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It was competition day of the first week, Friday. We had been in Vietnam for a little over a week and at the camp since Saturday. After taking team photos, everyone was standing around for a while waiting for the next activity to begin.

Then all of a sudden, one of the girls on my team, the red team, grabbed my sides from behind and another red team coach’s, like when you tickle them and they jump. It’s sometimes called ‘jumper cables.’ I yelped and then everyone on the red team started chasing each other around the courtyard tickling each other. The whole team was laughing and chasing and tickling. Girls were chasing boys, boys chasing girls, students tickling coaches, and coaches tickling students. This started in the eighth grade by one student and somehow red team ended up doing it all again with the ninth graders in the afternoon; I’m not sure who started it then.

At the beginning of the week, everyone on our team was very hesitant and shy of each other, both students and coaches. The students were not entirely comfortable playing together and the coach-student relationship was very formal. Everyone slowly took down barriers as we built relationships with each other, even despite differences in language. But by Friday, during the tickle fight through all the shrieking, laughing, and chasing it became clear that all barriers were gone. We all became so much closer through not speaking, rather just freely playing with each other and being friends. This moment brought all of us so closely together and really let me know that despite the need to have translation when speaking, we can still communicate and build bonds with the students and fellow Vietnamese coaches.

Red Team on Competition Day
Eighth grade red team on competition day — with masks and without!

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