Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Coach for College- Summer 2015

Coach for College- An Overview 

Early this summer, I participated in a volunteer-service program called Coach for College. The goal of the organization is to promote higher education through sports and similar competitive initiatives to Vietnamese youth living in rural areas. Along with 7 other student-athletes from across the country, we taught academic classes, life skill classes, and sports to 8th and 9th graders for three weeks. Although none of us knew Vietnamese, we quickly learned that sports can transcend linguistic and cultural barriers and help build confidence and motivate kids in a variety of positive ways.

You can read more about the program here:

I initially heard about the program through fellow Boston College student athletes and my swimming teammates who all had an authentic and life changing experience during those three weeks and spoke very highly of it. Given my interest in international education as well as my desire to try teaching and coaching, I thought CFC would be a perfect fit.

So on May 20th (two days after I graduated from BC!) I departed from JFK to Ho Chi Minh City for my own life changing experience.

Starting our tour of Ho Chi Minh City in a park close to our hostel 

The War Remnants Museum- offered a unique Vietnamese perspective to the war that none of the American students were ever exposed to. Despite being from all over the country, we all agreed that we had learned little to nothing about the Vietnamese War before college. 

Notre Dame Cathedral- built by the French in the late 19th century 

City Hall- also built by the French in the late 19th/early 20th century when the city was still under French power and known as Saigon 

My friend Steph and I exploring alleyways 

Ho Chi Minh City at night 

Camp 1A- Hoa An 

On Saturday morning after two days of exploring Ho Chi Minh City, the American coaches piled our bags onto the tiny coach bus and drove 4 hours south towards our camp/guesthouse in the village of Hoa An. Upon our arrival, we settled into our new rooms and met our 8 Vietnamese counterparts.
I was lucky enough to have one of my teammates and best friends, Stephanie, in Vietnam too but she was placed at the other camp about 45 minutes away.

My camp had student athletes hailing from all over the country: Harvard, UMiami, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, UNC, and Boston College. 

Hoa An in the Mekong Delta region

The guesthouse 

Our breakfast at the guesthouse every day! 

Blood soup... can't say it was my favorite 

typical meal spread- rice, meat, soup, veggies, and eggs 

dragon fruit 


The Equipment room 

I coached tennis with Kelsey, who plays at Wisconsin. 
Luckily the courts were underneath a mini-stadium so we weren't in the sun all day. The heat was probably the hardest thing to get used to. To be honest the weather report made me cringe... it was at least 100 degrees every day with very high humidity. Luckily, since the region was about to enter its rainy season, the thunderstorms that usually occurred in the afternoon really cooled things off. I found myself looking forward to the thunderstorms. 

translates to learning and working by Uncle Ho's example

basketball courts 

rice patties in the distance 

bridge on the walk to school 

Green Team getting ready for their first competition day! 

 Coaches also got competitive- our camp played volleyball and kickball with the other camp- where my friend Steph was placed 

Steph and I at our volleyball competition 

Weekend Trip- Can Tho City 
When camp ended on our first Friday we immediately headed to Can Tho city which is about an hour away from out camp site. Although we liked Ho Chi Minh, most of us agreed we liked Can Tho a little more considering it was a lot less touristy and easier to navigate. All of those motorbikes can be overwhelming!

the river across from our hostel

yogurt on ice with strawberries 

motorbikes everywhere 

Sunrise around 5 in the morning when we were heading to the floating market

floating market- each boat had one or two specific fruits or vegetables to sell 

fresh cut pineapple- right off the boat! 

the CFC crew at a fruit orchard outside of the city 

Vietnamese style relaxing 

Weekend Trip 2- Rach Gia

The idea of the second weekend trip was to let us relax a bit more. By the end of week two we were all really exhausted. The 12+ hour days were really starting to catch up to us.
The hotel CFC booked for us though was more than enough to get us recharged for the last week of camp. I was mostly excited to have a pool to jump into...

 Inside a Cambodian pagoda we visited in Rach Gia- which is about an hour or so from the Cambodian border 

the port 

The best Pho I had in Vietnam! 

The Final Days 
The last week we were all hard at work preparing for the final competition and test days before camp ended. Luckily the competitions ran smoothly and everyone had a ton of fun.

What impressed me most about these kids was their motivation to play sports- any time of day and any weather condition. This can probably be attributed to the fact that they don't have the 'recess' or gym classes that Americans take for granted in the United States. Formal sports instruction, especially in this poor, rural area, is quite rare. They were excited to take these new skills and interests outside the CFC program and play with each other. 

This little guy lived next to the tennis court with his family who runs a small cafe on school grounds

Soccer field- this was a lot less green when we arrived. One of our directors told us that since things grow so quickly here, they had to burn this area to make it a level field. Very few of the CFC kids had sneakers, so most of the time they kicked off their flip flops and played barefoot. 

Occasionally we had some rooster sightings during tennis lessons 

green team with the bracelets we made them 
one of the girls in my class made this for me... close enough! 

One of the last English lessons. We tried to incorporate games as much as we could because they are used to a very rigid teaching system during the school year. 

Lifeskills lesson where we talked about cultures and value systems in different areas of the world. Everyone then made their own countries...

village market (also where that hat came from!)

a few of us got really hooked on Vietnamese coffee... including me 

Village tour via riverboat and rice fields
On our last full day, our directors hired a river boat to take us around the village. It was by far the most primitive form of transportation I'd ever been on! We had to stop 3 times so the boat driver could cool off the engine to keep us going. It was a really cool way to see the area we've been living in for the past three weeks and what some more Vietnamese homes looked like.

After our river tour, we visited a students house where we were joined by many of the other campers. We took the long way through the rice fields to see what it was really like. Luckily, these girls were great guides. 

one of the girls' bracelets

this little guy had his own rice bowl 

these boys were nice enough to cut us fresh coconut upon our arrival

Closing Ceremony & Goodbyes 

On our last night, the guesthouse was nice enough to hire a DJ and turn the place into a dance party. We actually had a big turn out of campers, former campers, and villagers who wanted to see what was going on. It was a great way to end the trip and say our last goodbyes to our Vietnamese coaches.

some of the girls on the green team

closing ceremony 

closing ceremony performances

I gave one of my tshirts to De for always being prepared and energetic in the classroom. He was by far one of the best students in the entire camp

Camp 1A in its entirety 

One of the final sunsets at the Hoa An school

CFC was a life changing experience to say the least. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go to participate in the program and help improve the lives of those kids. We all knew that three weeks wasn't going to make them fluent in English or world-class tennis stars, but it certainly made them more motivated academically and athletically. I can only hope that at least a few of the campers were touched by the lessons we provided them with. Not just those English grammar lessons or how to ask important questions, but the deeper lessons that emphasized the reality that higher education is the key to a brighter future. 

CFC provided me with a once in a lifetime opportunity to build  relationships with fellow student-athletes and Vietnamese university students. Through these relationships, I gained a better understanding of Asian higher education systems, world politics, and intercultural communication dynamics- all while exploring a brand new part of the world. 
I would recommend Coach for College to anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone, work hard and passionately for a great cause, and finally make a valuable impact on young lives.