• A Brief History of the IVS English School in Quảng Ngi, By Trần Văn Hải

    A Brief History of the IVS English School in Quảng Ngi
    Trần Văn Hải, IVS


    Quang Ngai is a small town in Central Vietnam, known for its sugarcane fields and the related products of "crystal candies - kẹo gương," "condensed malt extracts - mạch nha," "lung-shaped sugar slabs - đường phổi," "opaque sugar clumps - đường phn," etc. Around 1966, an American member of the International Voluntary Service (IVS), David H. Juracek, came to town to teach English to Vietnamese high school students. He also opened some off-hour English classes and his focus on listening and speaking skills, i.e., living English itself, was a perfect complement to the approach of reading and writing, i.e., learning about the English language, then predominant in Vietnamese high schools. The "IVS school," as the learning center was called, also known affectionately by some Quang Ngai natives as "Trường ng Dave - Mr. Dave's School," was a unique experience for high school boys and girls in Quang Ngai. Its several hundred graduates are now scattered all over the world but thanks to the Internet, they found one another in 2009, after more than 30 years of separation, and organized themselves into the IVSQuangNgai@yahoogroups.com.

    This brief history of the IVS English school in Quang Ngai is based on the memory, albeit somewhat faulty, of an IVS old-timer.

    It was a few months after the horrible 1968 Tet Offensive of the Year of the Monkey. The shock of seeing the deadly destruction of war so up-close was taking a toll on everyone in Quang Ngai. Instead of whiling away the summer with swimming and goofing around with friends like previous years, I was looking for something to do after my ninth grade at Tran Quoc Tuan High School (TQT HS) on Quang Trung Street, the only public high school for boys in Quang Ngai.

    One day, while playing with some classmates during a break in front of the school, I saw this American riding a Honda motorbike into the house across the street. There were neither signs nor bill boards indicating what it was. Afterward, I went to the house and found out that it was rented by an American to live and teach some English classes whose students were from TQT HS.
    The house had a large room in front, on higher ground, which was used as a classroom; a small office a few steps lower and another large room as his living quarters at the back of the house.

    It was Mr. David H. Juracek, whom I had sometimes seen in TQT HS with his armfuls of teaching aids like charts, books, rulers, etc. but I was not in the classes he was teaching. However, he was teaching at TQT for only a short while because his novel approach of drilling students in pronunciation and conversational English was in direct conflict with the way English was taught in Vietnamese high schools at the time, which chiefly emphasized grammar and composition. Later, he switched to teaching at Thu Xa junior high school until he returned to the U.S. for good around July 1970.

    After school I went over to inquire about the English classes. A lady, Mrs. Ton Thi Hai, told me that Mr. Juracek headed the office with Mr. Vuong Dinh Quy, a former interpreter, as his deputy; that she and Miss Nguyen Thi Hong were secretaries. Mr.Juracek and Mr. Quy were the principal English instructors at that time but there were two other part-time teachers, Messieurs Le Can and Nguyen Van Dong, who were also TQT HS students, two years ahead of me.

    Mrs. Hai also told me that they were looking for someone to help out in the office such as opening up and closing down the classes and preparing learning materials for students (by "mimeographing" the lessons from the stencils Mrs. Hai and Ms. Hong had typed since there were no photocopiers at the time.) When I asked if I could apply for the job, she sent me to talk to Mr. Quy and we went to see Mr. Juracek. I could attend all English classes, free, and could work during any free hours, with pay! The next day, I started work at the IVS school.

    Actually I often met another young man named Vũ Thach Sng who would sometimes spent the night at the school. He was working as an interpreter for the Quakers in Quang Ngai and was really the first student of Dave Juracek! As the IVS English classes multiplied, Dave Juracek moved to an apartment near Hung Vuong private high school whose owner turned out to be the IVS school's very neighbor.

    During the first few weeks Dave Juracek would take me on his Honda, with reams of paper and the stencils of lessons, to an office behind the province's administrative building. The office belonged to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that housed a mimeograph machine which they allowed us to use. There I would "run" the stencils, like the film negatives, into many copies that would be stapled and handed out for use with the charts for the English classes.

    After about eight months working and studying at the IVS school and I was in the 10th grade at TQT HS, during a 1968 Christmas party, Dave Juracek announced that I would be promoted to be an "intern teacher" for some beginner classes. I would also have to attend his first advanced class, A1, with Messieurs Vu Thach Sung, Vuong Dinh Quy, Le Can, and Nguyen Van Dong. The five of us* were essentially the old-timers of the IVS school. He sometimes held class hours in his apartment.

    The basis of Mr. Juracek's instituting the "tutoring model" at the IVS English classes was his belief that, with his focus on listening and speaking skills, sharing the learning experiences while gaining knowledge would be the best motivation for both the teachers and the students, that the rewards for diligence and perseverance could be directly proven by the promotion of good students to become tutors, and then teachers, to newcomers. The success of this approach became popular among parents and students in Quang Ngai as IVS "intern teachers" were also excellent students in TQT HS and the "Quang Ngai Girls' HS" (NTH). They essentially were the best promoters for "Trường ng Dave - Mr. Dave's School." Another factor attracting the enrollment of many TQT boys was the presence of many beautiful girls from the town's high school NTH in the IVS classes. It could be said that most of the fair ladies of Quang Ngai at the time such as HTT, LMT, LML, TPT, NTB, NTLM, HTT, NTKC, etc. were once IVS students.

    The next cohort of student-teachers included Pham Cong Hieu, Vo Kim Hai, Trinh Thi Phuong Thao, Nguyen Van Kong, Thanh Thi Ngoc, etc. In 1970, Vo Truc started to work in the office after I took on more classes and reduced my working hours.

    Mr. Dave Juracek's dedication to correct pronunciation and interactive participation in IVS English classes resulted in some hilarious stories. For example, there was an anecdote about him rushing to his kitchen, grabbing a fork and returning to the classroom to try to force a girl to open her mouth to correctly "pronounce the 'th' sound with the tip of the tongue between their teeth." Consequently, given the quintessential diffidence of Vietnamese girls and the potential embarrassment, that forceful approach sometimes did make some girls cry ... and a few would quit! Yet, on a few occasions, Dave was so caring that he would visit the girls at home and asked them to come back. Some boys now also admit they thought Dave was "crazy" in his teaching method but they now all acknowledge the benefits of such an unforgettable learning experience.

    Another special feature of the IVS school was the opportunity for students to practice their English with American civilians or military personnel who were stationed in Quang Ngai at the time. Dave Juracek was very successful in enlisting the assistance of teachers like Max Ediger of the Mennonites, Bob Miller of the Baptists, etc. to come as guest teachers for conversational practice. Most significant, however, was the presence of American soldiers giving up their lunch break to teach at the IVS school. Among them were Richard Ballantine, Roger Evans and William Lonsdale, a white haired, professor-looking, captain in the U.S. Army, who would lead a group of soldiers on a jeep to the school during lunch time and then return to their compound in the citadel. On one occasion, he took several of us into his office and treated us to a barbecue and a movie afterward.

    At the height of the IVS school's popularity, we ran three shifts of about 22 classes for beginners and intermediate level every day: the early morning classes would last from 6:30 a.m to 7:45 a.m., the noon classes from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., and the evening classes from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Students were boys and girls mostly from high schools in town. They would have 15 minutes to get to their respective high schools, if necessary. And the classes were running like clockwork.

    When Mr. David Juraced returned to the U.S. around July 1970, Mr. Dang Quy, who was just returned to civilian life, became the new director of the IVS school. Captain Lonsdale continued to teach at the IVS school and helped the new administrator, Mr .Dang Quy, in running the school until he himself left Quang Ngai in September 1971.

    I finished high school in the summer of 1971 and moved to Hue to attend the faculties of letters and pedagogy of Hue University, where I met Mr. Thomas Malia, a.k.a Pham Van Thom, a colleague of Dave Juracek in the IVS. Like Dave, he was like a mentor and helped me a great deal during my college years.

    Starting in my sophomore year at Hue University, I became a teacher in the English classes run by the Vietnamese American Association (VAA) in Hue. These classes also focused on speaking and listening but they were different from the IVS approach since they used the series of "English for Today" textbooks and as a supplement for the normal high school curriculum. Because each VAA class had larger size, up to 40, 50 students, and they were taught mostly by Vietnamese teachers, there were fewer opportunities for students to practice their practical English skills with native speakers. Nevertheless, those evening classes were quite popular with Hue high school students.

    Every summer of my college years, I would return to the IVS school, which then was in a new location on Tran Hung Dao St. and shared what I had learned in college with the student-teachers at the time.

    I think that each and every IVS alum probably has some interesting memories of learning English with Dave Juracek. I myself would never forget the first dialog:

    "Where do you live ?"
    "I live on V Tnh Street."
    "Do you have a roommate ?"
    "No. I prefer to live alone."

    The students were drilled with repetition and substitution so thoroughly that it became almost a reflexive response as everyone seemed to be living on V Tnh St. when asked in English! Actually, those drills were truly invaluable when we went abroad and found that our practical English skills were a great advantage in school and at work.

    I believe the IVS English school in Quang Ngai offered a great experience in learning and teaching a foreign language. I hope that this IVS model could be replicated in Vietnam today to give the people, not just students, the opportunity to acquire those practical English skills, which become critical to participate successfully in the globalized world. I am sure that given a chance, they would grab the opportunity.

    Just like we did!

    Tran Van Hai

    P.S. Ms. Nguyen Thi Hong and Mr. Vuong Dinh Quy would later married but Mr. Quy passed away in the early 1980s. Ms. Hong remarried and emigrated to the U.S. in 2003 but sadly she passed away in North Carolina in 2006. Mrs. Ton Thi Hai is now in her seventies and still resides in Vietnam but her children live in Germany. Vo Truc is now in Quang Ngai and is a provincial official at Dung Quat oil refinery.

    Mr. Le Can finished his medical school in Vietnam and emigrated to the U.S. in 1979, unfortunately, he passed away in 1983 from stomach cancer; Mr. Nguyen Van Dong also finished medical school in Saigon and now practices pediatrics in Saigon; Mr .Vu Thanh Sung still resides in Nghia Hanh District, Quang Ngai Province with his large family.

    For a thorough list of IVS alum, please visit IVSQuangNgai@yahoogroups.com or contact "Kong Nguyen" .