I've been living out in Asia for six years now. Everytime I travel around I encounter some unknown situation that a guide book failed to mention. You can't prepare for everything, and its all part of the adventure when something unexpected happens. That could mean a late trip to the hospital, and evening reporting some lost items, stuck at a bus stop, ATM card not working, out of cash, or a missed flight (all of these have happened to me).
I compiled a short list of some friendly reminders to prevent any of the scenarios above. Most of these reminders are applicable for anywhere, but geared towards Asia.
TRAVEL TIPS AND LOCAL FUN
Always stash a little cash where you'd least expect it. Keep a fifty or a hundred in a sock, or pair of dirty underwear. Plan to never use this. Its emergency only.
Buy souvenirs last- Your going to see that same item a dozen or so times. Each time it will change in price. You also don't want to lug around that sculpture the whole trip
Offline maps- Download offline maps of your entire country before you go.
Offline books- Always good to have the kindle app for the plane or long bus rides.
Offline apps- currency converters and google translate of languages can be very useful.
Do a google search- No matter where you go, someone's been there already, and has written about it. Use someone else's list. The internet is for sharing ideas.
Collect a few coins or bills- These make good tips at you hometown bar or for grandkids.
Medicine- Medicine can usually be bought over the counter in most of South East Asia. But check before you go. You may have some items easily available in your cabinet that you can't find here. like Neosporin
Paintings- Paintings make really good gifts. They are easy to roll up and bring home with you. But remember to buy them last
Money- Always change money first. If its a good deal then get it. Dot waste time and effort going back and forth over a few dollars. It's easier to have a little cash on hand once you arrive.
More money- Don't bother with the conversation once you arrive. Be sure to alert your bank before you leave. Then just use the local ATM. Try to make one transaction for your whole trip.
Always get data- Don't get me wrong, its great to get lost and talk to locals. But when you need to decompress and find your way, you don't want to find out later you missed an awesome event just a block away. Also helps you to call ubers or grab taxis.
Address - Long plane rides can mean a dead battery upon arrival Write down the hotel address and number. Call for hotel pick up if you want to splurge a little. Its usually worth it in unknown territory.
Photos- I'm not gonna tell you how to behave wherever you go. This isn't that type of blog post. Take as many photos as you want. but be aware of the culture. Some people may not want to be filmed. What do you actually do with all those selfies anyway? More importantly, take photos of you ID passport, credit cards, insurance etc.. email them to your self and a facebook message to friends or family in case you need help. You never know when you may need to prove your identity, or report a stolen phone
Pack light- This is the hardest one for me. In most places I try to leave clothes behind I no longer want and pick up a few new shirts. That being said, you can buy anything you need once your abroad. It helps if you buy it from a local, even if its used. You may make a nice friend a long the way.
Food- eat whatever you want. YOU WILL GET SICK! Bring some pepto dissolvables if you can to ease the pain. But always have a snack on you. Offer it to the people next to you on the bus, the kids in the street, the taxi driver etc.. Kids playing in the street love candy!
Don't be too cheap- Bargaining over one or two dollars may not break the bank for most people. It can mean a big difference for most people here. Don't be cheap and let the locals make a profit. But ask a few people what the prices are before you make a purchase your unsure about.
Try something new. You may never be here again. Even though you said you definitely will come back, you likely will plan to go somewhere else. Get out of your comfort zone, talk to locals, make new friends of different ethnicities, learn to say a few words and bring some smiles to people's faces. It goes a long way.
Recently, my coworker and friend, asked me to help her with the Mother Tongue day Assembly. Assemblies at our school happen once a month. they are usually organized by a small team of teachers or a department. They can be a lot of work. Because we don't have an official auditorium, we have to split up the middle school and High school assemblies. This worked in our favor this time because we got to perfect our act.
Deepa, was brewing deliciously strong coffee that day and I got fired up about an idea. We decided to make a 7 minute montage of songs from all corners of the earth and all different languages. We sang and had teachers and students dance/act it out. Wow was it a blast. And a huge hit. The kids were floored. The group of students who helped were so influential. if not for them we would have given up. But it was John who stole the show with his David Bowie rendition. Deepa can be seen doing her Indian cultural dance in the beginning. And Alex can be found singing his favorite Colombian song half way through.
Whole video of assembly
You can find my James Brown remake around 4:40 seconds.
Today we welcomed some potential students and parents to AAVN. Its not my ideal way to spend a Saturday, but I made an exception because coffee and snacks were provided. I think its an appropriate request of the administration to ask teachers to come in and do a mock lesson. Its part of what keeps students coming here. Its also the reason I get paid every month.
This was a really fun day to try something that our students learn on day one of film class and "wow" our incoming students and parents. We used the green screen app on an ipad to bring our guests to a UNESCO world heritage site in Vietnam. They chose Ha Long Bay and were amazed by the results. Its really a simple tool that does all the work. The app is for sale for $3 on the App store. I know people who refuse to ever pay for an app, but it does such a better job than the free versions. Kids in my social Studies class use this to recreate a dramatic scene in history or predict what the global issues of the future will be.
One of the few luxuries I miss about life back West are homemade pancakes. Iv'e stumbled across a few good egg sandwich shops and proper English breakfast joints, but hardly ever do I find a good pancake. There was one location in District 2 called Villa Song that does good french toast and pancakes. This place has a view beside the river that's to die for, but at 160,000 VND (8 USD) plus a coffee and some sides, you leave there with a 15 USD breakfast. To me, that's unacceptable in Vietnam. I wouldn't pay $15 for eggs in the US. Not to mention the Vietnamese would think your crazy to spend that when you can have a perfectly good plate of com suan (rice and pork) for 35,000 VND ($1.50) pretty much anywhere,
A while back I read an article in one of the local magazines about the top breakfast spots in Saigon. For so long I couldn't find this place. I knew it was in Da Kao, and at the time I lived in Da Kao. Every weekend I drove around looking for this place. I forgot the name, the street and I couldn't find the article for the life of me. Then one day I went to a Cu Gach cafe, which is obvious from the side of the road. I noticed tucked back down a hem (alley) was a glowing little entry ( it glowed in my mind) and a sign that said "Bunker."
Since that day Bunker has been my go to pancake and weekend breakfast spot. They have lots on the menu to offer. They even started doing bottomless pancakes for 100,000 VND. ($5). Can't beat it! Good for a couple and small groups. Seating inside and out. Wait staff is awesome and bottomless coffee makes the conversation go round.
At the time of this blog entry, I've been in Saigon for a little more than 4 years. I've seen some incredible places and been on many fantastic journeys. One thing I always felt was missing was a good cabana bar by the beach. Growing up in Long Island, New York and working in the bars and restaurants of Freeport and Long Beach made me a sharp critic of a good beach bar. Fortunately, that bar has finally come to my recent home of Vietnam.
The selfish side of me wants to keep this place a secret to prevent an overflow of cheap backpackers, however, it would be a crime to deny the hard working people and family run restaurant from making a business. Cocobeachcamp, though owned and operated for 13 years by the same friendly owner, has just recently come on the scene as a worthwhile beach destination. They have done a fantastic job of promoting sustainability, enveloping their bungalows with a duck pond and vegetable gardens. Their small shacks and retrofitted campers are painted by a talented young French artist. They are a selfie goer's dream come true. During the weekday they have a very affordable dollar menu which includes beers and food.
Cocobeachcamp, three hours by bus (150,000 VND or 7.5 dollars) offers visitors tents for couples and large families. The tents have fans, pillows, sheets, mattresses and electricity available. Public showers and bathrooms are available to all. The campers, and huts range from 30- 50 USD a night, depending on the season. If your a foreigner, try to avoid the Vietnamese holidays, unless you want a real dose of the culture. Vietnamese flock to this place to picnic, photo op and enjoy the beach. Its no secret to the locals anymore, as there isn't a whole lot to do in the town of Lagi. Please be appreciative of the hard work and effort that 40 plus staff memebrs work in sync to make available to you. This type of service would cost you a minimum of 6 USD a beer back in the Western world. If you do make the trip and decide to go elsewhere there are a few knockoffs just beside Cocobeachcamp. There is also a little bit more luxury and isolation a few hundred meters North. If you want an entertaining DJ performance (music stops at 11ish), a seaside BBQ, fresh squeezed juices with custom cocktails, not to mention the variety of sporting activities offered during the day, Ccocbeaccamp is the place. Check it out and keep this hidden gem beautiful. Be nice to the staff. They are awesome people!
Psychology class has been such a rewarding experience. It’s a lot of work, but I strongly feel every class is so valuable to the students lives. I am anxious to come home and read the text book and find clever new ways to apply and share the concepts with class.
We watched some really fun prank videos that portray perception, analyzed experiments conducted by famous researchers like Milgram and his study of obedience, demonstrated some in-class activities on shaping and conditioning behavior, and learned how we learned by recreating studies like Bandura's bobo the clown experiment. The second half of the year we will focus on about 5 more chapters while simultaneously preparing them for their semester long research project. They will either create an experiment or create their own. I am very anxious to see what they come up with. Of Course, Syracuse requires I guide them, and thoroughly review them along the way.
This year I have two Technology Education assistants. This is more easily described as an internship for them. They are working closely beside me and learning how to use the latest gadgets at our school. We just received 2 new Go Pro 5, two DJI Osmos and Phantom drone. Additionally, they will be teaching other students how to use these items.
But this program is not all fun and games. I have asked them to make a year long goal sheet to share with me and each other. They will host workshops for teachers and students that focus on technology education "101" seminars. The whole year is going to be about learning and teaching themselves. They will shadow me, but I'll try to let them figure out as much on their own as possible.
Student Henry really wants to learn the Adobe products and create Adobe 101 lessons for students and teachers. Amy is really good at advertising and design so she'll make some graphics for school clubs. What got us really moving along was the advancements Google Sites has made. We share a page to communicate and mark down our ideas. I'm really looking forward to building these students into leaders and experts.
We recently purchased some google cardboard. Henry and Amy created a 7th grade science lesson. Students watched a 360 tour of inside the human cell. They were asked to identify several items and then label it on a handout. We could have lowered our expectations because all students had different phones and app restrictions by their parents made it difficult to get everyone on task. It worked much better to simulate a "Zombie attack" in my 11th grade global issues class. See images below.
Our school has a fantastic college preparation program they adopted from the United States. Syracuse University Project Advance trains teachers on their campus at Syracuse to instruct introductory level courses. Last year I had the opportunity to study Entrepreneurship. It was a semester long course with with sections. It was fast paced and very much learn on the go. Like AP or IB, SUPA sets the bar very high. The workload is three x times a high school class. If it's your first time teaching a college course, you may feel constantly unprepared. However, the thrill of providing a class of this stature to your students makes it all worth it in the end. If the students successfully complete the course, they will receive three transferable college credits from Syracuse.
This year I applied for Psychology. We figured it's one of the most common courses taken by an undergraduate student. The course will be one section, one year long. This should make it easier to focus on fundamentals and in depth coverage.It should be a challenge for me, academically, but I am confident Syracuse has given me the material and training to provide a quality instruction.
The Sunbear Sound launched their second film festival towards the end of the school year. It was bigger and more entertaining than ever. It topok me a few weeks to get this post together because the end of the year is just jam packed with special events. I'm always the first to jump at a role in a big project. Thankfully, most of my colleagues enjoy team work. It makes collaboration much easier and likely to happen.
This year we had more students involved in film making than the previous year. We had 27 video submissions. Some of them were really well done. It was difficut process to chose the winner. We decided to let the students narrow down the top seven. In order to prevent any bias voting towards friends, myself and two other teachers picked the top three.
It was one of our team members who helped promote the event. His trailer was the reason so many people joined. We had to play it again at the beginning of our event. Below you kind find the link. The student who created this is currently in 10th grade and will be joining our team again next year. The kids all received trophies and certificates recognizing their valiant effort.
We successfully completed our first TEDx event. TEDxISHCMCAmericanAcademy was a year in the making. This was hands down the most exciting part of my career. I am thankful to all those who helped make it possible.
To orchestrate a successful event, you don't need a rule book. You'll need about 100 rulebooks. TED has guidelines for you to adapt the TEDx Brand legally. If it was an easy event, everyone would be doing it. What made it possible was the incredible Co Organizer I had, the incredible support I got from teachers and the hidden talent held by our students.
For the schools or teachers that are eager to run their own TEDx event, I would like to give you three key pieces of advice. First and foremost, make sure its something everyone wants to do. Without buy-in, you'll never get off the ground. Administration marketing, teachers and parents all need to know in advance this is a school priority. Secondly, be certain you have a core group of teachers and students to head the event. Explaining the complicated jargon TED uses and weeding through the fine print is a full time job. Without a team to do this, you'll burn your teachers out. Students or a TEDx club can be an invaluable resource. And third, start small. There is no need to make this the biggest event your school has ever seen. The more speakers you bring in, the more time the event will take, the more training you have to do. All this will lead to less quality and overlooking of detail. Paying attention to detail is so crucial.
If you still need some advice on whether or not a TEDx event is for you, let me tell you,it is! It won't be easy, but it will all be worth it. I suggest going to a nearby TEDx event and participating in the follow-up dialogues held a day after.
Please take a look at our event and watch some of the students Tedx Talks here
Tet is coming! TET is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. I aligns with most of Asia in their Lunar New Year. This whole continent is celebrating at the same time. But each country has its own unique culture and storyline for this holiday. All sorts of delicious snacks like, bánh chưng (see below) are created for this holiday. Teams of dragon performers run around the city banging on drums. There used to be an awesome display of fireworks, but the government recently put a crack down on that. You can read about it in this english version of Vietnamese news online Tuoitrenews.com or Saigoneer
I've been studying vietnamese for a bit over a year now (on an off). I wish I would have started earlier. It really is a fun language to learn (once you get it). Tonal and complicated, words don't sound like words and the letters all sound different from what you think they sound like. To my ear I'll say a word correctly, but a vietnamese person will have no idea what I mean until I guess the tone a few more times. Know the language or not, the vietnamese people are very curious about us foreigners. Particularly in the country side, vietnamese people will ask you a lot of personal questions. This is just their way of showing they are interested in you. The first 3 questions are almost always: :Where are you from? How old are you? Are you married yet? Even in cities you'll be greeted with a smile by a taxi driving lounging on his motorcyle reading the newspaper while having a coffee and smoke. It's an incredible place to live, and the sights never get old. You may become immune to the #stuffonthebacksofbikes , but its always exciting to face the road and watch.
Recently, I have been studying with VLS. They are very professional, welcoming, accommodating and enthusiastic about teaching. As a teacher myself, I find it nice to be on the other end of the table and have a professional teach (try to teach) me. They run field trips and charity programs. They are passionate about what they do. When they asked me to be in a video to promote their school, as embarrassing as I knew it would be, I knew I was helping them with their business. If it can helps them continue the awesome program they are doing,I'll make a video every week.
We've made some significant improvements since last year. Things are growing! It helps to have a massive rainy season. But with the rain came floods. We had a few emergencies with the drainage on our roof and in our garden beds. With a bit more time on our hands, Mr Tatloack and I have been able to experiment with a few projects. We got some funding to buy plants thanks to our AD Darren. It actually looks like a garden now. Now that rainy season is over we are hoping to get some coverage from the blazing sun soon to keep our plants alive. Plants grow well, vegetables need a lot of care. Take a look at the most recent photo and see how much fun these kids have after school.
Learning2 just took place, in Ho chi Minh City.It was the second L2 I attended. I suggested it for most of my colleagues. Though it was applicable to most of them, you usually get out what you put in. I attended all three days of the event. Last year I came away with hundreds of ideas and I tried to implement all of them at once!. This time around I told myself I was going to try to hone in on one great idea. Well... that didn't work. Though my plans for this school year aren't as grandiose, there are many ways I can have a positive impact on the school. Two major projects I am taking away are: To build our schools technology department so we have a team of tech teachers to integrate technology, Ensure all our students have a blog/ online presence that they can build and take with them when the graduate. This may even be a portfolio for them to keep all their work.I'll try to start this by helping increase student awareness of social media with our school twitter account and twitter beam.
But what I was most proud of was the performance my students made. For about 3 weeks we prepared a presentation to give to teachers from around the world. Three students of the Sunbearsound put together an incredible presentation to show off what they've been doing for the last year. Actually, L2 is where the idea came from. When I was in Manila I saw a group of students present about the Bamboo Telegraph. My principal and colleagues we so impressed by the presentation they give. They even put together their own video for the event. Have a look below
What started off as an idea, quickly morphed into a massive event on March 4, 2017. The strategy to slowly integrate TED talks into our assemblies and homerooms created a "TED culture" in our school. Soon students were looking to create their own TED Ed club. Four months into the school year and the kids are actively helping to organize the event. after a long and tedious audition process, we had to make some difficult decision. we chose the best 12 speakers based on their 3 minute pitch. No buy in from our neighboring school, which is unfortunate because all our speakers are students.
In order to increase buy in for this event I promised to make it happen with very few meetings. And the meetings we did have would not be our traditional agendas. Instead, I cranked AC DC and asked teachers to come for a 20 minute meeting after school. Most of the teachers had other responsibilities that day, but still made it. I hope this was because of our hand delivered invitations. It had that dramatic effect. Teachers were happy to be there and the objective was simple; find out your role. The meeting only lasted 15 minutes, so they all left happy.
Now, with the help of the volunteers and the dedication of the TED Ed club, my co organizer, Andrew Mathie, and I can focus on accomplishing some tasks. We are thrilled to have such dedicated staff. The first week of speaker coaching has happened. The kids will have over 3 months to put together their presentation and the best part is they'll have a coach along the way. There's so much more to say about this, but in all honesty I don't have a time. Organizing an event of this magnitude is a fulltime job. so I'll update when we've some more information. Below are some students gaining real life experience marketing our event.
The Moon festival of Vietnam, the first major holiday of the school calendar year, came and went already. The kids had been preparing this event since the second week of classes. Its a holiday with folklore and family traditions. I think it sums hope the historical legends of Vietnamese history with a touch of magic. Think of it like a cross between Christmas and Memorial day in the US.
School has been well underway and the fun is in full swing. After schools activities have taken control of the school. Boys basketball and volleyball, gardening club, board games and the Sunbear Sound are all at maximum occupancy.
The start of the new school year was much smoother than last year. We had 150 new students! Our total student number increased by about 60 students. Many students graduated or left to go to school in the US. Its hard to retain these students for their entire high school career, but we wish them the best. Here are a few photos of our Moon Festival
The following is the letter I sent to my students following the completion of their Passion Projects. They worked on this for a few hours each week for 6 months. What they came up with was remarkable and reminds me why I am a teacher.
You all did such and amazing job! I am so unbelievable proud of you. You are the first class I ever did the passion projects with and you far exceeded my expectations. You should feel very accomplished.
Hopefully this project steers you in the right direction, or even changes your mind about your career aspirations. You can consider it, for some of you, a mini internship. I've seen a lot of great projects in my 5 years teaching, but nothing, I mean nothing, comes close to seeing you create something you are passionate about. Some of you sang, while others cooked. Some of you designed and created while a few you traveled. A couple of you pursued philosophical ideas or focused on a unique area of interest like trends around the world. Many of you failed, failed and failed again until one day you succeeded. That moment when your idea became a reality brings me joy. When your smile indicates you found something you loved it brings a tear to my eye and makes me proud to be your teacher.
I know this project was hard, and I know it was long. Several of you emailed me at late hours of the night concerned about the legitimacy or the eligibility of your project. You all figured it out on your own in the end. You managed your own time and broadened your knowledge. Your pursued something inside you, something a standardized tests could never bring out. I want to say thank you for allowing me to be a part of something so great!
Please watch yourselves and leave a comment about one of your classmates! I'd like to see a discussion started and some positive thoughts exchanged about what your classmates did.
Pay attention to your speaking skills and learn what you can improve on."
I kept them off of the school website to maintain your privacy. With your permission I will add them to our school Youtube channel.
Here they are on my personal blog
This is the playlist, if your video is not on there its only because I haven't labeled it yet and well fix it tomorrow.
The event was a huge success. With a lack of rehearsal and last minute videos changes, the students were all a bit nervous. The best part about this whole event was watching the faces of students who are generally quiet light up as their images and videos came on the big screen. The Sunbear Sound Team did an incredible job putting it all together at the last minute. The feedback from teachers was all positive and the kids are already talking about next year. This was such an amazing event to be a part of. I am proud to say I work atISHCMC-American Academy
My latest endeavor at AAVN was not actually my idea. In fact, the film festival idea belonged to my awesome principal, however, he conceded he has no idea how to plan something like that. We were just chit chatting about all the great things we can do at our school and the fun we have doing it . He told me a story about a colleague who once hosted a film festival with other international schools. I thought, "whoa, that's the real deal. Lets do it!" Only we wouldn't start out as grand because we've already got a lot of creative ideas floating up in the air. A few devoted students in our 1x a week meetings would be the ones who really put this together. After all the Sunbear Sound video club was not part of my job description coming into the school, but the club was created because of the video creating passion all the students and I shared.
As we speak, the kids are working on invitations, web design, the logistics of the event, ways to promote, advertisements and trailers to show at the next assembly. Getting them to all work on a common project really united the club. I told them they all have to submit a video for the festival too. They were thrilled about being able to showcase their work in a friendly competition.
As soon as the idea emerged it took on this whole new dimension spun into a partial grammy-like event. The kids want to wear a suit and gown while they walk the red carpet and receive trophies for their work (well see how that goes on a Thursday night after school). I am so thrilled to be leading this initiative. The video culture in our school has kids working on projects for classroom presentations in nearly every class. They love it. The event has given me more duties and responsibility to ensure the event runs smoothly, but its worth it to see so many kids are creating! A few students recently got detention for filming after school unsupervised. And a big thanks to our school marketing team who are going to help us host the event. I cant wait to show off the videos.
Below is the advertisement they came up with!
They also started a news and video segment to inform the student body of upcoming events
What an amazing opportunity it was to be part of something so real and so valuable to other people's lives.
With that said, let me back track. After studying our unit on the world's food supply, students were assigned with a public service campaign as their project. This aligned perfectly with the upcoming TET holiday. Two groups of students from two different classes came up with the idea of a food drive. I had to push them a little bit in the right direction, but most of what was done was completed entirely by them. For two weeks, before and after school, students made announcements to the student body and took turns standing by the gate to collect donations. We gained some support and organization from the Global Issues Network (GIN) in our school.
Gin helped us contact families and friends in desperate need of support during TET. It was originally supposed to feed 7 families, but that number quickly increased to 80 by the end of the first week! We were collected sugar, oil rice and dry food. 80 families living in the countryside revived a large food donation from our students before the holidays. When they asked me to come deliver the food I felt honored.
We took a two hour trip to the countryside and spent the whole day meeting younger kids and their families. The high school students ran fun demo lessons and sang songs with the children. It was such a delight to be part of this. They made me prouder than ever to be their Teacher. The students even spent another weekend delivering remaining food to other families. They truly gained a valuable experience during all of this and one that may change the course of their careers.
Not too long ago we were just some students with a passion for making videos (myself included because I'm a beginner). It was a film shown in the first assembly that grabbed the schools attention. I made a fun infomercial to explain what type of device was approved for class. After that, more and more kids wanted to make videos for our assemblies. The student council had some talented film producers and so did GIN. I grabbed the most talented student and asked her to help build a program. Gradually, we gained some traction and started meeting as a group once a week.
We had 2 cameras and only one of them had a working battery. We had dozens of wires that I still don't know what they're for. Luckily the kids had their own cameras. We discovered it doesn't take much filming to make a great film, We have Adobe premiere pro and effects as our a editing software . The hard part was deciding what to produce. Was it just for fun and games or was it to get an important message out to kids? Either way we had to compete with our neighbor and friendly rival ISHCMC who had a whole program devoted to video production. We settled on the idea that our videos would unite the school and community in an entertaining way.
The professional development I attended in Manila, Learning 2, which is the source of a lot of this years ideas, lead to another development in our group. Three students at the International School of Manila held a cohort for a school news channel. The Bamboo Telegraph is entirely student ran with state of the art of equipment. The Program has been around for 20 years. Those kids were so talented and so confident speaking in front of a room full of teachers (I think they knew they were brighter than us). If I wanted to build our schools group within my two year contract I knew we had to act fast. Upon my return to ISHCMC American Academy I asked the video club to think of a name so we could buy the domain. Behold The Sunbear Sound
We are currently working with the school magazine to develop a fully online platform for appropriate, school related articles and entertainment that is entirely produced by the students.
Here is a taste of what we produce:
Hi, I'm Bill. This site is currently under construction. Please provide your feedback