Abby Mensing with Nguyen Hai Quan, foreign-teacher liaison at the School of Social Sciences, Can Tho University

Abby Mensing with Nguyen Hai Quan, foreign-teacher liaison at the School of Social Sciences, Can Tho University

My sojourn thus far in Can Tho can be characterized as one of movement; I have somehow let go of all the paralyzing, overly-analytical dross in order to go. Not always forward, because there have been curious curves and the occasional stumble backward, but always, always there is the sensation of motion. Emotional duality reigns here. I feel as if I have roots grounding me deep beneath the earth of the delta’s waters and yet, it is this very stability that seems to be allowing me to flow with the metaphorical life river here. Nor do I feel as if I’m merely being carried along by the current; rather, I find myself wanting to dive in and swim.

Perhaps it’s due to the atmosphere of the Can Tho with its steady, forward beat.  This is never more striking than during flood season; despite the almost impassable roads and waterlogged streets, people are out in them, going about their lives. I myself have been tugged forward by this attitude.With the rain falling in torrents around me, I all could think was that my water-logged self had to make it to class. Drenched, I did and was rewarded by a student telling me that his damp classmates came for me.  The only truthful response to offer was that I came for them.

During my office hours one of my students, Nhut, told me that his first memory of me was of me jumping down from the teachers’ platform in front of the blackboard and onto the floor, level with the students. He wondered where I get my energy from. If my students like Nhut, Candy and Y tell me that they love how I move about the classroom or how expressive I am or how I used my voice to illuminate meaning, they have themselves to thank. It is rather a glorious feedback loop; I will gladly throw myself into the role of teacher because of how rewarding they are to teach. Nhut added that he was awarding me a point for my willingness to lie down on the floor in order to illustrate the expression “to get back on one’s feet.” He said that he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing and I’ll admit that I paused momentarily, wondering about the folly of such an act. Would I make myself ridiculous? But then the certainty that this is the sort of teacher I am compelled me into motion. To the floor I went just so that I could stand up again.

This isn’t to say that every moment has brimmed with honey and sunshine. My mercurial third-years often give the impression that they are entering the throes of adolescence rather than maturing into their twenties. Occasionally, the lack of direction from the English Department can be maddening and the uncertainty about scheduling can be frustrating. However my second-year students have moved me those most deeply of anything that I have experienced here.

They inhabit the marrow of me. The ferocity of my fondness for them has surprised me; they tapped into a well of love I wasn’t aware that I possessed. Candy’s bright eyes and innocent pleasure, Xuyên’s cheery loquaciousness, Mas’ gentle good-humor and dedication, Money struggling to keep his composure during a role-playing exercise and Fast’s effortless charm: they are the cherished recompense for hours of lesson planning. Or the moments like when I praised Nhut for his kind encouragement of his fellow classmates. Watching him fold into himself as if the pleasure of being praised were a tangible thing to curl his body around; I wasn’t aware that sweetness could pierce the heart so.

The journey to Can Tho was a leap of faith; a jump into the unknown.I set myself into motion and the impossibility of stagnation here delights me. The unpredictability of my days charms me. Jumping onto the floor put me right in the midst of my students, altering our mutual perspectives of one another.They have helped me see myself as capable of accomplishing what I thought that I couldn’t and, I hope, that I have helped them do the same. Just today, while enjoying iced tea, one of my quieter students told me how she hated English in high school but after studying with me she wants to improve. The complete credit cannot be all mine, but the joy is knowing that we’re willing to leap together. My dearest wish for next semester is that my students and I will be able to walk over the emotional bridges we’ve built together as unexpected horizons unfurl before us.