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When I became one of the leaders in the “Coach for College” program, I, like everyone else, expected to be the coach. I could not have been more mistaken.

On paper our job description was significant. We were to teach the Vietnamese 8th and 9th graders lessons in various school subjects, instruct them in sports in which they had limited-to-no knowledge, and provide them with life skills that they could take with them for use in their futures.

 On the surface I may have been teaching, in reality it was quite the opposite. They were teaching me, preparing me for my life back at Duke. They were my coaches.

Truth be told, this was not the case. No student in any of my physics classes ever understood a single word I said. Furthermore, every time I shouted, “Shoot it!” on the basketball court, all I received in return were blank stares. While at the end of the day, the kids may have understood the concepts of kinematics or mastered the art of shooting a basketball, it wasn’t because of me. They learned it from the Vietnamese college students who were fluent in English and were tasked with the job of translating everything I said to the kids. To the kids I was the foreign giant they referred to as “Superman” who was fun to play with and laugh it. I loved it. While I provided a glimpse of an outside world different from their own, it proved I wasn’t their “Coach.” On the surface I may have been teaching, in reality it was quite the opposite. They were teaching me, preparing me for my life back at Duke. They were my coaches.

They taught me lessons that were revealed every day in my interactions with them. I didn’t understand patience until I tried to have a conversation with a student via google translate. I didn’t understand finding joy in the little things until I watched a Vietnamese eighth grader’s face light up when she scored her first basket. I didn’t understand the importance of hospitality until a boy in our class invited the entire camp over to his house, providing us with food and gifts. I didn’t understand the importance of brotherhood until I saw one kid who had a backpack pull out all of the school supplies for his friends who couldn’t carry them. I didn’t understand selflessness until I met an impoverished 7-year-old who wanted me to have his last drops of clean bottled water. I didn’t understand the meaning of taking advantage of opportunities presented before me until I met a boy who bikes an hour in the pouring rain to go to summer camp in order to give him a tiny edge in the upcoming school year. The list and the lessons go on and on.

So as a final wrap up of my unforgettable Vietnam experience, I would like to say thank you to all 150 of my little Vietnamese coaches. Thank you for making me a better man, friend, and community member. You all have taught me lessons that I will cherish for the rest of my life. And for this, I am grateful for the Coach for College program and for the children of Long My, Vietnam.

Young man helping girls properly hold a basketball

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