Primary Department Teacher, Sholto Torr, joined Nguyen Sieu students for a trip to Mù Cang Chải, Yen Bai Province where he visited schools, met with students and took in the incredible scenery northern Vietnam has to offer. Here he shares his thoughts on this memorable experience...

What were your first impressions of Mù Cang Chải? 

The surroundings are breathtaking. You honestly can't believe how beautiful it is out there. The people are friendly, welcoming, inquisitive and warm. The local people work so hard. They are always smiling and care so much about your happiness. The place is still very natural and hasn't been overrun by tourism. An absolutely stunning place to visit and recapture your love for nature and natural beauty.

Can you describe the schools in Mù Cang Chải?

The kindergarten was at the top of a mountain with not much around it at all. Compared to the other structures or houses around it, the kindergarten is a well built and structurally safe place for students to learn. I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities. Although the classroom was very basic, it looked warm and inviting. As we arrived the children were sitting very neatly in a 'U' shape singing and clapping. The teacher was very good, directing the kids well and managed to keep them focused on learning despite the many distractions. All the staff at the kindergarten went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and I could tell that they were very happy to have us visit. We set up the playground in a room that was empty. There was also a separate room for the students to eat and sleep and I like the fact that it's separate from the classroom, so students can understand that the classroom is for learning. The students themselves were extremely well behaved and had a great time. 

Going to visit the primary school was an amazing experience. The primary school is situated in a village about 3 or 4 KM from the main road. There is a good cement road to get there by car or bus. Driving into the school you can immediately tell that this is a good school. The views are breathtaking, the school overlooks beautiful valleys. Walking around the school you find yourself constantly being surprised by the quality of the facilities. The layout of the school is well thought out. The students are enthusiastic and have a desire to learn, they were excited and participated throughout. The staff were friendly and made us feel welcomed. There are some staff that have good English skills and it was great to chat to them about the school. They are doing an amazing job there and I could tell that they are passionate about education.

What were some truly memorable moments for you?

Travelling to and visiting the kindergarten. The kindergarten was about 3 KM off the main road at the top of a mountain. The road to get there was a narrow dirt road, just about big enough for two bikes. It is a steep climb to get to the kindergarten from the main road and when it rains, as it did the night before, the road can be dangerous. We walked the first kilometer and I was exhausted. How the locals do that everyday, just to get to school, is amazing. The views are amazing and for most of the trip there are no signs of civilization. After about a KM I was picked up, to my relief, by a Xe Om who took me the rest of the way. After a few comments about how big I was, we started our way up the mountain. Frightening and exhilarating are words I would use to describe that trip. As you get to the peak, you see some small structures and houses that seem to come out of nowhere. That is where the kindergarten is located and there is a small community that lives there. That trip was memorable.Playing with the children at the kindergarten was a special experience.

Once we had set up the playground we invited the kids in to play. Many of those children might not have seen a foreigner before or even played on some of the slides or toys we had brought in. At first they were a little hesitant but after a while they were asking to be picked up so that they could go back to the slide. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it is an experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life. After my lesson at the primary school, I sat down to watch James' lesson. His lesson involved the older kids at the school so the younger ones were sitting right in front of me watching. Naturally, some students turned around to look at me and I tried to teach them some words. This then meant that all the students started gathering around me and I just started chatting to them and teaching them. It was such a cool experience to have around 50 kids crammed together watching my every move, mimicking me and trying to learn. We laughed together as I pulled funny faces and made silly sounds. They were so inquisitive and really wanted to learn. It was amazing to see and be a part of, I'll never forget that experience.

You had the opportunity to teach the students. Can you walk us through your lesson and share that experience?

I taught colours, numbers and actions. I started with some simple questions and answers. Rewarding students who answered questions with prizes. This was the plan I had to spark interest or participation. I then went onto a “Copy the Teacher” action game, where I would say an action and act it out and the students copied me. I did this in the hope of getting the students moving and feeling comfortable with the lesson. We had relay races to practice actions.

Lastly, I taught them colours by playing games. First we played “Pass the Balloon”, where students said the colour of the balloon and passed it on to a friend. I had about 70 balloons going around at one time. The second game was “Duck, Duck, Goose”. I brought students into the middle of the quad and played the game by replacing the words “duck” and “goose” with colours.  Holding up a balloon, students would yell the colour. Everyone had a lot of fun.

On the topic of possibly returning to  Mù Cang Chải he said...

100% yes. I loved the experience and I feel like there is so much more I could offer. Every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. I am so grateful that I was given the privilege to go to Mù Cang Chải and look forward to returning. I would like to thank the school for giving me this unforgettable opportunity.