28 Feb Vietnam offers returning maths teacher food for thought

Maths teacher Cara Glintmeyer has returned to Nayland College after spending two years teaching at an international school in Hanoi, Vietnam.

She describes living in Hanoi – a city of 8 million which is not much bigger in area than Nelson – as “crazy”.

“Very few things are the same there as they are here. Food is different, festivals are different,” she said. “You’d go downstairs and there’d be dragon dancers and it would be a festival day and we’d have no idea what was happening!”

Miss Glintmeyer lived in Hanoi with her teenage daughter who commuted between New Zealand and Vietnam every three months and attended school in both countries. Miss Glintmeyer describes the experience of learning in two very different educational systems as “amazing” for her daughter.

Bun cha was their favourite street food.This consists of thin rice noodles with meatballs, a basket of greenery and a little bowl with sauce that you put your noodles in. Miss Glintmeyer says she didn’t cook once in two years, as it was complicated to buy ingredients and hard to justify when the street food was so cheap and delicious.

The sheer density of the population in family-oriented Hanoi society is hard to imagine. “One day my daughter and I were biking to school together,” she said. “We were holding hands on our bikes and we stopped at the lights. Then we looked over at each other and there were two people in between us. We were like, there’s not even room!”

Miss Glintmeyer arrived back in Nelson last winter and the adjustment came as quite a shock. Initially she noticed how expensive, beautiful and empty this country is. “It felt like when I was walking down the street, something’s happened, there’s been a disaster because there was no one on the streets!” she recalls.

She has also realised that New Zealand’s ecological commitment is not as strong as it’s made out to be. “I thought we were very eco friendly and clean and green but actually over there, eating out of the bowl that they wash and the chopsticks that sit there, it’s like ‘I don’t have a whole lot of plastic here.’ Whereas I come back and everything’s in plastic here, so I feel like New Zealand isn’t as eco-friendly as we make out at all.”

Cara Glintmeyer doesn’t rule out teaching internationally again or revisiting Vietnam. For now, however, she is happy to be back teaching maths at Nayland. “I love problem solving, I love puzzling,” the former music teacher says. “We sometimes get thinking that maths is all about doing equations but it’s not really, it’s about puzzling things out and finding your way towards a solution.”

Though New Zealand students might not be working at such an advanced level in maths in some respects, Miss Glintmeyer thinks their practical understanding of maths is actually a lot stronger.

Cara Glintmeyer still plays the piano now and again but these days sports dominate her free time. She runs, plays social volleyball and goes mountain biking. “I love running the tracks around here, the tracks are beautiful. Running for me is like a meditation time.”

By Sera King