These past three and a half weeks have been the most fascinating and eye-opening experiences I have ever encountered in my entire life. It is extremely hard to pick just one exhilarating learning experience to discuss because everything I learned was so unexpected and surprising. However, since I was asked to discuss one learning experience for this blog post, I would say that I learned how to be more nonchalant and easygoing from the Vietnamese coaches.
One of the primary reasons I decided to travel halfway across the world was to distance myself from what was happening back in the United States and immerse myself in Vietnamese culture. In other words, I needed a break from the fast-paced American lifestyle, and I can confidently say that I experienced just that in Vietnam. As student-athletes at such prestigious universities, we are accustomed to being on time for classes, meetings, and practices. In Vietnam, when they say we are meeting at a specific time, they tend to arrive around five to ten minutes late. At first, I found this confusing, but I eventually learned to appreciate this laid-back approach.
Another unexpected learning experience was acquiring more patience when dealing with others. During lesson plan discussions, the Vietnamese coaches sometimes had difficulty understanding our ideas, so we had to explain in more detail what we wanted to teach the children. I admit that it was frustrating at times, but I learned how to handle the situation calmly, reiterating my ideas until they were understood. Witnessing their faces light up when they finally grasped an American lesson-planning concept was incredibly thrilling and satisfying, as they were adapting and learning from us too. Moreover, observing the Vietnamese students understand and enjoy the engaging activities we organized for them filled me with joy and made me realize that I was setting an example and acting as a role model for them. While I have always felt like a role model to my younger siblings, being viewed in the same light by these Vietnamese eighth and ninth-grade students was an extremely humbling and honorable experience.
These students taught me how to be resilient and love myself more than I ever have, and that is something I will never forget.
– Seamus Harding, Duke Men’s Swimming and Diving
Despite the relatively short duration of this trip, I discovered a lot about myself in ways I never thought possible. I learned new study and memorization techniques similar to how the Vietnamese students approach their studies. As a diver, I wished I has access to a diving board and a pool so I could share with them about my sport but teaching my students how to do a backflip was an exhilarating experience. Witnessing their astonished reactions was both hilarious and enlightening, as it made me realize the value of using my talents outside of the pool. As a volunteer, I learned how to form close relationships with these students and appreciate the unique contributions I could make.
If I had been teaching American children, they might have perceived me as eccentric and unconventional, but the Vietnamese students loved my vibrant, outgoing, and humorous personality, which filled me with a sense of self-assurance. These students taught me how to be resilient and love myself more than I ever have, and that is something I will never forget. Despite the need for a translator whenever I spoke, they saw me as a role model, a friend, a mentor, and someone they could lean on for support.
When I bid farewell to the school, I told my students to stay strong. I assured them that it wasn’t a goodbye but merely a “see you later.” Witnessing their strength, I know that even though I’m across the world, they can reach out to me, and I will always be cheering them on. While it was heartbreaking to leave those students for the last time, I know that we all positively impacted each other’s lives, and that is what we should remember about this experience. I will cherish my memories and hold these students dear in my heart. Despite my strong demeanor, thinking about them always stirs up emotions and makes me miss them deeply. I am incredibly honored to have represented ACE, Coach for College, and the Yellow Bumblebees during this experience, and it is an experience that I will cherish forever.