Everywhere I went during the three-week Coach for College program this past summer, people wanted to talk to me and take a picture with me. Many had never seen an American in real life, let alone a black person.
The Coach for College program is a global initiative to promote higher education by sending Division 1 American student athletes to represent their institution while coaching, mentoring and teaching underprivileged youth. The program aims to make learning more exciting by incorporating sports into every lesson; my students and I played soccer with our biology lessons.
Going into this trip, I could not speak any Vietnamese. I learned how to communicate more effectively without using words. The kids loved to hear me mispronouncing the Vietnamese words and vice versa. It always made for a good laugh. (Apparently, “squirrel” is one of the hardest English words for them to say.) I learned a decent amount in the three weeks from the coaches and students, and by the end, some of the students could hold small talk conversations with us in English.
In Vietnam, the middle school dropout rate is high. Only about 20 percent of students get selected to attend college, and many kids don’t know anyone who has attended college. Our purpose with Coach for College is to motivate the children to work hard, become good students and learn positive life skills so they can continue learning, graduate high school and hopefully even attend college.
I have always loved working with children, but it was even more special to work with underprivileged youth. In life skills class, they learned valuable life skills to prepare them for the future. One of my favorite quotes is “give a child a fish, feed him for a day, teach a child to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Coach for College instills lessons that can essentially “feed” the students for life.
Participating in Coach for College taught me many valuable lessons as well.
I learned not to take many simple things for granted: hot water, a washer and drier, my car, my beloved Qdoba, air conditioning, clean streets, trashcans, a microwave … I like to call the lack of these items First World Problems. Things I use every day but underappreciate were rare or nonexistent in rural Vietnam.
In Vietnam, I saw only about 15 of the 100 students with closed-toe shoes. The kids often played barefoot on the very rocky basketball courts and soccer fields. For three days, I played soccer barefoot with them to see how it felt to not have the proper shoes, and I simply could not keep up with them.
In the end, I believe the kids taught me more than I taught them. The last day, everyone was crying and not wanting to part ways. At least five different kids from the camps message me every day telling me how sad they are that we left, and that they love and miss me. Some even list me as their family member on Facebook.
Coach for College forever changed my life. My memories and happiness of these children will be with me eternally. I am grateful for the countless support of Indiana University Athletics of me and my endeavors — on and off the track.