Boston College Student-Athletes Travel to Vietnam to Teach and Inspire Middle School Children
CHESTNUT HILL, MA (July, 2011) – Four Boston College student-athletes recently traveled to Vietnam to teach middle school students and inspire them to strive for higher education under the aegis of the Coach for College program.
The trip marked the first time BC student-athletes have participated in Coach for College, a program in which American college student-athletes travel to rural communities in developing countries to support students in grades 6-9 and motivate them to pursue higher education.
BC participants were: 2011 graduate Marlotte van den Bergh and sophomore Hannah Mulvey, representing the field hockey team; senior Kyle McCartan of the golf team, and senior Emily Charnowski of the rowing team. [Photo slideshow]
They volunteered at two rural camp sites in Vietnam’s Hau Giang Province, more than four hours south of Ho Chi Minh City. At each site, the BC volunteers joined other Atlantic Coast Conference student-athletes to conduct a three-week camp for about 100 8th or 9th graders, with students from Can Tho University serving as translators. In all, Coach for College held four consecutive three-week camps, involving 64 student-athletes from America and some 900 middle school students from Vietnam.
"Many programs have students go teach English or math in other countries but what is special about Coach for College is that we, as student-athletes, teach the children not only what we have learned in the classroom but also in our sports," said van den Bergh, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in May.
The American college students taught sessions on English, biology, physics, morality, financial literacy, leadership skills, team building and higher education. They also coached the campers in sports such as basketball, soccer, tennis and volleyball.
For McCartan, a native of Dallas, Texas, the trip to Vietnam was his first time outside of North America. “In the village where my camp was, higher education is not frequently sought after by young people. There is pressure to stay on the farm and the focus is on day-to-day living.”
“I hope that the other coaches and I were able to fuel a desire for learning in the campers which carries on even after the Coach for College program has come to an end. I want them to continue to stay motivated to work hard and overcome the daily difficulties they are confronted with in order to ultimately reach the university level and work towards their desired careers,” said Charnowski, a psychology and theology major from St. Louis, Missouri.
“I hope the Vietnamese children gained a new appreciation and interest for sports and recognize all of the positive benefits and fun that it can provide,” she added.
Despite language and cultural barriers, “I found that I was able to connect with the students on an individual level with much more ease than anticipated simply through the use of facial expressions and body language," said Charnowski. "I grew much closer to the kids than I had predicted and found it very difficult to leave them at the end of the camp.”
“It was rewarding to see how excited the kids were everyday. On the last day most of the kids were crying, which really showed that we did something special in those three weeks,” added van den Bergh.
For Hannah Mulvey, a Milton, Mass. native, the trip to Vietnam coincided with her birthday. She said it was "very special" when the campers gave her stacks of cards and brought her presents.
"I am so fortune to have the opportunity to attend Boston College. The choice to go to college was not a big deal for me, however in Vietnam the decision [to pursue higher education] is not that easy," said Mulvey. "All of my students where extremely smart and willing to work. I hope we gave them the motivation to keep that going into high school and beyond."
McCartan, a finance major in the Carroll School of Management, noted that there were benefits for the BC students as well. Study abroad experiences are not something usually available to student-athletes, given training needs and game schedules, he said, so this international experience was something he really valued. Also, he said, it was nice to build camaraderie with other ACC student-athletes.
“Spending time in a developing country has given me the opportunity to really put my own life into perspective,” said Charnowski. “I realize how much I take for granted and how truly lucky I am to be at a school such as Boston College which provides me with a top quality education and the resources and support necessary to pursue my dreams.”
Boston College’s participation in Coach for College was organized by the University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The SAAC is comprised of student-athletes from each varsity sports team at BC. Following the Jesuit tradition of service to others, the SAAC undertakes a number of community service projects each year, from visiting elementary schools and hospitals to helping with clothing and food drives. Financial support for SAAC activities comes from the Devlin Student-Athletes for Education and Leadership Development Program (S-AFE), which honors the Devlin family's commitment to service and enables student-athletes to develop in all facets of their collegiate experience.
--Kathleen Sullivan, Office of News & Public Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org