As a collaborative effort between Duke and Stanford University, The Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program (ACE) is all about relationships. ACE in Vietnam adds a new dimension to this relational component of the ACE program. In addition to serving alongside student-athletes from another American university, the ten student-athletes from Duke and Stanford selected to participate in ACE in Vietnam this past summer also enjoyed the special chance to learn from and service with Vietnamese university students, also participants in the ACE in Vietnam program.
Both the American student-athletes and the Vietnamese university students spent three weeks together teaching and coaching at a middle school summer camp in the southern rural region of Vietnam known as the Mekong Delta. At the camp, the ACE student-athletes and Vietnamese university students taught academics, sports, and life lessons to middle-school youth. Organized by the Coach for College program, whose founder is herself a former student-athlete and Duke alumnus, the camp seeks to foster a love of learning in these rural middle-school students, who often don’t have as much access to educational resources.
“One of the best parts of this program is the unique opportunity to work alongside the Vietnamese coaches…They bridge a huge communication gap between the American coaches and the kids, but are even more helpful in planning lessons with us and problem-solving together.” – Allie DaCar, Stanford Women’s Lacrosse
Serving alongside the Vietnamese university students provided the American student-athletes with a better glimpse into lifestyles and culture in Vietnam. “Not only have our Vietnamese counterparts put up with our loud, inquisitive personalities, they have let us into their lives, and let us hear their stories, and for that, we are extremely grateful,” wrote Maddy Price, Duke Women’s Track and Field, and Haley Farnsworth, Stanford Women’s Swimming and Diving in a joint blog post.
Overcoming the language barrier with the help of the Vietnamese coaches allowed the Duke and Stanford student-athletes to form close ties with many of the rural youth. “The American coaches helped me open up and feel close to people who are familiar with my situation, as we all came in with the same naïveté. The directors were understanding and exciting, fostering a positive and safe environment. But the kids. The munchkins taught me about perseverance, strength, wonder,” said Jonathan Schwartzman of the Duke Men’s Fencing team.
Schwartzman was not the only student-athlete inspired by the youth’s positive and care-free outlooks. On one of the final days of camp, the student-athletes watched many of the children spontaneously dance and play in a rainstorm outside. Soon, the student-athletes found themselves splashing alongside the kids. Mackenzie Willborn, Duke Women’s Swimming and Diving, called this moment a dream ending to her ACE experience, saying “I will never forget the two hours I spent playing in the mud in rural Vietnam with amazing people that I had spent three weeks building relationships with.”