It all started with a: “Are you English? Do you have some time to speak with us?”.
This afternoon I was strolling down Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker area in Saigon, on my way to Ben Thanh market when I got suddenly surrounded by a group of Vietnamese students, like I was some sort of movie star.
“Why not?” I thought. After my catch up with some Vietnamese friends in the morning I had no real plans for the rest of the day. So I sat on the pavement with the students and for almost an hour I was bombarded with questions about my job, my home country, my opinions of Vietnam. My not-married status, together with my age, (yes, these were some of the questions too) shocked some of the girls but I will survive….
Although only a handful of the students around me actually asked me questions, there were at least fifteen of them eagerly listening to everything I had to say. They also showed me photos of Vietnam, told me about their studies and their hometowns.
“Talking with the tourist” – as these University students explained to me – is an initiative that gives students in Vietnam the opportunity to practice their English with tourists. They even have a website (click here) and a Facebook group!
The Saigon group uses the Pham Ngu Lao park as its area of action. As I looked around while sitting with them I realised that there were at least another 5-6 backpackers in the same situation as me.
These students also hand out a self-made booklet with some Saigon travel tips, from price lists to how to find toilets, how to cross the road, some useful sentences in Vietnamese (which I was unable to pronounce properly…), and a small map of the city centre. And at the end of my ‘interview’ they even gave me a small gift – a handmade bracelet – to thank me for my time.
What a great idea from these kids, and what a nice experience for us foreigners too :-).
So if you are in Saigon and keen on spending some time speaking English with local students, head to Pham Ngu Lao!