‘Dear Ms. Grace, My Name Is Linh’: Vietnamese Students Learn from a Brethren Life Story

Photo courtesy of Jess Corrigan
Grace Mishler (seated, in an orange blouse) with an English class in Vietnam.

On Friday, Jan. 30, the English Communication Skills Class at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, had the pleasure of celebrating Ms. Grace Mishler’s and Miss Lan’s birthdays in the classroom. Our guest, Grace Mishler, took center stage as the 12 students in attendance introduced themselves. She is a Social Work Project Developer at the university.

The students talked about their jobs, studies, and interests. Everyone spoke clearly and confidently, which was a source of pride for me since the class has only been going for three weeks. It is always a pleasure to invite guests to the class and Grace is a suitable candidate because she paints images when she tells her stories.

The students were entertained when I asked Grace what her first job was. This led to some hilarity when she came up with a string of jobs the first being a prison guard. A graduate of life’s university, our guest had worked in a variety of professions. Her care work involved helping teenage boys and girls who were in dire straits, a stint taking care of people in a mental health institution. And oh! she once worked as an ice cream seller and drove a catering truck. For the past 14 years Grace has been a Social Work Project Developer in Vietnam.

While telling us about the farm where she grew up with seven siblings, Grace embroidered her stories with so much color and imagery especially as she remembered the plants, fruit trees, and vegetables which kept the family going during the long harsh winters. Her mother had to preserve fruit and vegetables–a practice familiar to most Vietnamese people. This provided a vocabulary list which included: apples, peaches, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, peas, beans, squash, and pumpkins.

Grace also provided a vivid description of how maple syrup is extracted from the maple tree. Her father would drill a small hole into the tree trunk allowing the sap to drain into a container, then filled jars with syrup available for sale.

Miss Tran, a business woman, took the initiative to thank our guest, concluding with a humorous remark, “I hope someday I will be able to taste the maple syrup from your farm.”

When asked if the students wished a return visit from our guest, all hands were raised and we left the class for our weekend break. Grace later commented on how she felt happy and relaxed during the visit.

It was the least we could do on her birthday.

Jess Corrigan

Dear Ms. Grace,

Photo courtesy of Jess Corrigan
Linh (third from left in the back row) with her English class in Vietnam.

My name is Linh from the English Communication Class at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities here in Ho Chi Minh City. My English teacher is Ms. Jess from Scotland.

I would like to thank you for visiting our class last Friday and sharing your interesting stories with us. When I heard about how many different jobs you had, I was surprised. You are the first person I’ve met who had worked in various fields, from a bank teller, an ice cream maker, a driver, and even a prison guard, etc.

Normally in Viet Nam, when you graduate from college or university, you will use your degree to look for a job in the field that you learned at college. It is unlikely that they would change from one company to another so often. But you had a variety of jobs. I wonder how interesting it must have been to have experience in so many things like you. You knew what a bank teller has to do. You knew how to make ice cream in an ice cream store. You knew how to drive a catering truck safely and effectively. And being a prison guard, you had a rare chance to know how a prison was run in reality. (Even though it made me wonder what had led you to this job. Was it hard? Was it dangerous? Was it interesting?) Each of your jobs brought you a different experience. When I listened to your stories, and saw your happy face, I couldn’t stop thinking how interesting it is to have many different jobs like you. It was like an adventure, a job-adventure. It made your life very colorful, didn’t it? Most people who work in one field after graduating do not have as many colors as yours.

This world is large, very large, and colorful too. It is great to experience many different things in life like you. I really wish to have an interesting life like you. Thanks for sharing your  job adventure stories with us.

Oh! And when you talked about your childhood on a farm: wow! I really envy you. You grew up on a big farm with different animals: cat, dog, horse, cow, and so on. Your house was even near a big wood with maple trees. I grew up in a small town in Binh Dinh province, in the middle of Viet Nam. I did not live in a city, my home is small but comfortable. I like planting trees and raising animals very much. But there was no place in my home to plant anything.

About animals, I did once raise a cat. That happened when my father brought home a little white cat. It was really cute. When it was little, my sister and I tried hard to keep it from running out of our home. Well, there is a main street in front of our home, and there are many big trucks driving by, so it is dangerous. But when our cat got bigger, how could you prevent a cat from going out? It just went out at night and came home in the morning. Home is just a place to eat and sleep for my cat. But, it was still cute and it was a brave cat. It chased out all the big dogs in the neighborhood who dared to venture near our home. It wasn’t scared of any big dog.

Until today I still think that it was part of my fault that my cat’s life ended too soon. One morning, it was found in a well with another cat. I could only guess that it got into a fight with the other cat, and then…they both  fell into the well. Since then I haven’t raised any animal and probably won’t until I know how to take better care of the animal. Just feeding it isn’t enough.

As you can see, my childhood wasn’t as interesting as you. It was mostly about school, television, and hard work. So, when I heard your stories, I thought what an interesting childhood you had.

Once again, Ms. Grace, thank you for visiting our class and talking about the interesting things you have experienced. I believe you still have many interesting stories to tell us. Personally I would like to hear more details on how you got your jobs? And any other stories you may wish to share with our class.

I  wish you good health, and please visit our class when you have free time!!!

Yours sincerely,


— Jess Corrigan, an English teacher from Scotland who is working in Vietnam, and Linh, a student in her English class, provided these reflections for Newsline. Grace Mishler is serving in Vietnam through the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service.

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