I know she often missed Vietnam

Tereza Stenglova Gymnazium Jan PatockaPrague
It happened when I was starting the eighth grade. Our teacher told us that a new student, a Vietnamese girl, would be coming to our class. I didn’t know then that this girl would become my best friend.
Her father was an executive councilor at the Vietnamese embassy, and all the Vietnamese knew and respected him.
Phan Ha Ngos – that was the name of my friend – couldn’t speak a word in Czech except "ahoj” when she came into our class. And when the teacher told her to sit beside me, we had to make ourselves understood in English and, as we say, with our hands and legs.
Her parents didn’t have any time for her, and as time went by I taught her to understand Czech customs. In return, she let me into secrets of Vietnamese life.
That is a completely different culture. They go to school seven days a week. Lessons start at seven in the morning and last until six in the evening. There is no free time. When we have a Saturday off, the Vietnamese children go to their teacher’s house to study. And although their summer vacations last three months, the only other holiday they have is the New Year.
The temperature in Vietnam is about 35 centigrade but children still have to wear uniforms consisting of several layers of clothing. Students must pass tests at the end of the fourth grade to be admitted to their next school.
Phan was surprised how benevolent oureducational system was. Everybody thought that she could do whatever she liked because her father had such a high position. Yes: she wore expensive clothes, she belonged to the highest class of Vietnamese in our country, but she had no private life. Even when she was in the street she had to be careful whom she spoke to. She wasn’t allowed to meet any “bad” people. That would make problems for her father this way.
The Communists are still ruling her country. To them, we are traitors and conspirators of the “West.” That was why we were not allowed to meet outside the school.
But we had so much in common: the only thing that kept us apart was the political regime. In spite of that, though, we spent two beautiful years together.
At the end of the summer after I had finished ninth grade I phoned to ask her how she was doing. But I found out that her father’s mission had ended at the end of July and they were back in Vietnam. I hadn’t been in Prague in July but at a holiday camp, and hadn’t even been able to say good-bye to her.
I know she loved her country and she often missed Vietnam, but I think that after she had lived here it would be hard for her to grow accustomed again to their strict school system and way of life.
Many kilometers separate us now, but I will never forget what I learned from her.

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