get two languages – English and Chinese language I hope to!
Khamphong: I will be teacher, school teacher. But right now the government is not yet to accept. I’m volunteer teacher. Maybe two years they are looking.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Thongvanh: Swimming at Lao ITECC (note: short for “Lao International Trade Exhibition and Convention Center”, an entertainment center including a mall and a swimming pool), help my friend, walking, aerobic, dancing in the park at the Mekong riverside.
Bounthieng: Can you dance now? (everyone laughs). You see, last night I came to the Mekong park and then I saw they are dancing and then I take a video, saw one woman with his son come to dancing, his son dancing (laughs).
Bounmy: In my freetime I like to read a book and sometimes I listen to music, play Internet on my phone. The music I listen to is “Thousand Years” is from movie vampire Twilight. I like to read a book about food. I take it from school.
Khamphong: I like to play basketball and football with VEDI team. And jogging at Mekong river side.
Bounthieng: In my freetime I like to exercise, walking, running, watching TV and learning English.
Interviewer: How do you learn English?
Bounthieng: I listening the music and I making some conversation with native speaker, foreigner because in my free time I go to work in the evening and then many people, they are foreigner and then I study English the same time with work.
Interviewer: What do you work in the evening?
Bounthieng: I go to serve food and drink at different event. Sometime in the Korea Embassy, sometime in the Germany Embassy, in the Cuba and many place and different. Sometime in the hotel, sometime in the restaurant.
Has it always been your dream to become a teacher?
Bounthieng: The first, I want to become a doctor, when I study in the secondary school. And then, I cannot do that with my dream. And then I come to study at the LANITH for “Tourism and Hospitality”. At the time, we don’t know we are become to teacher. And then we have to be continue here (note: VEDI) again. We have been study at Vocational and then we become a teacher.
Interviewer: So you became a teacher because of the scholarship?
Thongvanh (translated by Bounthieng): At the time, I think I want to become a chef and don’t think to become a teacher. Chef VEDI (laughs).
Interviewer: Do you like to be a chef at the VEDI?
Thongvanh: Yes, I like that.
Bounmy: Before I come to learning about food production I want to be a doctor. I finish high school and I wait one years for apply for test about a doctor but I cannot to get it. Then I have chance for learning about food production at LANITH and I come. And then I come to VEDI for learning two years and finish I have teacher certificate. Right now, I like to be a teacher.
Khamphong: My dream was always to be a teacher.
What do you like/dislike the most about your work?
Bounthieng: About my work? I really like the customer service. You know, last night when I walk come back home from Mekong riverside and then I saw the guest come into the Landmark Hotel and then I smiling. (everyone laughs) I wanna be there. I think the waiter in the Landmark Hotel last night, they are very happy (laughs).
Thongvanh: Cooking. I love cooking. (translated by Bounthieng): Waiter also. When I study, I study both about cooking and serve at LANITH in Luang Prabang. When I study at the LANITH in Luang Prabang, I work at the Misaiphon Restaurant. That’s why I recommend you (laughs). I was a waiter, not chef. Restaurant beautiful.
Bounmy: I like to share my experience to everyone and everyone listen to me and follow me for make everything. I dislike if someone, my student, he don’t follow me for make something. And when I say to him and he “Okay, I don’t care to you” and they are not care me. I think it’s not alright.
Khamphong: I like to teach and I like the team, the teamwork and I like the place, the work environment, right? I dislike sometimes students. Some students talk with other when I teach. They don’t listen to me. Some people play smartphone. I have a technique for them. I know they play smartphone and I call them for answer the question (imitates students shocked face). Then they pay attention (laughs).
Any last words?
Bounmy: Actually, I want to say thank you for reading this blogpost. I want everyone have a goal and have many many experience from myself. If you have freetime or you have time you should to learn more if you want to know more, yes. Thank you so much.
Through this interview, we learned a lot about Lao culture, and we got insights we would not have had otherwise. Furthermore, we learned about the career path to becoming a vocational teacher and got the opportunity to compare it to our own experiences in becoming a teacher.
There are many differences in our education systems, such as the volunteer teacher system (comparable to the Referendariat1, or educational traineeship, in Germany), during which the Lao teachers do not get paid and face an uncertain future. Additionally, being a teacher in Laos also includes a much more broad variety of tasks, while in Germany we focus very much on teaching only. However, we could also spot similarities.
For example, the challenges new teachers face in the classroom, such as when students do not listen. The structure of vocational teacher training in Laos is similar to teacher training in Germany. They receive three years of basic education, and then continue for two more years to get a Teaching Certificate. In Germany, we have three years of Bachelor education, followed by two years of Master education for secondary education and one year for primary education.
Lastly, we would like to give our sincerest gratitude to our “dorm buddies” Mr Bounthieng, Mr Yeekeo, Mr Thongvanh, Mr Bounmy, and Mr Khamphong for agreeing to participate in this interview and offering their time as well as sharing their personal experiences with us. We are looking forward to following their professional and personal development in the future, and wish them all the best for their future. We hope that you will fulfil your dreams and we cannot wait to see you again, either in Laos or maybe in Europe… ?
Text by P.H. Nguyen & L. Jakob, with editors’ notes by J. Zeck & I. Martin
Photos by P.H. Nguyen, L. Jakob, B. Sysavart, Y. Ounlarsith, T. Thongsipet, B. Souksan, K. Chanthala & I. Martin
1 Editor’s note: Students enrolled in German teaching degrees study two school subjects plus pedagogy/didactics (and often more minor subjects depending on the degree and respective federal regulations). After completing their “First State Exam” – or, more recently, “Bachelor of Education” and then “Master of Education” – they can apply for an 18-month-traineeship period at one of the “seminars” in their federal state. This is a tertiary institution of education which cooperates with the teacher-mentors of the local schools and which mentors the trainee-teachers through their practical and theoretical work at their assigned schools. Their teaching is visited and assessed regularly, and after passing their “Second State Exam” at the end of this phase they are finally qualified as full teachers and may apply for their first full teaching post. Becoming a teacher in Germany thus takes around 7 years.