The Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) selected seven Princeton varsity student-athletes to travel to the Hậu Giang Province in southern Vietnam during the summer of 2017 to participate in the Coach for College program, a global initiative aimed at promoting higher education through sports. As part of the Coach for College program, the student-athletes taught academics, athletics and life skills to 6th, 7th and 8th grade Vietnamese students while working alongside Vietnamese coaches and instructors.
The Princeton Varsity Club provided funding for the majority of the necessary expenses associated with the charitable service trip, with the remainder of the funds being raised by the individual participants. This marks the fifth year the PVC has helped to sponsor international service opportunities for varsity student-athletes. The PVC sat down with each student-athlete to learn more about their educational experience this summer.
Our first conversation is with Molly Milligan ’20, a member of the Princeton women’s open rowing team, who traveled to the Hậu Giang Province.
What is the most important and/or impactful thing you took away from this experience?
What impacted me the most was the ability to form relationships with the children we taught, despite the language barrier. These kids were unbelievably generous; during the last week of camp the same girl brought me a lollipop each day. For the kids, giving a gift like that means saving up any spare change or re-routing any money for snacks their parents may have given them. The proof that they cared for each and every one of the coaches only inspired us to be better teachers, more engaged and enthusiastic.
What is your favorite memory of the trip and the Coach for College program? What was the funniest memory/experience?
On one of the last days of camp we got to visit one of our student’s homes. It was raining that afternoon but we weren’t going to miss out on such an experience! We made it to the home, pretty drenched, but I was impressed by the scenery along the way (rice paddies, canals). At the house, the kids starting making us snow cones complete with condensed milk, the favorite sweetening agent of the Vietnamese. The kids were wet too and their teeth chattered as they loaded the ice into the machine crushing it, but they were proud of their work, smiles bigger than ever. Before we knew it, our student’s mother began serving us noodle soup, rice porridge, and shrimp. She even brought us towels to dry off and stay warm! It was a real manifestation of the generosity I’d noticed and experienced over the whole trip. On the walk back to school one of our star students offered me his rain poncho to stay dry. I threw it on and the kids proceeded to pile under the flaps too like we were one of those dragons you see in Chinese New Year’s celebrations.
How did the language barrier affect your teaching and coaching strategies?
I was surprised by the depth of the bonds I formed with many of the students despite the language barrier. It showed me how other forms of communication can go a long way and illustrated the compatibility of the human spirit.
What would your advice be to current and future Princeton undergraduates who are considering participating in this program?
I would a 100% recommend participating in CFC to other undergrads. It was an amazing opportunity to experience a unique corner of the world while serving a community; so it’s the best of both worlds. I’d traveled overseas for my sport before, but had never had the opportunity to really experience the cultures there. With CFC, the weekends were awesome for getting to see more of the country. My biggest piece of advice would be to come into CFC with an open mind. Every year the actual locations where we teach can vary, so some of what a teammate might have passed on about specifics could be different. You just have to go with the flow and really let yourself absorb a new culture. I’d encourage any future participants to try all the fun food, barter with a market vendor, and teach and coach enthusiastically.
What would be your message to those PVC supporters whose generosity and funding helped make this experience available to you and other Princeton student-athletes?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! As someone who has now participated in CFC, it is definitely a program I would want to support so that other student-athletes can continue to share their skills and expertise. CFC was an amazing chance to experience a new culture and form meaningful relationships with people from around the world that I otherwise would have never met. These are the kinds of things that I believe are truly enriching. It felt so good to be able to share stories from my own life and serve as a source of inspiration for the students. If I impacted even one child to dream bigger and work harder, I think that is a worthwhile reason to continue supporting Princeton students and CFC.
In closing, what impact did your participation in this program have on you and your Princeton experience?
CFC helped me take a step back from my experience at Princeton and showed me how my education can be beneficial not just to myself but to communities around the globe. Our university’s motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity” was truly on display as well as active for me during Coach for College.