• Pippa

A "sure" thing

I don’t plan on blogging much about the daily routine of my volunteer work placement because I expect it to become like other past teaching situations. You get into the rhythm of the environment and the teaching day then weeks become months and months become terms. Before you know it, it’s time to meet a new intake of students. So before this term is over, here are a few of my reactions and thoughts at the end of my first week teaching in Vientiane.

My students at the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) are Lao government employees from both Vientiane and the Provinces who are completing English language training certification. Students attend classes full time for 20 weeks after being admitted to the course and assessed as to their level. There are currently three levels at IFA with about 30 students per class. We’re housed in a brand-new building which opened only a couple of months ago in the Vientiane suburbs. Despite the searing heat outside at this time of the year, the rooms and facilities at IFA are all air-conditioned so we’re physically comfortable but then I have to steel myself at the end of the day in order to endure the 30-minute walk home. My wide-brimmed hat is a necessity even at 4pm.




We have quite a cosmopolitan teachers’ room at IFA with two Canadians, two Australians, a Singaporean and a Colombian, who is here on a two month volunteer placement to deliver a Spanish course. Three Lao teachers complete the team and they are the teachers responsible for each of the levels. The international volunteers supplement the core government language program with specific language skills input. I’m taking over Writing and Grammar until December from one of the Aussies who heads home at the end of this month.



I’m bowled over by the IFA facilities and organization. Classrooms are all equipped with whiteboards and projectors. Students are seated around tables in groups of 6 and there are adequate power outlets around the room if students want to use laptops or other devices. Each module has monitors who take responsibility for cleaning the board in between classes and ensuring working board pens and water for the teacher. I goofed this week in Module 2 and wrote all over the board in indelible marker. In any other school or institute I’d have been scrambling to fix the “damage” and apologizing to the janitors but the monitors just shrugged and said they’d take care of it. I was told before I came here that Laos people are very relaxed and laid back...they are indeed!


In the teachers’ room we each have our own desk and a computer terminal with Wifi and there’s a coffee-maker, water cooler and fridge. If I want to make photo-copies I can in the resource centre where I keep running across old-friends in the form of text books I once used. In addition to a computer lab for teaching IT, IFA has board and conference rooms which could be used when teaching presentation skills. This is hands-down the best-equipped teaching facility I have encountered in my 30 years working in EFL.



The students are a delight! They represent a range of ages and there are as many men as women. They call me “sure” or at least that’s how it sounded to me. At first I thought I was hearing “Sir” and wondered if they’d mixed up “Sir” and “Ma’am”. Nisha, my Singaporean colleague, explained that’s what students say in Singapore too. It’s short for teacher!

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