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We first met our team of kids on Sunday during a pre-camp orientation. My first reaction — shocking. Having never been outside of America, I had never before been confronted with such a fundamental barrier like human communication. The other American coaches and I felt helpless, and our Vietnamese partner coach was overwhelmed trying to control a classroom of both grade levels (15 students in each) and translate what we were attempting to say to the kids. After Sunday’s orientation, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to bond with the kids, let alone coach or teach them at all.

The three main areas of instruction are academics where I teach physics, sports where I coach basketball, and life skills where we promote higher education and important virtues. Each area includes two or three American coaches paired with two Vietnamese coaches. The language barrier was overcome in physics through demonstrations, real world examples, and equations that use the same letters and numbers allowing examples on the board to be possible and effective. With the help of some incredible Vietnamese coaches, even individual assistance was possible, and very rewarding. Basketball was similarly communicable through demonstrations and the motivation to help your team win or just to “Get Buckets.” It was initially hard to accept that most kids would not uphold the standards set by our Division 1 athletic programs — starting behind the line, giving 100{639f82de1b4b629c2cbc70ca3399ae95f04e1d6c782a3ccc5e0955dead873b7f} effort on every rep, etc. — but their passion and enthusiasm was more than sufficient. Life skills offered a time to come together as a team through a variety of games and activities targeted to promote virtues like attitude and confidence as well as goal setting, overcoming adversity and pursuing higher education. It is awesome to see the excitement on their faces when they get an answer right in the classroom or make the game winning layup in a relay race on the basketball court.

“By the end of the first week, I was blown away by the relationships I’d made.”

Firstly, those with the Vietnamese coaches, including Sỹ, who I am teamed with in physics and basketball, and Khiết, a camp director that has offered me guidance on everything from eating fruits that I’ve never seen before to doing laundry by hand (which is surprisingly hard). The American coaches have also grown closer through the long hard days in the intense heat and humidity and bonding experiences such as sunrise yoga or walks to the market for iced coffee or coconut water for around 10,000 Đong or $0.50.

Then come the kids. In just one week, relationships have begun to build, and it’s truly a beautiful thing. Each day, I am greeted with a very cute, English, “Hi, Kevin!” that never fails to put a smile on my face. By the time competition day came on Friday, our color team, who we teach life skills and have daily team bonding time, was laughing and playing together eager to root each other on. With chants and cheers like “Red Team, cố lên!” (Go red team!), we were ready to compete in different sports — basketball, soccer, baseball, and dance — and test in different academic subjects — physics, English, biology, and math — as well as life skills.

I’m not entirely sure who was more excited, the American coaches (who are all minorly competitive athletes) or our teams of kids, but it was a blast! Overall, the first week was an overwhelming success, and I find myself looking forward to waking up at the break of dawn each day to hang out with this amazing group of people at Coach for College and the kids of Long Mỹ, Vietnam. While the language barrier certainly comes with challenges and limitations, it seems that teaching the kids from two different perspective creates a rich learning environment both for the kids and the coaches. I have come extremely far since that first Sunday, and, thanks to our Vietnamese co-staff, it’s safe to say that language is just a minor speed bump in global service.

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