The Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) selected eight Princeton varsity student-athletes to travel to the Hậu Giang Province in southern Vietnam during the summer of 2019 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 – 9th 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 seventh 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 Emily Philippides ’22, a member of the Princeton women’s track and field team.
For more photos of the Coach for College Program click here.
Can you briefly outline what a typical day as part of the program?
On a typical day, I would wake up at 5:15am and go on short a run, typically around the track that was about a seven minute walk from the lodge we stayed at. I would then shower, get ready for the day, and go downstairs for breakfast, which usually consisted of either fried eggs or noodle soup. All the coaches would take a bus to the school about 15 minutes away and arrive there by 7:00am to teach eighth grade. I taught physics and basketball, as well as life skills to the “orange” team. So, I would teach basketball for 45 minutes to one team, physics to another, and repeat that for two more color teams, since there were four color teams in total. Finally, I would teach what we called “life skills” to my team, the “orange” team. We would leave the school by 11:00-11:15am for lunch at the lodge and come back at 1:00pm to repeat this schedule with ninth grade. At the end of the day (around 5:00-5:15pm), we would return for dinner, shower, lesson-plan for the next day, perhaps do our laundry, and then go to bed.
What about this experience was most impactful?
Oh man, I really can’t put into words the number of things I took away from this program. Probably one of the most important things is the feeling of pride and purpose I took away from seeing all the kids’ smiling faces everyday. I truly felt like I was contributing to something worthwhile. I also gained an amazing cultural perspective from this trip. I have never traveled to a place so foreign and was blown away by some of the Vietnamese’s culture and ideals, including the kids’ generosity and willingness to work together as a team.
What was the most striking difference between life in the U.S. and the area of Vietnam that you visited? How has it changed your overall perspective?
There are many differences between life in the U.S. and Vietnam, but probably the most striking is the approach to sharing. Americans are generally very independent and individualistic, whereas the Vietnamese are extremely generous and foster a collective mindset. During school breaks in Vietnam, the kids would often go to a food stand close-by and buy a bag of chips. Every time they did so, they would bring the chips back to class and offer one to everyone there, including us, the coaches. This really touched my heart and changed my attitude towards sharing, collectivity, and teamwork.
What is your favorite memory of the trip and the Coach for College program?
My favorite memory from the trip was the one-on-one day we had with the kids, where we pulled some of the kids from our color team aside and got to know them on a personal level. I learned so much about the kids that I never could have guessed, and found out more about their personal and family circumstances. It was truly touching and eye-opening.
The funniest moment of the trip for me occurred during a life skills session, when I and the other coaches of the orange team had our kids compete for t-shirt numbers with a dance-off. It eventually came down to two of our ninth-graders, whom we called Monkey and Jerry. They whispered to each other for about two seconds and then broke out into this intricate dance out of nowhere. I was shocked by some of the dance moves they knew, such as the Floss and Shoot Dance, which I had thought were only American things. Overall the kids were hilarious during that session.
What advice would you give to current/future Princeton undergrads who are considering applying to this program?
Going into the program, I expected to be teaching in the middle of nowhere with kids who were penniless and hard to connect with on a personal level. I was so wrong. Yes, we were somewhere very rural, but there were actually lots of houses and people around us; there was even a small marketplace and a track nearby where we would often go together as coaches or with the kids. And yes, the kids were definitely poor, but I was surprised to find that the majority carried smartphones, some drove motorbikes to school, and overall, the kids enjoyed many of the things we enjoy in the states. They had varied interests and a great sense of humor. All the coaches quickly developed close relationships with the kids, because they were so loving, appreciative, and looked up to us a lot. I still communicate with some of the kids over Facebook. Overall, I would tell future Princeton undergrads applying to this program to keep an open mind and to really cherish the moments there.
What message do you have for our PVC donors who help support this program?
First of all, thank you so much. It definitely isn’t easy trying to raise $5000 to go on this trip amidst the demand of academic, athletic, and extracurricular commitments at Princeton. PVC’s funding made this trip possible for me and now I have memories that will last a lifetime.