Bill Keane's Ha Noi/GeoVisions Experience Summary
GeoVisions -- The Company promising 15/week conversational English program in Ha Noi, Vietnam, including Private accommodation and meals.
Vietnam Resource Group (also called Viet Group) -- A US based company that acts as an agent For GeoVisions' placement of Americans teaching English in Vietnam.
PO Box 2163 Fairfax, VA 22031 202.271.8200
Randy LeGrant -- The GeoVisions Executive Director.
Jodi Standrowicz -- The Geovisions US representative working directly with me in establishing my program.
Mr. Trung Trinh -- Managing Partner of Vietnam Resource Group. A contact for me since March 2012, responsible for pre-arranging my specific placement in Ha Noi.
Ms. Hoa Dinh -- Works directly under Trung Trinh. She is a local resident in Ha Noi, and was my local GeoVisions contact in Ha Noi.
Dreamhouse -- A private school for primary school students, with locations around Ha Noi.
1) I signed on to and paid for a "Conversation Partner" program of teaching conversational English to Vietnamese University/Business level students, for 15 hours per week, for the month of July 2012. At the very last minute I was switched to a program of teaching English to primary school students, but, in the end, this only involved an hour of teaching for the month. While in-country, arrangements were made so I could teach University level students at an English Club, but in the end, this engagement only totaled 10 hours for the month of July.
2) I was promised private apartment/hotel accommodation in Ha Noi, but at the last minute, I was placed with an un-vetted host family. The head of household in this family willfully forced me into a direct, illegal, and dangerous encounter with prostitution and drugs.
3) While arranging a new accommodation (which could have been provided all along) GeoVisions personnel listed above were largely evasive and revisionist in their approach to me in Ha Noi, and my wife in Connecticut. Eventually, I was offered a program fee refund, provided I sign a waiver. I did not respond to this offer.
Expanded details are set forth below…
-- Planning with GeoVisions since late in 2011, checking out a number of possibilities, I signed on, and paid for ($1,350. not including airfares) for a program of teaching Conversational English for 15 hours a week, in Ha Noi, Vietnam, to university aged/business track students.
-- Doing further research, and before making a final commitment, I found that July/August were traditional holiday/low season months in Vietnam, I raised this concern with GeoVisions, and was assured by them and then by Mr. Trung Trinh (GeoVisions' main Vietnamese contact person) that adequate opportunities to work as planned would be available in July (the only time I had available to me).
-- As directly requested, and assumed all along in planning, I was promised private apartment/hotel style accommodation for the duration of my month long stay in Ha Noi, starting June 28th, ending August 1st. Thus I completed payment to GeoVisions for my program and purchased my airfares in March 2012 (AEROFLOT: $1554.26).
-- On March 12, Jodi Standrowicz emailed to say, "It was so nice to speak with you Bill! 2 of the schools Trung is looking into for you are Ha Noi University Of Agriculture or Ha Noi International School." These are both consistent with the website promise and serve students exactly in my chosen demographic.
-- April and May passed, and finally, on June 2nd I received an email from Trung Trinh offering 2 options for the Conversation Partner Program (either IEC or Dreamhouse). I chose IEC as that is an adult based company working with business folks, and Dreamhouse works with small children. My choice was communicated to Mr. Trinh the same day.
-- June 2nd Mr. Trinh responded to my email of the same day and wrote, "Ms. Hoa will be working with IEC to arrange your accomodation and then your working agenda. Thanks and I am sure that you will enjoy your stay there."
-- I was due to start my trip on June 27th. However, on June 24th, I was informed by Trung Trinh via email that the prior choice I'd made of teaching adults at a firm known as IEC was not possible due to low enrollment. He wrote, "For your information, your host organization is Dream House – They have arranged your homestay at one of their staff families located on Nha Chung Street, near the main cathedral of Ha Noi. I understood that earlier you have expressed your interest in working at IEC. However, they just informed us that due to their summer schedule with limited number of students they do not have enough students to participate in the conversational program with you."
-- I simply forwarded Mr. Trinh's email to Randy Le Grant and Jodi Standrowicz, as they were most aware of my chosen and promised plan, and would be aware that this latest iteration was fundamentally different from what I'd agreed to and paid for.
-- In a phone conversation, Jodi indicated that, after she'd communicated with Mr. Trinh, she determined that there'd been a misunderstanding, and that I would, in fact, be staying in a private apartment, not host family accommodation, and, that while Dreamhouse did work with small children well below my agreed demographic, there would be adult teachers and parents who would be wanting to learn conversational English from me.
-- I really had no viable option, but to proceed to Vietnam, so I did, hoping to make the very best of the experience. My expressed sentiments were very positive.
-- However, upon arrival in Vietnam, Thursday, June 28th, I was taken from the airport by my local GeoVisions contact, Ms. Hoa, to a private home, set to stay with a completely unvetted host family. Ms. Hoa met this family for the first time when I did. I would come to find out the following week that this host family was led to believe, as were the administrators of Dreamhouse, that I would be a personal English tutor for their children, aged 6 and 9. Indeed, the first evening I was situated with the host family, I was left with the children, and a niece, while the parents went out swimming at a nearby hotel.
-- I emailed Jodi Standrowicz indicating that indeed I had been placed with a host family, and she responded in an email, saying, "I apologize for not understanding the living arrangement. When I asked Trung about the living arrangement he explained you would be in a private residence, I clearly misunderstood. I thought he meant your own private residence. Please let me know if you are ok with the arrangement." I did not demand a change because the family seemed nice, and it would have been a tremendous insult to arrive and then leave. I decided to stay and make the best of things, as I did not yet know that the host family had any expectations.
-- Meeting with representatives of Dreamhouse (named: Ngu, Thuy and Hoa), on Monday July 2nd, they told me that GeoVisions (presumably via Trung Trinh) placed me in a host family situation to "save money", and they were told that if they found and supplied room and board with a host family, I would be available to do pretty much whatever was asked (teaching the family children/teaching the kids at Dreamhouse). They also expressed dismay that I had come to Vietnam in July, as this was a time when things really slowed down and there would not be a whole lot for me to do in the classroom setting. Upon hearing what I had been promised stateside, they said GeoVisions had "mishandled" my placement. At that point, July 2nd, they offered me a brief, hour-long teaching interaction late that afternoon with small children at one of their schools far on the outskirts of Ha Noi, and they scheduled me for two engagements teaching primary school children on July 17th and July 19th (these engagements were later cancelled due to low enrollment). At that point, those were the ONLY specific teaching opportunities offered to me for the entire month. Ms. Hoa indicated that she was working on getting me some adult teaching engagements with students at English Clubs around Ha Noi. One possibility was an engagement on Sunday, July 8th.
-- After my conversation with Dreamhouse administrators, I spoke to the host family parents, saying there'd been a great misunderstanding, and I was not informed that I would be acting as a personal tutor/nanny for their children. I also indicated that this was an expectation I did not intend to fulfill. Much embarrassment was expressed all around, but there was a new level of understanding as well because they had wondered why I wasn't doing what was expected (daily classes with their kids).
-- While initially included in appropriate, very enjoyable, wider family gatherings, on July 3rd, the head of household requested I go away with the family for several days in the country. When I indicated that I had a potential teaching engagement at an English Club on July 8th (when the trip was due to be on) he said if I didn't go with the family, he would be "very disappointed". I avoided the issue by saying I would have to speak to Ms. Hoa. The possessive tone was disconcerting.
-- On the evening of July 4th, the head of the household in my host family, with other family members and friends (about 7 in total), invited me out, and late in the evening took me to an isolated Ha Noi neighborhood, ostensibly to sing Karaoki in a private club. We were directed to a plush upstairs private room with a large TV and audio equipment for singing Karaoki. However, within a few minutes the head of the household said he wanted me to have a "good time", and, soon after, four prostitutes entered the room, with one immediately, directly, physically and intimately subjecting me to unwanted, unsolicited encounters. As another prostitute jumped on my lap, the first one attempted to remove my shirt while kissing my body and face. When I didn't respond positively, the one who jumped on my lap, moved on to someone else, and the first one opened a purse carrying several blister-packs of drugs, showing me a variety of pills and asking me how much money I had to spend. I made no positive response to any of these solicitations, and directly stopped them, twice making the host aware I was not going to be participating in this aspect of the evening's entertainment. The prostitutes eventually left, and not very long after, we all returned home.
-- After arriving back at my accommodation, I took two Advil, called my wife, and Jodi Standrowicz. Jodi asked if I was OK, but expressed no interest in further exploring any specific details of my encounter. She indicated she would be bringing Randy LeGrant into the conversation.
-- Concurrently, I received an email from Trung Trinh (the Viet Group representative, then in the US) that referenced all the planning that had been done for my visit -- a sentiment completely at variance with the facts. I responded in as strong and derogatory a manner as I could (cc'ing Jodi Standrowicz), indicating my extreme displeasure at being a victim of a deliberate "bait and switch" scheme. I also referenced the prostitution encounter, which he never fully responded to.
-- The following morning, my time in Ha Noi, I phoned Randy, who remarked that it was a holiday in the US (July 4th), as if he was going the extra mile in working with me, and he was totally guarded in referencing any details of my previous night's experience. He made no specific mention of the incident. When I forced him to acknowledge the prostitution, he said he didn't want to be "drawn into discussing" the email I'd just sent to Trung Trinh. I indicated I wanted to leave the host family situation immediately, under a pretext related to Visa issues (because I didn't think the wife and wider family knew about the head of household's behavior, and I had no interest in provoking a domestic upset). Randy agreed, and said I would be contacted by Ms. Hoa later that day to enable a move.
-- Indeed, at 2pm, as per the plan, Ms. Hoa came by to move me to a hotel that I was told other GeoVisions teachers had stayed at previously. The pretext she offered was one related to insurance.
-- While the head of household and his wife left their residence upon seeing Ms. Hoa, a member of the host family threatened Ms. Hoa and me with police action if we tried to leave the premises. Upon request made by that family member, we waited for an hour and a half for the homeowners to return, so that we could say "goodbye". They did not return, and as we made it clear we were leaving, we were again threatened with the police. Ms. Hoa was quite shaken, moved to tears, and she called Trunh Trinh, who was in the US. According to Ms. Hoa, he advised Ms. Hoa to leave me in the residence, rendezvousing with me after I managed to get out on my own. I told Ms. Hoa this was a terrible plan, that she should not leave me alone, and that we would be going out together. This, we did, under more direct threats, and not without Ms. Hoa leaving her government ID with the very angry host family member.
-- Via taxi, Ms. Hoa got me to a hotel, but for most of the remainder of my stay, the original host family tried to discern my whereabouts. They repeatedly contacted Ms. Hoa to find out where I was staying. They never attempted contact with me directly, even though the head of household had my email address.
-- Upon my asking, Ms. Hoa expressed the view that the host family was "mafia". I cannot confirm this, but this possibility had crossed my mind.
-- The folks connected with Dreamhouse, were very upset at my change of residence (as they had arranged it). It was a major embarrassment.
-- I had left the host family under a pretext related to insurance. According to Hoa, Trung Trinh blew this cover story under pressure from a Dreamhouse representative who didn't buy it. I then received emails from Thuy and Ngu, asking about the prostitution incident (Mr. Trinh's rendition wasn't entirely accurate). This necessitated two separate meetings, one with Thuy, and the other with Ngu, to explain what had actually transpired. They both then understood my need to make new living arrangements, but Thuy said the host family was not one to take lightly, and that I should be "very careful" while I was in Ha Noi. Ngu also expressed serious misgivings about Viet Group, and their trustworthiness.
-- In the meantime, Hoa set up a schedule for me to teach conversational English to college age students at one institution, the RES English Club, on 5 occasions (July 8, 15, 21, 22 & 29) altogether totaling 10 hours of teaching for the month. The other two previously scheduled opportunities at Dreamhouse were cancelled due to low enrollment, and indeed, according to Dreamhouse personnel, there were no adults, teachers or parents within their establishment, interested in learning English.
-- Late July 4th I also received an email from Trung Trinh, with attached "working agenda". It outlined about 7 hours of projected teaching activity with the RES English Club, and included the Dreamhouse July 17/19 plan (which never transpired).
-- In general, Randy LeGrant's emails to me from July 4th onward ran the gamut of attempted intimidation, to complete oblivious denial. There was a request that I should offer advise on improving the program (he mentioned other participants having problems), and then in later emails there were expressions of blatant, cynical revision of the basic facts. I repeatedly tried, via emails, to engage him from a standpoint of reality, but completely failed in this endeavor.
-- From July 4th onward, GeoVisions refused to respond to my wife's direct and pertinent questions relative to my situation, even after I gave them direct permission to do so. She was justifiably concerned for my safety, and communicated this. She also wanted to know why I hadn't been initially placed in the hotel that had been used before. Jodi Standrowicz said not responding was a "legal" issue, so it was then that we secured legal advise.
-- Randy LeGrant said, in emails, that he could only communicate substantively with me (since I was the program participant), and he would do so after compiling his own "report", but in the end, he refused to answer my questions as well.
-- Thus, my conclusion is that my encounter with GeoVisions was a dangerous and deliberate "bait and switch". It was a "bait and switch" they had been caught in and were being called on. While they may have hoped a decent program would be available in July, they took no responsibility for making any adjustments when it became obvious that no such program would be available. This explains the immediate, very guarded approach they used the instant problems arose. Claiming a lack of understanding with an individual (Mr. Trinh) they've extensively worked with before in Vietnam simply doesn't make sense. Teaching adults and private accommodation are not mysterious concepts in Ha Noi. Perhaps for his own benefit, Mr. Trinh made assurances to GeoVisions and Dreamhouse that he couldn't live up to, but it was GeoVisions' responsibility to ensure an adequate program and adequate safety. They did neither, and in reality, made matters worse.
-- My program quantity and initial accommodations were nothing close to what I had signed on for (15 hrs./week; Private accommodation), and GeoVisions' only attempt at restitution was a late offer from Randy LeGrant that I would receive a full program refund, provided I sign a "waiver". One gets the very clear impression they have been down this track before.
-- The Vietnamese people are great, and my limited interactions with the students at the RES English Club were wonderful. However, these late-coming teaching engagements were not arranged until after I was in country, they did not start until July 8th, and, as noted, they were fractional in time comparison to what was promised, and paid for. Ms. Hoa, I believe, did her best to attempt fashioning a reasonable program for me, but trying this in real-time, in July, was simply not feasible. This was particularly frustrating in that I sensed there would be a paucity of opportunity in July months earlier.
-- The original host family situation, arranged by GeoVisions/Trung Trinh-Viet Group with Dreamhouse directly put me in serious personal danger. The stress engendered, for me and my wife, was enormous, and the potential personal, familial and career damage… profound. Prostitution and drugs are highly illegal in Ha Noi. The risks of HIV/AIDS and arrest were aspects I never signed on for, and deeply, deeply resent having to deal with (this is not to mention the moral aspects). Added to this, the GeoVisions' willful and repeated attempts at denial and revision were and are blatantly reprehensible.
-- In general, I believe the negligence, deliberate deceit, and dangerous incompetence, merit far, far more than a simple refund of program fees. Our petition in this case needs to be a strong one to ensure that what was done to me will not be repeated ever again with anyone else.