The Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) selected seven Princeton varsity student-athletes to travel to the Hậu Giang Province in southern Vietnam during the summer of 2017 to participate in the Coach for College program, a global initiative aimed at promoting higher education through sports. As part of the Coach for College program, the student-athletes taught academics, athletics and life skills to 6th, 7th and 8th grade Vietnamese students while working alongside Vietnamese coaches and instructors.
The Princeton Varsity Club provided funding for the majority of the necessary expenses associated with the charitable service trip, with the remainder of the funds being raised by the individual participants. This marks the fifth year the PVC has helped to sponsor international service opportunities for varsity student-athletes. The PVC sat down with each student-athlete to learn more about their educational experience this summer.
Our second conversation is with Allison Harvey ’20, a member of the Princeton softball team, who traveled to the Hậu Giang Province.
What is the most important and/or impactful thing you took away from this experience?
The most impactful thing from this experience was the connection I made with all the kids. The challenge of trying to communicate with a language barrier forced us to find new ways to interact which created a unique and special bond.
What was your “welcome to Vietnam” moment, where you encountered something you were not expecting or prepared for?
My “welcome to Vietnam” moment would have to be when I first arrived to Ho Chi Minh City and the director, Seth, made a comment about the restaurants. I thought he was kidding when he was referring to the short plastic stools and tables and food being made from a grill off the back of a motorbike. He then proceeded to tell me that those are actually common for ‘restaurants’ in the cities. It amazed to me to see these sidewalk restaurants and motorbike vendors as we continued walking to the hotel.
What would your advice be to current/future Princeton undergraduates who are considering participating in this program?
I would definitely recommend this program to anyone from Princeton who is considering participating. It was the experience of a lifetime and I made so many memories and friends that I will never forget. This is a great opportunity to improve collaboration skills and patience because there are many challenges, especially with the language barrier. Vietnam is a very collectivist, think-before-you-speak culture and that was a challenge to me and the other outspoken American coaches, but, this program gives you invaluable experience in adapting to working with different people in challenging situations. I would advise future CFC-ers to have an open mind and to not try too hard to force your own opinion on others because then, the trip becomes even more enjoyable.
What would be your brief message to those PVC supporters whose generosity and funding helped make this experience available to you and other Princeton student-athletes?
Thank you for your generous support and for making this opportunity of a lifetime possible. Your support is deeply and truly appreciated.
What impact did your participation in this program have on you and your Princeton experience?
This program was the perfect conclusion to my first year at Princeton in which I was able to bring everything together in a unique, real world experience.
What were the most striking differences between your experiences in the US and that of life in the area of Vietnam that you visited? Has it changed your overall perspective or outlook?
The most striking differences were the lack of technology used in the classroom and in daily life and the satisfaction the kids had with their lives. In the area of Vietnam I visited, there was very minimal technology which was limited to a few families having a TV and the occasional student with a cell phone. What surprised me the most was when we asked the kids if they could change anything about their lives, most of them said there was nothing and the others simply said they wish they could spend more time with their families. Despite them having very little in their homes and living minimal lifestyles, they were all very happy with what they had.
How did the language barrier affect your teaching/coaching strategies?
The language barrier made very basic things very challenging. There would be times when we would all think the kids understood what we were trying to say but really they didn’t have the slightest clue and probably thought we were crazy! Even some common American hand gestures were completely foreign to them. We spent lots of time asking the Vietnamese coaches for helpful phrases and different signals to use to better communicate, or just simply get the attention of the kids.
Can you briefly outline what a typical day was like as part of the program?
A typical day consisted with early breakfast then heading off to the morning session for 8th grade which was from 7:00am to 11:00am. Then we would head back to the guesthouse for lunch and naps before the afternoon session of 9th grade from 1:30pm to 5:30pm. After dinner we had life skills lesson planning every night as a whole group before breaking off into subject and sport lesson planning or competition planning and preparation. The two weekends in between we spent relaxing and bonding in a small city nearby.