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“For the past three weeks, we have been your teachers and coaches, but you all have taught us more than you could ever imagine.”

I know it sounds cliché, but in the moment it felt so fitting because it couldn’t have been more true. That was the last thing I said, tears welling up in my eyes, as Isabelle, Hảo, Thư (my fellow Blue Team coaches) and I gathered in front of the Blue Team 6th and 7th graders one final time to tell them how proud and inspired we were of the hard work, enthusiasm and camaraderie they displayed over the past three weeks. I will remember so many priceless moments and lessons from this amazing experience, but most of all, I will remember the impact that the students had on me. Each day, I strived to inspire the students to learn with high energy and enthusiasm. Yet day after day, I found myself playing catch-up trying to match their unwavering excitement. It was such a joy driving into the schoolyard every morning and every afternoon to be greeted by eager “Xin chào!’s,” high-fives and hugs. Reflecting on my time at Trường THCS Thuận Hưng in Long My, here are a few special moments that stood out to me:

 

  • Embracing adversity
    On the final competition day, our Blue Team 7th grade students had suffered last place finishes in soccer, basketball and baseball. In the last competition of the day (volleyball), they had just lost their first game against the always-tough Orange Team. As it was a tournament-style competition, they had to play one more game as a play-off for 3rd/4th place. All throughout the camp, the Blue Team coaches and I were so impressed by our 7th graders’ team spirit and positivity through defeats and adversity in the team competition. However, after this loss, we could tell that our students were more deflated than usual. We gathered our team together and used this as a teaching opportunity, explaining to them that everyone faces challenges and tough situations in their lives, but what differentiates successful people is how they respond to situations like these. Seeing the way that our Blue Team bounced back after a series of defeats to win their final game on competition day (as well as the overall 7th grade academics, sports and life skills competition!) and having the opportunity to witness their widening smiles and jumps for joy is a memory that I will never forget!

 

  • One wish…
    “If you had one wish, what would it be?” During one of our life skills lessons, we spent 5-10 minutes having in-depth, individualized conversations with each of our students to get to know them better. The Blue Team coaches decided to ask this question to each of our students, and we were floored by their responses. Among the 20+ students that we spoke with, almost every single one gave us the same remarkable response—that they wish that their families will be healthy, happy, and with them forever. It was incredibly humbling to hear this common response among our students because it shows just how down-to-earth, selfless, grateful and mature these 6th and 7th graders are.

 

  • High fives, secret handshakes, and eternal bonds
    Being able to coach and teach with a team of Vietnamese university students is such an incredible part of this program. Not only are they the most extraordinary people in the world, but they also served as our translators, allowing us American coaches to communicate and form connections with the students. Yet, I never would have thought that my strongest connections with students would be formed through something as simple as high fives and handshakes. Not being able to have effective direct verbal communication with the students prompted me to find other forms of communication. I quickly learned that the students loved high fives. So much can be conveyed through a high five—hellos, goodbyes, excitement, encouragement, and even consolation. One of my 7th grade students in particular was mesmerized by high fives. He would constantly gesture for me to raise my hand higher and higher so that he could try to meet my hand with a leaping high-five. We soon made a game out of this, where I would stand on ledges or benches him to challenge him to jump higher and higher to secure his coveted high five. His grin of satisfaction when he finally met my hand was always a delight. Similarly, one day during Week 3 as I held out my hand to offer a high five to one of my 6th grade students, he grabbed my wrist and shook his head. Confused, I looked at him inquisitively. I gave him control of my hand, and a few seconds later, I realized what he was doing—he was trying to teach me a secret handshake. The gleaming smile on his face when I finally got it down for the first time is a memory that I will cherish. On the final day of camp, these two students were my most difficult goodbyes. Something about being able to form a unique bond with these two students despite not being able to have a full, direct conversation is truly special.  The impact of this on me will last a lifetime.

 

Going into this program, I knew from the start that it would be a two-way street of teaching and learning. What I never could have known beforehand is the extent to which this would be true. Thank you to the ACE program and to Coach for College for giving me the opportunity to teach and engage with the most kind-hearted, enthusiastic, and inspirational kids I have ever known. Thank you to the camp directors for your endless help and guidance, and for your commitment to such an incredible program and cause. Thank you to my fellow coaches, both American and Vietnamese, for the treasured memories and for being such amazing role models to the kids and myself alike.  Finally, thank you to the kids for inspiring me, humbling me, and for teaching me about diligence, humility, selflessness and gratitude. I will carry these lessons and the memory of this experience with me for eternity.

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