A week ago this Monday the Convent of the Most Holy Rosary, the location of the House of Studies in the Vietnamese Province, underwent a huge change. Not only did the English classes start for 31 of the student brothers in Vietnam but everything (well not everything—the signs are still in Vietnamese) has been changed into English. As a part of trying to help the brothers integrate English into their lives the entire Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and prayers at the dinner table are being done in English. For the first ten days in Vietnam Br. Patrick and I listened to everything being done in Vietnamese. After a couple days of being in the convent (what would call a priory in the US) we caught on to what was happening. About ten days ago everything changed into English and by now the Vietnamese friars have it down.
Br. Patrick and I did not know much coming to Vietnam. We knew that the Master of the Order, Fr. Burno Cadoré, O.P., wanted us to help the Vietnamese student brothers learn English. What we have found out is that they already know a lot of English. In talking with some of the brothers we came to find they were taught English in primary school. One or two of the brothers have actually studied English at the university level. After being here for three weeks we have understood our mission much better. We are to help the brothers learn how to listen and speak in English. The hope is the brothers will learn how to converse easily in English with the ultimate goal of having some of the come to the United States to get a PhD.
This is my first time teaching English, but fortunately Br. Patrick has experience. Before he entered the Order he taught for one year at St. Michael Indian School in northern Arizona. The second week we were here we had a small introductory course, about nine brothers, to get our feet wet. Through the first week were able to get to know the brothers on a deeper level and also better understand their needs for learning English. Also helping us is Br. Huy (pronounced "Wee"). He is a student brother in the Vietnamese Province but has spent numerous years in other countries and is very good in English. He even speaks with an English accent!
I am beginning to feel more and more comfortable in the classroom after these first couple of weeks. It was difficult for me at first. For one, it is difficult to teach, but then on top of that to teach a subject I have never taught, to others who are trying to learn English by being taught only in English. Perhaps if I knew some Vietnamese it would be easier for both the brothers and I. I give more credit to the brothers than to myself. They have been very patient with me and have helped me along the way to understand their needs. Many of them have improved greatly after only the first week and continue to improve every day. Also I could not imagine what it would be like to completely change the language of your prayer and be expected to do that for the next four weeks. Hopefully in the future I will have the same opportunity.
The brothers here have been nothing but generous and zealous in trying to learn English. Many of the brothers are taking advantage of the opportunity and are talking with Br. Patrick and I at breakfast, lunch, dinner and after meals to improve their English. It is really impressive to see how committed they are, but I should not be very surprised, they are Dominicans after all. There is no zeal lacking in their desire to learn English, much less in learning to preach the Gospel in English for the salvation of souls. I look forward to the day when I will see some of them in the United States.