Ian: Alternately charming and infuriating, a 30-yr old university educated Brit in a relationship with a 20-yr old illiterate – and now preening – Hmong girl. I first met him 2 years ago when he was the lead teacher in the school, where his narcissistic and needy teacher-centered teaching drove me to distraction. The only jobs he’s ever had are seasonal ski-instructor in Japan, and international vagabond volunteer teacher. His paid position at SOC represents his first “real” job.
Jaya: First, this is obviously not her given name, but an Indian name she has taken for herself to better reflect her yoga and religious practice. She, too, is a fair-haired Brit who has spent a few years traveling the underdeveloped regions of the world, and helping them by just showing up and offering yoga classes. She has professional experience working in NGOs and is now Interim Volunteer Coordinator, busy seriously bossing people around for a few more weeks until she socks away enough from her meager salary to make her way back to India.
Colin: Looking and sounding like a man who just wandered off the set of that Gordon Ramsey reality show where he teaches British prisoners to cook, Colin turned up here just a few days before I did with some money, a dream, and at least part of a Program to work. Skinny, nicotine-stained, stooped, and fidgety, Colin is a 20-something recent rehab graduate with years of experience in the hospitality business. Apparently, the story is that his father sold his café, and Colin decided to travel the world until he found the right place to give his money and expertise to. He talks about giving back to the world and making amends; everything about rehab seems to have stuck except the part about not drinking.
Bruce and his wife Ann: Wiry, stentorian, 68-yr old from Perth, Western Australia, Bruce is bald and be-spectacled, with the rake’s lifetime habit of flirtation, and the engineer’s decisive certainty. He and Ann will spend 4 months of this year volunteering in two different locations in Vietnam. They both approach their work as though it were their full-time salaried gig. Ann brings 40 years of experience in elementary education to her task, and she is at the school from 8-4 4 days a week. Bruce is in the office, kicking ass, taking names, and reading people the riot act like a new boss who just got transferred in from the main office.
Cu: The 30-something Hmong woman who started this whole thing, Cu has been my friend since we met in 2009. She’s inspirational and maddening, a visionary with a 5th-grade education, Cu can do a lot of things, and, unfortunately, she usually wants to do them all at the same time. Tight-fisted, emotional, and impulsive, Cu is the heart and soul of SOC, but drives everyone crazy. She is a former street-seller herself, and has a 6-yr old spoiled and beautiful daughter. She hopes someday before too long to hand over the reins of SOC and go abroad to study.
Becca: Oh, my god, why are they all British? Becca is my teaching partner for the adult education class. She loves doing research on the intuhnet about curriculum and teaching, but other than a volunteer for walk-in English classes in a café down the street for a week or so, she has no experience actually teaching. Nonetheless, she’s convinced that she should be paid to teach in order to finance her travels around the world, a point of view that Ann, with her decades of professional experience, finds especially irksome. She likes to paint a streak of shiny pale green eyeliner across her lids and wears the studied motley of the young traveler. She is very young. We disagree about how important correctness is for English language acquisition in adult learners.
Kate: Cut from same cloth as Becca. Her signature feature is bells on her sandals instead of green eyeliner.