Are there white privileges in Vietnam?

Whiteness and privileges

If you walk through the streets of Laos as a white man, then there is a fairly high probability that most people will notice you. Often something is called out to you, or you are simply greeted nicely, and you actually can't avoid feeling somehow special, a bit different, and somehow not really belonging. At the departure seminar, we volunteers were made a bit more aware of the fact that white people enjoy a lot of privileges in the world and should always keep them in mind, but what being white in practice, outside of Germany, and especially in a developing country really means, I only really became aware of it in the last few months that I spent in Laos.

For example, one thing that strikes me again and again is the fact that we Laos volunteers have seen more of the country than many of the Laotians themselves in the relatively short time we've spent here Lessons clear when I let the students talk about which places they have already visited and still want to visit. I don't know every part of Germany myself, but like many other volunteers, I've been around the world a lot more. Most of the Laotians with whom I have spoken about this topic so far have perhaps been to Thailand, apart from Laos, and a few have seen Vietnam, but hardly anyone has ever left Southeast Asia. It is really a great privilege that we have the opportunity to come to this country, get to know everyday life, and at the same time still have the time and money to travel the country and the surrounding area. And also to be able to see our time here as a great, long “adventure”, as an enriching experience, but at the same time to have the certainty that we don't “have to” live this life all the time, that we already have the return ticket as a file on our mobile phone.

In addition, the question is to what extent we really live the “Laotian life” here. Many volunteers live in their own big houses, which would normally accommodate a whole Laotian family, we get quite a lot of pocket money for comparatively very little work, and so we are somehow in the middle of it, but at the same time not really part of Laotian life. We gain experience and develop personally, but without really having to forego our usual privileges. Of course, some of the luxury goods that are known from Germany are missing here, such as warm water or a large range of goods in the supermarket, and thus living in Laos also means doing without and inevitably becoming more frugal, but actually these are only small things, our privileged ones We keep the basic position all the time. The mere fact that we can come to Laos without training or experience in the teaching profession and play teachers there is already an absurd privilege that does not exist the other way around. I mean, it is inconceivable that a Laotian would come to Germany and teach anything there without any training or the like. The fact that we are registered with the Elefand List, which ensures that you would be taken out of the country in the event of a natural disaster, simply because we are German, shows that we are just “visiting”, only as long as everything is good and everything is fine, but that we are not a real part of Laos after all.

Our skin color is always an issue when Hannah and I get to know new people, because we often have the feeling that people only want something to do with us because we are foreigners and that we simply associate something special with white people. Usually we are then asked if we would like to do something with them, and in the same breath it is added that they would like to practice their English with us. This is really not an exaggeration, actually everyone you meet here in Laos expresses the desire to learn English with one. Somehow that's not that bad, but somehow also really stupid, because after all we are more than just potential English tutors.

The Weltwärts program is often criticized for being something like an adventure vacation at state expense that has little to do with actual development aid. Weltwärts supporters, on the other hand, argue that the year abroad should help the volunteers advance personally, raise their awareness of their privileges and encourage them to become socially or politically active even after their voluntary service.

I would also not say that I am providing development aid with my Weltwärts year, but I also do not think that my job as an English teacher is pointless, but rather has a supportive and positive effect. I think, especially when working as an English teacher, the extent to which you actually help someone and perhaps also contribute to their development depends heavily on your own motivation. But I also understand why the volunteer year is often referred to as an “adventure holiday”, because that's what it is ultimately - a great adventure from which we volunteers benefit in particular.