Coach for College Spotlight: Ashley McDonald ’23

The Princeton Varsity Club has partnered with the Coach for College program since 2013, providing Tiger varsity student-athletes the opportunity to teach and coach underprivileged middle school students in rural Vietnam (to-date, the PVC has sponsored more than 50 student-athlete participants). This summer’s program took on a different look and feel, with participants engaging with their Vietnamese coaches and students virtually. The PVC recently caught up with Ashley McDonald ’23 (softball), who participated in the program’s first three-week camp earlier this summer, to hear more about her experience.

What about this experience has been most impactful?

Coach for College has been so influential on my outlook on new cultures. Throughout the program, one of the many challenges that we all face in the program is the language barrier. My fellow coaches in Vietnam were phenomenal though. Their ability to speak English and translate our detailed, lengthy stories or our pre-made videos into Vietnamese for the children to understand went so unnoticed, and the experience would not be the same without them. Working through this language barrier, and even attempting to learn some phrases in Vietnamese myself, gave me a whole new appreciation for those who are constantly working with new cultures. Not only is the language barrier different, but some of the jargon and common phrases caused some confusion initially as well. Even with all of these differences in language, we all shared many laughs and memories that will last a lifetime.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the Coach for College program?

My biggest takeaway from this program is the friendships that I made. I not only got to work with other college athletes from around the country and learn about their sports, but I got to make friends who live across the world from me as well. I know that when I get the opportunity to visit Vietnam, Italy, or New Zealand (where the Vietnamese kids live and other American coaches are from),  I will be welcomed with open arms for an authentic meal and a tour around the city or country. Seeing my fellow Vietnamese coaches everyday and interacting through cultural exchange activities allowed me to appreciate the differences of various parts of the world.

What is your favorite memory of the Coach for College program?

My favorite memory from Coach for College was the meeting I had on my birthday, and luckily enough for me, it was one of the days we got to spend time with the kids I worked with. My fellow coaches and Vietnamese students surprised me with a singing of Happy Birthday in Vietnamese (Trang, one of my students was an amazing singer), and they all put the biggest smile on my face for a perfect ending to my birthday. Aside from that special moment, I enjoyed the cultural exchange activities that we did each day learning about different holidays in Vietnam, making milk tea, and giving each other house tours.

Can you tell us a little bit about the children you taught as part of the program?

The children that I taught in Coach for College are middle school students from rural countryside areas of Vietnam. CFC strives to make positive work in this community to help promote continuation of secondary education for these kids. After working with my students, it amazes me with how smart they are. English is their second language, and each student was able to communicate with me to some degree in English, which is something that you do not always see with second languages in the United States. I helped to teach Physics lessons to the kids, and they picked up the new material very quickly. Some of the more difficult concepts they understood with one day of teaching. These children brought a smile to my face every time I got the opportunity to see them, and I hope to meet them one day in Vietnam.

What were some of the biggest challenges of conducting the program virtually, and how did you work to overcome them?

My biggest challenge of conducting the program virtually was the time difference. I was conducting the program from Atlanta, GA (EST), so the time in Vietnam was 11 hours ahead. This meant that whenever I was going to bed, my Vietnamese coaches were just waking up and vice versa. Considering this, many times an issue we were solving outside of our Zoom session together was handled at the very last minute. To prevent this issue from happening, we had to all be prepared by reading over the lesson plans for the week prior to our time together to be able to make the most of our Zoom sessions where we can talk with each other through a screen instead of texting each other.

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