Jenni Cochran

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June 10, 2010

Jenni is about to embark on her second year teaching at SocTrang Community College in southern Vietnam. She first came to Soc Trang, aprovince six hours south of Ho Chi Minh City, in 2008 to study sustainablefarming. When the opportunity arose with PiA, Jenni was thrilledto return to Soc Trang and teach. Because her school is new, she has the privilege of developing the English curriculum. On top of the usual Listening and Speaking courses, she teaches American Culture, British and AmericanLiterature, Research Methodology, and next semester will attempt to teach a British Culture course in a ridiculous British accent that she has spent too many hours practicing.

Being one of the only foreigners in the area brings the expected challenges. Perhaps the hardest part of living in a conservative province is its highly hierarchical and male-dominated structure. In thebeginning she had to reconcile a lot of misconceptions about American women, mainly that American women don’t actually like to get drunk every day (to the disappointment of the male teachers). But any challenge melts away in the lightof her students’ appreciation. Though their ability level is minimal, there isa strong desire to learn with a native speaker. Sometimes the love is toogreat, like the time when, in the middle of class, one of her students felt called to singa love song he had written, entitled “I love you, teacher Jenni”.

Jenni never anticipated how much she would mean to her students, and how much they would mean to her.One of her happiest memories is a going-away party that her students organizedfor her. The Khmer, Vietnamese, and Chinese students all sang traditionalsongs. Caught up in the emotion, sheattempted to sing her students a heartfelt rendition of “Without you” by MariahCarey. After the tear-soaked festivities, two things were certain: her decisionto stay in Soc Trang for another year was the right one, and Mariah Carey songsare about three octaves above anything that should ever come out of hermouth. But of course, her studentsloved it anyway!

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