Edgecomb native Mandy Boucher returned home from Hanoi, Vietnam March 28 after just over two years of teaching English as a new language. Boucher’s departure came nearly two months after Vietnam mandated remote learning and teaching; however, as the U.S. was beginning to see cases going up and Italy was approaching its peak, U.S. embassies all over the world were urging citizens to return home.
“My visa was going to be up on April 14 and my school was saying they could renew it along with my work permit, but they also weren't answering my additional questions, so I didn't feel confident I could stay.”
Boucher worked for over two years with International House World Organisation. She received her Certificate in English Language Teaching (CELTA), work permit and visas through I-House in January 2018 when she arrived. After a month of Vietnamese New Year celebrations, she began teaching.
Boucher was reluctant to leave. “I was teaching 10 sets of 15-20 kids once or twice a week for each lesson and I had the same students for two years. They were adorable and I miss them so much.”
In the weeks before her flight home, Boucher spent time in Ho Chi Minh City with her partner who was visiting from the United Kingdom for work. While touring the city for the first time, the two learned he would need to return home due to new regulations.
“So, after my partner went back to Scotland, I flew back to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh … (My mother) was panicking and my dad was panicking which is kind of worse … My partner said 'If I were you, I would go home.'”
While Boucher spent the next several days trying to get in touch with her school and with the embassies about what she should do, her mother Deb was in a panic trying to get in touch with anyone who might be able to help. “I was talking with people from Susan Collins' office, Angus King, I was talking to Holly Stover, Stephanie Hawke kept in touch and Dawn Gilbert called two or three times. They were terrific. I just wanted to make sure that as many people as possible knew she was there and if we ran into a problem we had somebody to talk with who's already known her story … (Mandy) did it all herself, really. They were just supportive of me I think more than anything, so it was good having them there. They talked to me and kept me calm.”
Boucher said when she connected with the embassy, they could only offer a loan if her flight ended up being canceled. She booked a flight home and packed her suitcase and backpack.
Boucher left her apartment around 7 a.m. March 27 for Noi Bai International Airport where she boarded a flight to Moscow with several Americans and Russians returning home. With a 22-hour layover, Boucher stayed in a sleep pod before leaving for JFK Airport in New York City. When she landed at JFK, Boucher had to run around, find the right train for the right terminal – one of the last in the airport – where she joined only three other people flying from New York to Portland.
“No one actually helped me to book things, to reassure me that things were OK or called to help. No one pulled strings, but they did help calm Mom down which was very helpful… The night before my flight, Mom called and told me all flights to Russia were canceled, which wasn’t true … I was worried about New York to Maine, that they would cancel the flight because there weren’t many people on it. I was also a little bit concerned they'd be like 'You've been in Southeast Asia, you can't come in.'”
After landing in Portland, Boucher quarantined for 14 days at a friend’s summer house before she came back home to Edgecomb.
The journey wasn’t the hardest traveling Boucher has done.
“It took all of my energy and maybe five years (off) my life … It was definitely long, but I've had worse. I came back in March 2019 to visit and I had to go through China and wait in an airport for six hours and then I was in Washington State for 12 hours. I stayed in Utah for a couple days to see a friend from Vietnam and then I flew back across to the East Coast. So, this one was easy.”
As for her latest trip, leaving her students behind was the hardest part.
“When (the school) didn’t get back to me, I called and said, ‛I'm really sorry, I really love working here, but I need to go home because all signs point back north’ … I ended on a nice note, though. I taught my last lessons before leaving, I went in and said goodbye to all my students … I miss my monsters.”
Because her CELTA certification is highly desirable and because the woman who owns the flat was nice enough to hold it and Boucher’s possessions, Boucher has no doubt she will return to continue teaching English to children. In the meantime, she is keeping herself busy with painting in her free time, teaching online through two China-based companies and tutoring students on college essays through University of Southern Maine’s Upward Bound program.
Her mother said Boucher hasn’t stopped since she got home. Boucher said she couldn’t if she wanted to.
“Hanoi has 8 million people … Maine has just over 1 million, and Edgecomb has 1,300. There's so much going on in Hanoi, but here, there's nothing but free time. I miss my job and I love it, so I'd rather keep doing as much as I can until I can actually do it in a real classroom again.”