I know for a fact that Global English Centre’s 2013 Halloween Party was its first ever party. I’m almost 100% certain no other language school in Quang Ngai has ever had a Halloween Party and I’m 50% certain it was the first ever Halloween party in Quang Ngai Province. The party was very successful and it was a lot of work.
How did it come about that a small school in rural Vietnam had a Halloween party? Well, it’s because of Leah, who came to the Centre in September 2013. Leah had experience in organizing Halloween parties in Ho Chi Minh City at the international school where she had worked. Leah had asked us if we would buy into the idea and we did butt it was a lot of work. I estimate, and this is a loose estimate that each of us volunteered about 100 hours of our time putting it together. That’s 500 hours volunteering to do this and all of us took a fair amount of money out of our own pockets too to buy supplies. Mrs. Thao had given us some money to purchase what we needed but it was only enough to make a small dent into what we needed to buy. We had about 6 weeks to pull it all together. The one major event during the party is that selected classes would put on a performance. In addition to the performances, there was a contest for the best decorated classroom, the best costume amongst the teachers and a best costume award for the students plus each teacher had to sponsor a game. The game I selected was a version of “hot potato”….remember that game you pass around an object and when the music stops the person holding the object is out of the game and the lone person is the winner. Well the Halloween version was passing a small paper mache pumpkin……it worked just fine!
When Leah asked me was I stressed out about this event I answered honestly and told her yes and my reason was because I did not know where we could access any resources. We couldn’t take a trip to the nearest dollar store ‘cause there was no such thing where we were. In retrospect I think I was also burned out at that time as I had just recovered a month prior from a 5 week illness. My other teacher friends also indicated that they were somewhat stressed about the whole thing. Plus, and this was a big plus there was the language barrier. Leah was more familiar with Quang Ngai City than we were as she had come here several times during the summer when the International school was shut down for the summer. So one day Leah and the group of us went to the notions store where we picked up material, batting, notions etc. We weren’t 100% sure what we were going to do with all of these things but we wanted to get them because we didn’t know if we would be able to get them a week or so down the road.. One thing that we couldn’t find was coloured Bristol board or Elmer’s glue (although towards the end of the preparations my older students brought in small containers of Elmer’s Glue. I have no idea where they purchased it.).
It was decided that each of us would have one or more of our classes do a presentation. It could be a song, dancing, a poem etc. We would also decorate our rooms around a theme and the students would participate in the decorating. I immediately thought of my 7A class and when I approached them they were very open and enthusiastic about the idea. The class decided they wanted to sing “This is Halloween” from Tim Burton’s” Nightmare before Christmas”. I had heard of the movie but had never seen it and I had not ever heard the song. We also had to figure out how to decorate the classroom. So, I immediately started researching websites on Halloween crafts….believe it or not Martha Stewart was a great resource. I then searched for a good rendition of “This is Halloween” on YouTube that showed the words to the song and then an instrumental only rendition. I also had to find the words in hard copy that I could print of for the students to sing. Because I only met this class twice a week they would also have to practice on their own as the song was to be memorized for the performance. Although we had class time to do the decorating and practice the singing there was some push-back about doing this on class time which caught me off guard and the way it came about was rather strange.
This is what happened. In October the school was broken into. There are two buildings that make up the school. The first building holds the reception area and a small resource centre with several computers on the main floor. There were also two classrooms up top of the main floor which were used by Iris and myself. When the school was broken into the main floor computers were taken. The police also went upstairs to see if anything else was taken and of course they saw the two decorated rooms. Mrs. Thao was told by the police that this wasn’t suitable as Halloween was not a celebration in Vietnam and the focus of the school should be educating. Mrs. Thao then asked Iris and I not to decorate anymore because of what the police had said. Although Mrs. Thao told us she herself understood how preparing for the party benefited the students (creativity, team work, practicing singing and reading in English and using critical thinking skills etc.) I really think she was somewhat nervous about this undertaking and concerned that there would be negative feedback from the parents. It was rather weird that none of the other teachers were told to stop decorating and for that reason, Iris and I continued to decorate as the students were really engaged in the activities and we did not want to disappoint them. At one point we were all told to only spend 15 minutes per class to do Halloween preparations…..an impossible task if you are painting, or cutting and then having to do clean-up. In spite of this setback, we continued to prepare for the party and it really brought home to me that we were definitely in another country and celebrations that we see as being a common event were very uncommon and scary to others. For example, one of my students had her mother take a look at my decorated classroom and she gasped. Once Leah dressed up as the grim reaper and made unplanned visits to the various classes and some of the students both the younger and the teenage students were very scared. Some of the younger students actually hid under the tables. A lesson learned from this was because the concept of Halloween was so alien to the students that any future visits from costumed folks would have to be announced beforehand. But when I look back on some of my pictures by the end of that first unannounced visit the students were laughing and smiling.
In addition to having my 7A class decorate the classroom I had 3 of my younger classes participate in decorating the classroom and also making their own trick or treat bags. One class made Q-tip skeletons, my other class made small hanging ghosts that we hung on the branches of a pruned tree that I had brought into the classroom. Another class made bats out of toilet paper rolls. These students also made their own Halloween bags. Iris had found the location of a place that sold small plastic coloured bags which would be perfect for trick or treat bags and they were so cheap. All of us also found Halloween cut -outs on our computers that the kids could colour and paste onto the Halloween bags. I found some templates for Halloween masks such as a pirate, a super hero, Mardi Gras masks which the students cut out and used on Halloween night. The main decorations for the classroom were made by my 7A class and my teens in 11A. 7A made 2 big hanging ghosts out of white material which we sprayed with diluted coffee and water to make it look old and worn. Some of the students cut out tombstones out of styrofoam and made gravestones with sayings such as Barry D. Live. We stuffed neutral coloured tights and wrapped the tights in black and red stripes to look like socks and glued black shoes to the feet, we put a self-made witches’ hat on top of the feet and voila it looked like the wicked witch of the west/east from the Wizard of Oz when the house landed on her. This class and another one of my older classes drew and painted a Halloween wall mural. Two women in my 11A class stuffed flesh coloured up to the shoulder length gloves with stuffing and then used red paint to make them look like bloody hands. We stuck them on the window. The remaining students worked diligently creating a coffin but, while it was being built in between classes ,it was destroyed by the younger students….too bad! They worked so hard.
The experience was very rewarding, particularly for my 7A class that learned a lot about themselves. They worked together as a team. Two of the students coordinated the singing arrangement, one student had a knack for finding ways to do things that at first seemed impossible to do (problem solving), others used their painting and drawing talents while another realized that he/she didn’t have such a bad voice. Of course in between this there was discussion about the history of Halloween and how did kids dress up in North America etc.
As we got closer to October 31st, the students started wondering about costumes. What should they wear? How would they get them? Where would they get them? Thanks to Leah, a relative of hers in HCMC sent us a website where the students could order costumes such as witches’ hats for a real cheap price. Other students winged it. In addition to these preparations, the teachers were also busy making their costumes. Three of the teachers bought material and had a dressmaker make the costumes….it took a while to get across to the dressmaker that they were making costumes. They actually thought that the costumes were being made for everyday wear. Truly it was funny and frustrating at the same time to explain that they were Halloween costumes. I decided to be a pirate and opted to wear and full silk multi-coloured skirt I had and just layer it with scrap material and cheap material. I made an eye patch and used scrap material to make a head covering and bought a plastic sword. Iris had some of her costume made She was Ursula the octopus from the Disney movie the “Little Mermaid.” But Iris stuffed her tentacles and decorated them and they were attached later on to her dress. She won the prize for the best costume. E-Mae was Tinkerbell and she had her dress made but made her own wings and wand. Mae was a mermaid and borrowed a skirt but made her own tail and decorated it. Leah was a devil and had her costume made as well. We all went to the beauty parlour across the street and had our make-up done. That was fun. This party also had food prepared and the local café Q-Cup set up a booth where people could purchase smoothies. While all this was going on we were up pretty late a couple of days before the party cutting out decorations for the backdrop and making decorations to hang outside the centre such as orange bags stuffed with newspaper that became pumpkins and spider webs.
As I said at the beginning the party was a huge success. The school has about 450 students about 400 of them attended. Parents were snapping pictures and all of the younger students had fun getting candies with their trick or treat bag. The start of the show began with the teachers do a short dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. We were a hit. Next, my class 7A performed “This is Halloween.” I was so proud of them. Throughout the party we had 2 of the older students act as commentators and the adult students helped with the sound system during the day. Iris’ young students did a puppet show with the story “The Hungry Caterpillar”, some of the little ones danced, and others sang. The performances were followed by the games which were also a great success. The party was done by 9:00 p.m. and we were exhausted. We had a late dinner and then headed home. We topped of the night with a well deserved gin….we were bagged. Shortly after the party we all picked up some type of cold or were generally feeling under the weather but we figure this was because we were rundown and/or decompressing. When the students asked us if we would be doing a Christmas Party we all said a resounding NO!!!. We decided that Christmas was a special occasion time that we would celebrate on our own terms.