Tyler Williams

June 27, 2013

Where were you – and what did you do – during your PiA experience?

I taught English and Public Speaking at Cần Thơ University (Đại Học Cần Thơ) in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta for a year. Additionally, I managed the Cần Thơ Youth Empowerment Project alongside my partner in crime Harry Glynn. Founded by fellow PiAer Dan White five years ago, the Cần Thơ Youth Empowerment Project employs a corps of students from the university to teach English to children at two local orphanages.

For me, PiA is all about throwing yourself out there and hoping for the best. The people who join this organization live their lives as a race against boredom, refusing to take the “normal” path to success. This passion for defying the ordinary, which I first experienced upon meeting the PiA Directors on interview day, is exactly why I joined this organization and why I will continue to live by PiA's values wherever my career takes me.

Looking back, what was one of the craziest or most interesting experiences you had while on PiA?

There are so many, but one particular experience jumps out. It was September 2012, and I was less than a month into my fellowship. I still had no idea what was going on when an acquaintance of mine named Binh invited me to his rural hometown near the Cambodian border. We had spoken a few times at Tiny Corner Café, the English Speaking coffee shop in Cần Thơ, but I didn’t know much about Binh except that he was a 4th year business student trying to learn English.

In the typical PiA spirit, I thought what the hell; it might be fun. So I went with Binh to his hometown. On our first morning in An Phu, we attended an engagement party for one of Binh’s friends (yes, Vietnamese people start partying at 9am). About four beers deep, an older Vietnamese man approached me and started going off about something in Vietnamese. I didn’t think anything of it until Binh, clearly flustered, told me I was the first American he had seen since US soldiers killed his wife and children during the war.

Not knowing how to react (who would?), I did what any of us would do – I offered the man a hug. To my surprise, he hugged me back…for 45 minutes straight. By the end of our embrace, we had connected through hope; a hope held deep inside this man that one day things would get better. I was simply in the right place at the right time to make a difference in this man’s life.

What are you up to now?

I’m writing this reflection from my dorm room at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, the site of Teach For America’s 2013 Summer Institute. In the fall, I will be teaching science at Enfield Middle School in rural North Carolina, my home state.

How did your PiA experience influence your subsequent path through career and life?

During my senior year, I found myself face-to-face with that dreaded question each college senior loathes to hear – “so what are you doing after graduation?” I knew I wanted to see the world and fight for causes that matter, so I decided to throw my hat in the PiA ring. Just over a year later, I can honestly say that PiA has changed the course of my professional life.

It was only after seeing the joy on my students’ faces when they answered a question right that I realized how awesome being a teacher can be. A year ago, I never would have envisioned myself teaching after PiA, but now, I’m preparing to take the front lines of the battle for educational equality from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam to Eastern North Carolina. Wish me luck!

In a word or phrase, what was one of the most important things you gained as a result of your PiA experience?


What advice would you give current PiA fellows in the field?

Embrace the crazy. Open your heart, mind, and stomach to new experiences; some will turn out better than others, but hey, you can always say that you tried eating pig nipple. 

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