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ACE in Place: Vietnam

Virtual Program
Dates June 26 to July 15, 2022
Program Focus

Planning and creating content together with Vietnamese college students as they teach academics, sports, and life skills at a summer camp for middle school youth in rural Vietnam, with a focus on mentorship and promoting higher education.

This program is organized by Coach for College (CFC).

Travel is not required or permitted in connection with participation in this program. Participant must perform and complete program through remote means. In order to participate, student must have access to a computer and broad-band internet capabilities. The ACE Program will not cover or reimburse participants for expenses associated with computers or internet access.

Program Leaders

Program Overview | Service Opportunities | Program Requirements | Program Details

Program Overview

Coach for College has been working with middle school youth in the local community since 2008. Many of the Coach for College camp alums have gone on to attend university, a significant accomplishment for students coming from rural Vietnam. In recent summers, some alums, now in college, have returned to the program as coaches, teaching and mentoring alongside the Americans. The camps are one of the highlights of the year for the local youth. Past participants who are now adults regularly share how significant the impact of their time in camp has continued to be in their outlook on life and what they have accomplished. Nearly all Coach for College staff over the years has continued to be made up of former coaches in the program who care deeply about continuing to make a difference.

Vietnam experienced its first widespread outbreak of COVID-19 as summer 2021 began. The country remained on very stringent lockdowns throughout the summer, meaning that every aspect of the camps took part virtually, including the students’ lessons. Though in a very new format, camps were remarkably engaging and meaningful. The youth gave enthusiastic feedback about the experience, while the ACE and Vietnamese college students formed much warmer and closer friendships than anyone might have imagined beforehand, as they worked together day in and day out. With a very successful vaccination campaign since the summer, Coach for College is looking forward to giving the youth the opportunity to join in camp activities in person this year at the schools. You and your Vietnamese college teammates will be the ones working together to teach and inspire the youth. (The Vietnamese coaches directly in-person, and you through the videos and lesson ideas you contribute.) There will be opportunities each week to interact live with one team of middle school campers.

Duke and Stanford student-athletes will team up with Vietnamese college students teaching and mentoring youth in a summer camp organized by Coach for College at a rural school in Southern Vietnam. Each ACE participant will be assigned to one academic subject, one sport, and life skills lessons. For each of these three areas, ACE participants will be part of small teams with one other ACE teammate and two Vietnamese peers. ACE participants and Vietnamese will work together each evening over Zoom, brainstorming ways to best make the provided lesson plans engaging for the students. ACE participants will also prepare video clips for most classes, to be shown directly to the students. For example, the video clips might be of performing an experiment, explaining a problem or academic concept, or sharing a story from the ACE participant’s life that illustrates the day’s life skills topic. The ACE participants will also create video clips explaining sports techniques, as well as videos demonstrating the games and activities for sports. Part of the evening meeting will be dedicated to supporting the Vietnamese college students, giving them confidence to run the drills with the youth.

A highlight of the program is getting to know and work closely not only with other Duke and Stanford student-athletes, but also Vietnamese college students. In addition to collaborating in planning the lessons, activities, and figuring out what videos would be most effective for the Americans to make for the youth, each evening will feature a cultural exchange activity. The goal is to get to know each other and learn about each other’s cultures, in a fun way. This was a clear highlight for both the ACE participants and their Vietnamese teammates who took part in 2021. Examples of activities include: learning to cook a Vietnamese dish (and teaching to make an American one), exchanging childhood pictures and memories, going on a tour of your partner’s neighborhood or dorm, sharing each other’s favorite music, a USA and Vietnam trivia challenge, learning Vietnamese phrases to use with the kids, etc.


  • Depending on the day, ACE participants and the Vietnamese coaches will meet for 1.5-2 hours each day (including breaks and divided into short meetings). Meetings will start at 5PM PDT / 8 PM EDT Sunday through Thursday evenings, and conclude between 6:30-7PM PDT / 9:30-10:00 PM EDT.
  • ACE participants will also work approximately 45 minutes – 1.5 hours per day on their own time preparing videos, creating content for the kids, and thinking creatively on the given lesson plans in preparation for the evening meeting.
  • Overall, the participants will meet with their Vietnamese and ACE teammates live on Zoom for 9-10 hours per week. ACE participants will also work 5-7 hours per week offline on their own time.
  • Pre- and post-program time commitment: The ACE in Place Vietnam program dates match the dates when the actual three-week camp will run on-the-ground in Vietnam. Because of this, the ACE and Vietnamese coaches will meet twice in the week before the official program start date: the first to meet their teammates and the second to begin planning the lessons for the beginning of camp. During the week before, ACE participants will also create their first video clips to be used in the initial lessons (this typically takes 3-5 hours). The Monday after the program ends, all ACE and Vietnamese coaches will gather together one last time for an important, final wrap-up meeting (5-7PM PDT / 8-10PM EDT).
  • View a draft schedule.

Service Opportunities

Participants will work in 3 to 4 person teams, with 1 or 2 other Duke and Stanford ACE student-athletes and 2 Vietnamese college students. Each participant will be part of three different teams: one for their academic subject, one for their assigned sport, and one for leading life skills lessons.

When applying, ACE student-athletes will provide information on their background and ability to teach different sports and subjects. The selected participants will be assigned to specific sports and subjects based on their strengths and preferences. Subjects this summer will include: Math, English (as a second language), Biology, Physics, and Computer Skills. Lesson plans will be provided and examples of lesson plans can be found on the Coach for College website. With content at a middle school level, ACE participants can follow and contribute to the material in most subjects. The sports taught in camp this summer will be Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, and Dance. Most youth in camp will have received little athletic instruction. The focus will be on teaching fundamental techniques, building at a beginning level. There is no need to be a varsity athlete in these sports. The majority of participants typically help lead a sport other than their varsity sport. Having experience playing in high school or middle school is usually sufficient.

Program Requirements

Virtual Volunteer Environment

Daily meetings will be over Zoom. We ask that you participate using a computer, rather than a cell phone. Good quality audio is important. Participants will also film themselves demonstrating sports techniques for the youth, as well as explaining academic content. A cell phone with a camera or other recording device will therefore be necessary. A WhatsApp group will also be set up to include all the ACE and Vietnamese coaches. This will be an informal channel where coaches and staff can post videos and pictures from camp, and the team can comment back and forth. A smartphone will be needed to run WhatsApp.

Language Suggestions

None required. The Vietnamese university students are proficient in English, and all activities will be conducted in English. Striving to speak clearly and limiting the use of slang is important. Vietnamese coaches will translate the Americans’ teaching videos for the students, as well as interpret for live activities between the youth and the ACE participants.

Other Skills

Rather than a specific background or previous education experience, a friendly, curious, positive, and flexible mindset is the best predictor of success. Those who have a true desire to work hard to create good lessons for the youth and enjoy the idea of getting to know the Vietnamese college students and working together with them to make a difference are those who will enjoy the experience more fully. Participants who approach the experience with this attitude will contribute and gain the most from the experience.

Personal Competencies

  • Work well on a team – The program is highly collaborative. Each day, the participants will meet with ACE student-athletes and Vietnamese teammates to share ideas on how to make the lessons engaging for the youth, and to discuss video clips the Americans can make to be used in class. Indeed, learning to work together especially between different cultures is both an added challenge and a valuable, real-world experience for both the Americans and Vietnamese.
  • Curiosity – Getting to know your Vietnamese teammates and learning about them and their culture is a particular strength and highlight of the program. Those who enjoy and embrace this will find the experience particularly rewarding.
  • Dedication – Taking lesson planning and video creation seriously will make a big difference in the effectiveness of the experience for the students attending camp. We consistently see that those who put the most of themselves into their work, are those who not only are more effective but also enjoy the experience the most and gain the most from it.
  • Flexibility and a positive attitude – Working with a team, with people from different backgrounds, and with people for whom English is their second language all create challenges. The learning process of figuring out how to work well as a team is one intentional aspect of the program design. Being patient, upbeat, and flexible will be assets for participants.

Program Details

The Mekong Delta is a fascinating rural area, crisscrossed by canals upon which many aspects of life take place. The region produces a large percentage of the country’s rice and fruit. The countryside is flat and green, with frequent rain showers. The weather is usually hot and humid. The region is fertile and produces enough for basic necessities. Most of the children’s parents are farmers, or have left their children with relatives, as the parents seek to earn a living in factories in cities far away. Vietnam is developing quickly, particularly in urban areas. As work in the countryside decreases due to advances in mechanization, many young people will migrate to the cities, as many of their parents are already being forced to do. Education is a key to success, yet rural youth are at a disadvantage with lower quality schooling and fewer opportunities for development. Dropout rates are also high in the countryside, particularly in middle school, the age the camp focuses on.

Written communication will take place over email. Students are responsible for reading the content of CFC communication sent to their email account. Program staff will be present during live Zoom activities and will hold a check-in with participants at the end of each day. Much of the communication with participants once the program starts will be live, over Zoom. Participants will be given the camp schedule in advance. Meetings are scheduled to begin at the same time each day, making the program schedule easy to follow.

Orientation will take place over a combination of live Zoom meetings, and pre-recorded podcasts that participants can listen to on their own time. Language training is not necessary, since the Vietnamese coaches are proficient in English. Participants will be taught some Vietnamese phrases during the cultural exchange sessions of camp, so they can have fun using them with the campers. Orientation topics will include: meeting your ACE and Vietnamese partners, an overview of the program components and goals, tips for effective communication and collaboration with the Vietnamese coaches, ethics of service, and an overview of the community and challenges facing the youth.

The program leader will lead biweekly reflection sessions. Focuses will be on topics such as what we are learning about Vietnam, what we are discovering about ourselves and our culture through the immersion with our Vietnamese peers, as well as insights we have on cross-cultural work, and how to be an effective teacher.

In addition to working directly with Vietnamese peers through the program, participants will take part in daily cultural exchange activities. The focus of the activities will be to get to know each other, while learning about each other’s culture, in fun ways. Potential activities include cooking a Vietnamese dish (and teaching your partners to make something American), sharing a childhood picture and memories, going on a virtual tour of each other’s schools or homes, a Vietnam+USA trivia challenge, learning a typical Vietnamese craft from the kids, going on a tour of the local market, game night, learning about each other’s favorite music, and more.

One of the most unique and valuable opportunities of the Vietnam program is being able to get to know and form real relationships with Vietnamese peers. Despite not traveling in-person to Vietnam, American participants will gain very authentic exposure to Vietnam and its people, while enhancing their cross-cultural skills on a daily basis in very practical ways.

Participants will also learn how to teach and communicate effectively using their creativity in the lesson planning and making videos to communicate material directly to the campers in engaging ways.

Additionally, the virtual and collaborative model is particularly conducive to practicing service in an ethical and sustainable way. Rather than the outside volunteer being the main figure at the center, American participants will learn to effectively support and enhance the role of locals striving to positively impact their own communities. We believe the experience will positively inform participants’ perspective and approach to service in their lives going forward.

  • The Unwanted, by Kien Nguyen
  • Open the Window, Eyes Closed, by Nguyen Ngoc Thuan
  • The Eaves of Heaven, by Andrew Pham

Reading a basic overview of Vietnamese history prior to the program is also recommended.

  • The Vietnam War, the documentary series by Ken Burns, is well done and helpful in grasping this complex, recent chapter of Vietnam’s history.