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 first conversation is with Kazu Shigenobu ’22, a midfielder on the Princeton men’s soccer team.
For more photos of the Coach for College Program, click here.
What about this experience was most impactful?
My experience with Coach for College really put things in perspective for me and made me realize just how lucky I am. Over my three and a half weeks in Vietnam I became very close with the children I coached and taught, and got to learn about the ins and outs of their personal lives. Despite their often difficult family and financial situations, day-in and day-out, the Vietnamese children approached everything task we gave them with their utmost effort, enthusiasm, and joy. Knowing their backgrounds and seeing how they approached life has taught me to never complain about the cards that I am dealt, and to confront issues that I face with the same effort, enthusiasm, and joy that my students displayed every single day.
What is your favorite memory of the trip and the Coach for College program?
In my three and a half weeks in Vietnam I made so many amazing friendships and memories that it is hard to pinpoint one specific moment that was my favorite. However, one thing that I looked forward to everyday was playing pick up soccer with the locals everyday after dinner. We would eat dinner at the school right after camp ended, and everyday local men, teenagers, and children would wait for camp to end so they could use the school’s soccer field for a pickup game. I would always rush in to dinner, eat for a few minutes, then hustle out to the soccer field so I didn’t miss too much. All the locals were really good, so the games got super competitive, which I absolutely loved! Some days I would enjoy the pickup games so much that I would stay until it was pitch black and we physically couldn’t play any longer. On those days, the bus that took us to and from the guesthouse where we stayed was long gone, and one of the local men would drive me back to the guesthouse on a motorbike (which was really cool).
The funniest moment was definitely when it downpoured, so sport instruction got delayed, and all the students followed one of the American coaches who was holding a speaker into a classroom, forming a huge dance party. At first, there were only around 20 people who were dancing in the classroom, but then people began to follow the ever-growing noise and, pretty quickly, 20 people became 80. Students and coaches were dancing on top of desks and tables dancing, and in the middle of the classroom you couldn’t even turn without bumping into a joyful dancing child.
What was your “welcome to Vietnam” moment, where you encountered something you weren’t expecting or prepared for?
I experienced my “welcome to Vietnam moment” as soon as I stepped out of the Ho Chi Minh City airport and saw the hectic, horn-blaring road directly in front of me. I saw a flood of motorbikes, each one laying on the horn, evading seemingly unfazed pedestrians. In Vietnam, the primary means of transportation is via motorbike, which is quite different from the US’s car-centric means of transportation. On top of that though, I was stunned by how motorbikes and pedestrians both somehow evaded each other so effortlessly instead of stopping and letting the other go. It took me about 5 minutes to get from one side of the street to the other after first arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, but by the end of my time in Vietnam I was navigating the streets like a native!
Can you tell us a little about the children you taught as part of the program?
The children I got to work with were an absolute blessing to get to know and are what made Coach For College so special for me. Going into the program with zero teaching and coaching experience, I was a little nervous that I would struggle to get through to my students both in the classroom and on the soccer field. Their maturity and excitement to learn, however, was something I’ve never seen out of 8th and 9th graders and made my experience so easy and enjoyable. Each day that I walked onto the soccer field or into the classroom I was greeted with cheers, handshakes, and hugs, but as soon as I began to instruct, the kids locked in on whatever task was in front of them–both out of respect and dedication to learning.
Can you briefly outline what a typical day as part of the program?
Each day was packed with events and responsibilities, which brought the coaches and children closer together, while also making everyone involved a better person.
I woke up everyday around 4:30 a.m. to run before any of the daily events, so I could come back to the United States fit and ready to play competitive soccer. That would leave me with enough time to stretch and shower before our 6 o’clock breakfast, which we ate at the school. After eating breakfast, we would teach and coach 8th graders from 7 a.m. – 11 a.m., with a two hour break before we resumed at 1 p.m. In those two hours off, we would eat lunch and relax ahead of our next four hour spell of teaching/coaching from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. We would eat dinner at the school right after camp and, if there was time, would hop in soccer or volleyball matches played by some locals at the school’s facilities. By 7 p.m. we were lesson planning for the coming day, then went to sleep early ahead of another early morning. Although we were very busy, everybody involved seemed to love the structure and always went to sleep excited for the next day’s grind.
What advice would you give to current/future Princeton undergrads who are considering applying to this program?
My advice is very simple: do it. Apply. My time in Vietnam was so incredible and rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade my experience there for anything. To be completely honest, when I was applying to the Coach For College program I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I would be teaching and coaching in rural Vietnam, but “coaching” and “teaching” alone does not come close to doing this awesome program justice. I came away with so many meaningful relationships with both my students and my co-teachers, and to this day feel so much warmth in my heart from creating such strong bonds.
What message do you have for our PVC donors who help support this program?
Thank you so much for making this experience possible for me. I am so grateful for your generosity, and I hope Princeton student-athletes can continue to have this privilege for years to come because it is an absolutely life-changing experience.