I’ve been back in Canada for four weeks and I finally had a chance to put together a slideshow of my time in Vietnam (10 months in 3 minutes!). It was fun to review my pictures and select from them a variety that I hope show..

  • I had a great time.
  • There was a significant amount of work involved.
  • I got to see and experience places and events I’ll never forget.
  • I loved the people I got to work with.
  • I made friends that I hope will be in my life forever.
  • Vietnam is BEAUTIFUL.


Short Days?…Short Months?…Must be Winter

December went by in a blur here in Vietnam. I started the month in the City of Phan Thiết at Bình Thuận Community College. My first thought on arriving after a six hour drive from Saigon was…”Crap…Why did I insist one week would be enough time here?!” BTCC is across the street from the beach and ten minutes away from the awesome resort area of Mui Ne where I spent a leisurely long weekend after the a week of presentations and classes…



Leaving Mui Ne we toured a Sapa Valley Wine Castle on the outskirts of town before heading to the airport. Yep…that would be Sapa Valley as in California, USA…at least that what all the labels said. Obviously, international trade has made the world a very small place…

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Back in Hanoi there were Christmas celebrations and going away dinners. Although international schools closed for the holidays and many embassies hosted holiday functions… 


Christmas Day  was a regular work day for most Vietnamese…Here the big seasonal celebration is the ‘real’ New Year (according to the lunar calendar) on January 31st . This is Tet Holiday and it is BIG…every bit as big as a western Christmas with all the same themes: family, gifts, food, parties, prayer.  January 1st may not be the official start to 2014 in Vietnam but that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying New Year’s Eve western…I mean…Gangnam style!

Kien Giang Economic and Technology College


I am just finishing up two weeks working at Kien Giang Economic and Technology College. It’s amazing what you can fit into two weeks! There has been a lot of work accomplished. I taught IT classes, worked with various faculty, and we translated our way through several presentations and workshops.

Kien Giang is the Province; Rach Gia is the city. It is remote. It took us three hours to drive here from Can Tho airport, which is itself 170km south of Saigon. I’m not the only Westerner in town, but I haven’t met the other two.  People are sometimes surprised that I will travel alone to really remote areas to work. But, the truth is that when you work as an international volunteer, you are never alone. You are picked up at the airport, delivered to your accommodations, escorted to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You are given guided tours of the area; you are provided with a full-time translator…and you always get to hang out with the brightest and most personable people. My working visit to KGTec did not disappoint.


Rach Gia is a seaside city; fishing is the main industry and very fresh seafood of all types is on every menu.(I tried jellyfish for the first time!) 

The city also has its share of history and temples and character..



I got to enjoy my first National Teacher’s Day..TeachersDay8TeachersDay4 VID00020 

On the weekend, I  traveled with several staff members to the tourist district of Ha Tien. It is at the western end of the Mekong Delta close to the Cambodian border. Although a tourist spot, it doesn’t see many western visitors due to its remoteness. 049

We bought fresh crabs and had the seaside restaurant cook them for us and swam in the Gulf of Thailand…


On the way we stopped at two mountains where stunning natural caves are used as temples.  At Da Dung Mountain a path goes around the mountain (a great up and down workout!) and there are several caves which serve as “cave temples”. It’s definitely a very special place and I’m so glad I got to visit..

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On Tuesday evening I was a judge for the First Annual Canadian- American Cultural Challenge. That was fun!..



And on my last day at KGTec, I enjoyed a review meeting and a farewell dinner to which I wore my new áo dài…(What a fantastic gift!)

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Lots of new friends and lots of memories!

Meanwhile, in the south…

009So I’m off tomorrow to Kien Giang. Had I known I would be travelling to the very south of Vietnam to work at a Community College there, I may not have decided to fly to Phu Quoc Island last weekend on a 4-day vacation. But, I had planned this getaway with a friend long before my schedule of work visits in the south were set and before Typhoon Haiyan threatened to wreak havoc in central and northern Vietnam. And that’s why I got to spend last weekend on the beach.

Phu Quoc Island is, in four words: beaches, fish, pepper, and pearls. They also have a National Park where we went kayaking and hiking, and while we had a lovely day, at the end of it our consensus was “It’s hard to impress a Canadian with lakes and forests…” Now, back to the beaches, food, and pearls…

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Watch out for low hanging bananas!


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I finally did it! I jumped into Hanoi traffic on a bike…and survived! Okay, I cheated a bit, because I chose a day-trip to Middle Island where there are no roads, no cars, no trucks, and only a handful of motorbikes…But I had to navigate Xuan Dieu and cross Au Co at Yen Phu to get there and these are some of THE worst streets in Hanoi…(I’d tell you why, except I’d insult a whole bunch of expats.)  I can’t emphasize enough what a big step this was for me. Suffice to say, I left my neighbor with specific instructions about where my passport and medical coverage documents were…just in case.

MiddleislandSo, within only a few nerve-jangling kilometers my friends and I found ourselves on the extraordinary Middle Island. Extraordinary because it is a stretch of farmland in the middle of the Red River, in the middle of Hanoi. I’m not an expert on cities (realizing THAT more and more…) but as I understand it, not many of them have urban farms where produce can be transported to markets…by motorbike of course!..within an hour.producebikePatMiddleIslandOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pathways that run up and down Middle  Island meander through fields of corn, cabbage, sweet potato, thyme (…Oh, you should smell the thyme!) and banana palms…Bunches of bananas hanging over pathways at face level were definitely the main biking hazard. 


For the last two weeks in November I’m travelling to the much quieter Kien Giang Province…(Yeah, I know…lucky me!) and I do believe I’ll be renting a bike…

Saigon Polytechnic College and Cu Chi

2W9B6407aI have been working at Saigon Polytechnic for the past ten days. I continue to be impressed by the VACC member colleges. Again, I have arrived at a college where the administration and the staff are highly qualified, enthusiastic, and engaged. With the credentials of the faculty (many have Master degrees and a few have, or are working on, PHDs)  this could easily be a University but they have embraced the Community College model and they are focused on service to students and the community. Translated, that means the College has full classes seven days a week from 7:30am to 9:00pm to accommodate students who happen to be working. They even have an arrangement with one of the local employers for a bus to bring students, who are also employees, to and from the College.

Saigon Polytechnic is only four years old and I am the first international visitor. They have a great apartment on campus and they stocked it with coffee, crackers, treats…They also gave me my own fully equipped office…

The campus is actually located outside of Ho Chi Minh City in Cu Chi District. I knew of Cu Chi because it is where the famous Cu Chi tunnels are located. Two hundred and fifty kilometers of tunnels connecting six villages that served as headquarters for the Vietcong in South Vietnam during the war. How much nerve and ingenuity was required to live (to survive!) just 35K away from the American/South Vietnam Saigon headquarters throughout that war?  I have learned a lot about the Vietnam (American) War in the past five months but I must say the perspective from Cu Chi is much different.  While there are some fascinating stories and the war certainly set the economy back, Vietnam is a country that is looking ahead and glad to be united.

For now I’ll post some pictures of our day at the tunnels because I can hear that the volleyball game between SPC and the team from the Local Authority is starting and I must go cheer for the College!

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Be Where You Are…


Today I visited the Old Quarter of Hanoi for the first time in months. I needed to buy a new pair of sun glasses and I knew a street in the quarter where I could select from Dolce & Gabbana, Channel, or Ray Ban for $10 a pair. That errand done, I wandered down to Hoam Kiem Lake cursing the traffic and the crowds along the way. I was thinking about my upcoming trip to Saigon, the workshop I had to give on Wednesday, tropical storm Gabriel in Nova Scotia…

As I entered the park at the lake and walked past the Ngoc Son Temple a voice in my head, (Oh, come on! We all have them…) said,…”Be where you are.” Blame it on reading too much about Buddhism or just getting weird in my old age, but, I’ve started listening more to those voices…and I looked up…The Ngoc Son Temple  (Temple of Jade Mountain) is stunning. It was built in the 18th Century on Jade Island.  Jade Island is connected to the shore of Hoan Kiem Lake by the red, wooden The Huc (Morning Sunlight) Bridge.  I’ve included pictures of the temple and the bridge to show you just how beautiful they are. Without that voice in my head, I would have walked past…head down…negotiating with locals and tourists and vendors and motorbikes for sidewalk space. Instead I sat on a bench and watched a couple having wedding photos taken, watched tourists take pictures from the bridge, watched a group of old (old!) men practicing tie chi, and became mindful of where I was.
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Mindfulness is not a strong suite of mine. No matter where I am, my mind is usually somewhere else.

And speaking of somewhere else…
Last week I was cleaning up my photos and came across several I had taken while hiking at Sugar Moon Farm in Nova Scotia last fall… I wonder where I was thinking about that day at Sugar Moon…

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Dong Thap

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I have been in the Mekong Delta for the past two weeks working at Dong Thap Community College. Dong Thap is the province. Cao Lanh is a small town three hours from Saigon…I mean…Ho Chi Minh City. (…Let’s talk about changing the name a city of 7.5 million people from a name it’s had since the 1860s!!)

Cao Lanh has been both quiet and busy. There are 2500 students at the College and a few pretty nice networking labs. We installed Moodle (twice, actually…an English Server and a Vietnamese server), talked about switches, routers, lifelong learning, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. I even got to teach Cisco’s Packet Tracer program to forty-five IT students. I was surprised at how easy it was to teach IT even though none of the students spoke English. An IP address is an IP address and a ping is a ping…no English required!


I arrived one day before the full moon…and that’s important because the pagodas were ready for the Moon Festival…I joined two young volunteers from Italy and Spain to visit the Hoa Long Pagoda.

On the weekend I travelled to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon and joined a few friends from Hanoi and about a hundred new friends for the 1200th Saigon Hash. My camera decided that the serious rain on Saturday was something I should have protected it from and now it refuses to work.


Luckily, I had a backup camera, because today we went to the Gao Giong Eco-tourism area. We paddled through beautiful marshes and enjoyed a very traditional lunch…Along with Lotus seeds and morning glories, sour soup with eel, field rat, snake head fish, and snails were all on the menu…(If this sounds a bit fear factor, remember…in Nova Scotia we eat lobster and they aren’t very pretty.)

This evening is a cultural exchange evening for the English class. Spanish dance, Italian games, and Vietnamese songs…I’m looking forward to it!

Some more photos…

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Service Learning

Dưới đây là bản tiếng Việt

Summer 2011 106

“In doing we learn.”
George Herbert

Service learning happens along a scale which goes from volunteering on the one hand to learning on the other. Pure volunteering, without an advancement of knowledge, is not service learning. Neither is a situation where you gain knowledge and learn but make no contribution. Somewhere in between is the situation where you give and at the same time as you give, you learn and grow. To gain knowledge and skills while you are helping or producing something of value for someone else, is the ideal “win-win” situation.

Service learning, as with most learning, is often encountered outside of the classroom. However, service learning projects used as a learning experience within a formal course, should have very specific learning outcomes, which are linked to the course, as well as appropriate assessments.

For example, in 2011, I traveled, along with another faculty member and two IT students, to Tanzania to install a computer network in a Vocational Education Training Authority (VETA) in Mikumi National Park.

Our service mandate and learning objectives were identified before we left:

Provide VETA Mikumi with a sustainable network infrastructure that would interconnect workstations in an Intranet, providing content management and learning management systems as well as providing optimized access to the Internet; using technologies and equipment suitable for the operating environment at VETA Mikumi.

For our students, the Mikumi project addressed the following learning objectives:

  • Apply problem solving strategies in situations where the problems and desired solutions are both clear and unclear.
  • Communicate information and ideas in ways that are appropriate to the purpose and audience through oral, written, and graphic means.
  • Use information gathering techniques, analyze and evaluate information, and use information technology to assist in the collecting, analyzing, organizing, and presenting of information.
  • Manage and direct one’s own learning.
  • Work with others as a member of a team to achieve a shared goal, help other people to learn on the job, and respond effectively to the needs of a client.

The two NSCC students who traveled to Tanzania had, I feel, an ideal service learning experience. They used their skills, their knowledge, and their experience to install a sable, reliable network infrastructure   at  the  Mikumi  Campus.   They  learned  about  teamwork, communication, the reality of technology in the field, and  the value of a global perspective. The project was what service learning should be: effective, rewarding, and enjoyable.

Vietnamese version by:
Nguyen Thi Nhung 
Training cum International Collaboration Specialist
Center of Training and Enterprise Co-operation Tra Vinh University

Học tập thông qua phục vụ cộng đồng

Học tập thông qua phục vụ cộng đồng diễn ra theo một tiến trình từ việc tình nguyện đến học tập . Hoạt động tình nguyện đơn thuầ, không nâng cao kiến thức thì không được gọi là Service learning. Hoặc trong trường hợp người học lĩnh hội được kiến thức nhưng không có đóng góp cho cộng đồng thì cũng không phải là Service learning. Có những tình huống khi bạn bạn cho đi điều gì đó, và cùng lúc bạn cũng học được điều gì đó thì đó cũng được gọi là Service learning. Lĩnh hội được kiến thức và kỹ năng trong khi bạn đang giúp đỡ hoặc tạo ra giá trị cho người khác là tình huống điển hình hai bên cùng có lợi.

Service learning, như hầu hết các hình thức học tập khác thường diễn ra bên ngoài lớp học. Tuy nhiên những dự án Service learning được sử dụng trong một khóa học chính thống thì cần có yêu cầu về kết quả học tập đầu ra rõ ràng liên quan đến khóa học, và có phương pháp đánh giá phù hợp.

Ví dụ:

Năm 2011, tôi đi du lịch với một giáo viên khác và 2 sinh viên CNTT đến Tanzania để lắp đặt mạng máy tính cho một Cơ quan Đào tạo dạy nghề (VETA) ở công viên quốc gia Mikumi.

Nhiệm vụ và mục đích học tập đều được xác định trước khi chúng tôi đi:

Cung cấp cho VETA Mikumi hệ thống mạng ổn định mà có thể kết nối các máy tính trong  mạng nội bộ, cung cấp hệ thống quản lý nội dung và quản lý học tập, cũng như cho phép truy cập Internet tối ưu, sử dụng công nghệ và thiết bị phù hợp với môi trường hoạt động tại VETA Mikumi.

Với sinh viên, dự án Mikumi đề ra những mục tiêu học tập sau:

  • Áp dụng chiến lược giải quyết vấn đề trong 2 trường hợp là các vấn đề và giải pháp mong muốn đều rõ ràng và không rõ ràng.
  • Truyền đạt thông tin và ý tưởng một cách phù hợp với mục đích đã đặt ra và quan sát thông qua các phương tiện : văn bản nói, văn bản viết và  biểu đồ.
  • Sử dụng các kỹ thuật thu thập thông tin, phân tích và đánh giá thông tin, và sử dụng công nghệ thông tin để hỗ trợ  việc thu thập, phân tích, tổ chức và trình bày thông tin.
  • Quản lý và chỉ đạo việc học tập của chính mình.
  • Làm việc với những thành viên khác của nhóm để đạt được mục tiêu chung, giúp đỡ người khác tìm hiểu về công việc, và đáp ứng hiệu quả nhu cầu của khách hàng.

Hai sinh viên NSCC đi du lịch tới Tanzania đã có trải nghiệm về Service learning rất tuyệt vời. Họ đã sử dụng các kỹ năng, kiến ​​thức và kinh nghiệm của họ để cài đặt một hệ thống mạng ổn định và có uy tín tại trường Mikumi. Họ đã học được kinh nghiệm về làm việc nhóm, giao tiếp, thực tế về công nghệ, và giá trị của góc nhìn toàn cầu. Dự án có kết quả đúng với bản chất của Service learning: hiệu quả, bổ ích và thú vị.

Tìm hiểu thêm về Service learning ở Viet Nam:

Tra Vinh University in the Mekong Delta


Vietnam is 1,650 kilometers long and at the narrowest point about 50 kilometers wide. The Mekong Delta is the southernmost tip. So, it took a two hour plane ride and another two hours by car to arrive at Tra Vinh University. Tra Vinh hasn’t been a University for long. It started out as a Community College in 2001 under the Vietnam and Canada Community College Project. Today it has ~20,000 students and has 26 degree and diploma programs. Tra Vihn is a success story. Actually, that’s the reason I was there…to document best practices. This is the type of success the VACC wants to duplicate at other colleges in the country. It was really cool to spend time with the instructors from the Cisco Networking Academy. I’ve been an editor with the Cisco for several years now and it’s pretty neat to see the curriculum you worked on in English being taught in Vietnamese in the Mekong.

These are some photos I took of the Mekong Delta…IMG_0106 - Copy

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