PASSION FOR TEACHING: Michael Gormalley is pictured as a presenter at the US Consulate American Center in HCMC. — Photo courtesy of Michael Gormalley
Lương Thu Hương
In his retirement, 71-year-old Michael Gormalley enjoys living and volunteering in Việt Nam for five or six months and then returning to his home in Florida for the remainder of the year.
The US veteran has donated his pension and salary in Việt Nam for charity work in the country, like teaching English for free, helping the homeless and poor patients.
According to him, his contribution as a volunteer teacher in Việt Nam aims to show respect for the Americans and Vietnamese who died in the war.
Gormalley returned to Việt Nam in 2005 after serving with the US Army in the war in 1971 with a dozen other US military veterans and visited different locations from the Mekong Delta to HCM City, to Đà Nẵng and to central provinces of Thừa Thiên Huế and Quảng Trị.
Speaking with Vietnamese teachers and telling them he was a former teacher and high school principal for 18 years, he was encouraged to return to volunteer and teach English speaking skills.
After that visit, Gormalley started returning for two to four weeks twice a year to volunteer.
In 2014, he decided to stay longer, from September to February to teach at universities and rural high schools.
“It was easier for me to fly the 22 hours once and live in an apartment for five or six months. With the help of my Vietnamese friends, I found the apartment, became familiar on where to shop, find good restaurants and street food and enjoy the culture,” he recalled.
Gormalley is now teaching at the International Relations Faculty of the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, where he started in 2011.
In other weeks, he also works as a volunteer teacher at the Lương Văn Chánh High School for the Gifted in Tuy Hòa in the central province of Phú Yên and Quảng Trị High School in the central province of Quảng Trị.
“Being able to help young Vietnamese students improve their English speaking skills at the high school and university levels is very rewarding. The students are always interested in learning and are very respectful. I’m not a traditional teacher, for example, I have my Vietnamese students pretend to meet me as a tourist and tell me about their city, where to visit, what to eat, etc.
“At the university level, I invite HCM City Human Resource staff to come to my classroom and interview my students. I want to give them ‘real life’ experiences,” he said.
Besides being a volunteer teacher of English, Gormalley has also acted as Santa Claus since 2014, visiting 200 children patients at the HCM City Children’s Hospital and giving them gifts that include cookies, candies, books or toys.
His students have helped him with the charity work by wrapping and carrying the gifts to the hospitals.
TOP OF THE CLASS: Michael Gormalley poses with students at Lương Văn Chánh High School for the Gifted in Phú Yên Province where he volunteers teaching English. — Photos courtesy of Michael Gormalley
In addition to giving gifts to young patients, he also provides envelopes of money to needy families from rural towns or cities to buy food.
Much of Gormalley’s teaching and charity work are regularly updated on his Facebook.
“I have been told my 10-plus years of volunteering here is unique in coming to Việt Nam every year for up to six months and then returning to Florida for six months.
“I tell everyone that my postings of my volunteer activities – teaching, playing Santa at the HCM City Children’s Hospital, visiting orphanages – are attempts to encourage other Việt Nam veterans, other Americans to come, visit and volunteer in Việt Nam,” he said.
Even though moving to a new area is a challenge to anyone, particularly the elderly, the veteran has now adapted to his life in Việt Nam.
“I enjoy exploring by walking around and finding out about my area. One of the challenges was paying attention to the traffic, especially at night in heavy traffic areas, but I have adjusted.
“I also had to get used to eating Vietnamese food, but I found it very tasty, healthy and I enjoy the different noodles and especially the excellent seafood here,” he added.
Communicating with locals does not cause Gormalley any trouble, as many Vietnamese want to practise their English, so it has been easy for him to tell others what he wants to purchase or what food he wants to eat.
“The temperature in Việt Nam is similar to where I live in Florida in the US, so adjustment has not been difficult,” he continued.
Particularly, he enjoys participating in local cultural events like the Mid-Autumn Festival, Tết (Lunar New Year) and the customs that go with it.
During his stay in the country, the veteran has travelled to some of the areas where he served and seen many improvements over the years.
“I served in Cần Thơ downtown in the Mekong Delta area. They have a floating market in the early morning there, a long suspension bridge and the area nearest the river has some great restaurants and shopping areas.
“I served in Long Bình Ward in the southern province of Biên Hòa, which has now been turned into an industrial park for foreign businesses.”
Gormalley said his focus when he returns every year is to help his students prepare for the future.
“My visits to Việt Nam have been a ‘healthy way of life’ for me and knowing I can help the Vietnamese adds to my positive thinking of the good in all people.” — VNS