“The sooner you become friends with the Vietnamese coaches, the more fun the trip will be.”
That was my teammate and 2017 ACE in Vietnam alum Kevin Gehsmann’s biggest piece of advice for me as I got ready to leave for my ACE experience. I am someone who enjoys talking to people from different backgrounds and hearing their stories. I knew I could get along with the Vietnamese coaches and carry conversations at meals but coming from such vastly different cultures, I wasn’t sure how strong my connection would be by the end of the program. The first couple of days of camp did not do a whole lot to quell those initial concerns.
We quickly found out that Vietnam’s culture surrounding sports isn’t just different from the United States, it’s almost nonexistent. After most meals, we would kick around a hacky sack or “da cau”, and despite our constant asking, most of the Vietnamese coaches were hesitant to join. Additionally, while the Vietnamese coaches all speak very good English, we both had difficulty understanding each other at times. We didn’t speak Vietnamese at all. Both the Americans and the Vietnamese coaches had to make an effort to talk slower and listen more carefully. Finally, as I later found out once we were all close, the Vietnamese coaches were intimidated by me and a couple of the other guys at first, as we were a foot taller than most of them. Plus, I know that I tend to get very passionate and intense when playing and coaching sports.
Without the Vietnamese coaches there with us, our ACE experience would have not been either as fun or rewarding by any measure. They showed us different aspects of Vietnamese culture that we would have never learned. Because of them, we were able to communicate with and build lasting relationships with the kids.
After a few days, however, these differences and challenges seemed to fade away. Working long days from 6 a.m to 8:30 p.m quickly brought us together as a group. We realized that as different as our backgrounds are, we were all college students having the experience of a lifetime in a new place, whether it be 50 miles or 9,000 miles from our homes. We all brought the same energy and love for the kids we were teaching every day. On the bus rides to and from the camp, we all laughed and sang along to our favorite pop songs. At night, we would go into town as a group for smoothies. On the weekend trips, we picked songs for karaoke that we all knew. They quickly realized that the Americans’ intensity wore off on the kids and was our way of making the camp the best experience possible for the kids, whether it be flipping them upside down, screaming at the top of our lungs on competition day, or getting into water balloon fights.
Without the Vietnamese coaches there with us, our ACE experience would have not been either as fun or rewarding by any measure. They showed us different aspects of Vietnamese culture that we would have never learned. Because of them, we were able to communicate with and build lasting relationships with the kids. These lifelong bonds with college students halfway around the world are one of the things I value most from my ACE experience. I am grateful for each and every one of the Vietnamese college students that I grew to know.