“I will carry those kids’ voices, shouting the mantra I live by, as I go onto other adventures in my life, dreaming big. What if I told you, doing ACE in Place Vietnam was my best decision since coming to Duke? Well, it truly was.”
– Chris Theodore, Duke Men’s Cross Country and Track & Field
ACE in Place Vietnam is the first ACE program to run twice in the same summer. Two ACE teams made up of fifteen Duke and Stanford student-athletes spent three weeks drafting lesson plans alongside Vietnamese coaches. In partnership with Coach for College, the ACE athletes and Vietnamese coaches worked together to virtually teach life skills and academics to rural Vietnam youth. Due to the fact that Vietnam also remained in lock-down due to Covid-19 restrictions, the entire program was entirely virtually with the Vietnamese college co-coaches and middle school youth also joining via zoom throughout the program.
In January, Laurel Foster (Stanford Sailing) took part in ACE’s prototype of ACE in Place Vietnam. After also participating in the program this summer, Laurel reflected on how ACE met some of the goals outlined during the initial prototype. “One of our goals,” Laurel remembers, “was to focus on empowering the Vietnamese coaches to teach rather than worrying about making sure our ideas [the ACE students’] made it into the lesson plans.”
The second goal was to make sure the spirit of the program and the deep relationships that had been formed in past years between the ACE and Vietnamese participants would still be front and center in the Zoom format. Both of these goals were successfully achieved this summer.
“One of our goals,” Laurel remembers, “was to focus on empowering the Vietnamese coaches to teach rather than worrying about making sure our ideas [the ACE students’] made it into the lesson plans.”
– Laurel Foster, Stanford Sailing
The virtual nature of the ACE in Place Vietnam program helped the ACE team channel much of their energy into these goals. Elizabeth Reneau (Duke Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field) is grateful for this strength of virtual service, writing “I am thankful for a virtual experience over a traveling experience because each American coach was treated like a friend rather than a visitor of Vietnam.”
Sydney Simmons (Duke Women’s Soccer) also appreciated how the virtual nature of the program took away distractions from the project, noting “When you take out the excitement of immersing yourself into a new country, all the focus gets to be on developing relationships with one another and thinking of ways to make the students’ camp experience the best it can possibly be.”
Relationships were a defining characteristic of both sessions of ACE in Place Vietnam. Anthony Hinton (Duke Football) admits, “The goodbyes said on Thursday [at the end of the program] were so genuine and profound that an outsider would have no idea that these relationships were formed over fifteen two-hour Zoom calls.” Many of the student-athletes attributed this ability to bond to the Vietnamese coaches’ willingness to be vulnerable, have deep conversation, and enthusiastically contribute over Zoom. For Naima Turbes (Duke Cross Country and Track & Field), these deep conversations are “soul-tying. When you really know a piece of someone’s story, a piece of someone’s heart or world view. You can’t really let that go.”
Anthony Hinton preparing to learn how to cook BÁNH MÌ KẸP KEM (ice cream bread). Image courtesy of Anthony Hinton.
Cultural enrichment activities helped the student-athletes immerse themselves in the lives of the Vietnamese co-coaches and in Vietnamese culture. The American and Vietnamese coaches took part in a virtual cultural exchange cooking lesson. For example, during Vietnam Session I the Vietnamese coaches taught the ACE student-athletes how to make BƠ DẦM SỮA ĐẶC (mashed avocado) and BÁNH MÌ KẸP KEM (ice cream bread) and the next evening the ACE student-athletes coached their Vietnamese co-coaches on making guacamole.
The American and Vietnamese coaches also decided to use technology to their advantage in lesson planning and in team building. Both sets of coaches submitted “Day in the Life” videos to each other and American coaches submitted introduction videos to the Vietnamese youth. Chris Theodore (Duke Men’s Cross Country and Track & Field) taught the Vietnamese students his life mantra, “Dream big!”
“When you really know a piece of someone’s story, a piece of someone’s heart or world view. You can’t really let that go.”
– Naima Turbes, Duke Cross Country and Track & Field
The next day, two Vietnamese coaches recorded a video of the students shouting this same mantra. Reflecting on the impact of that video, Theodore writes, “I will carry those kids’ voices, shouting the mantra I live by, as I go onto other adventures in my life, dreaming big. What if I told you, doing ACE in Place Vietnam was my best decision since coming to Duke? Well, it truly was.”