Alika Keene ’16 | Soccer

Hoa An, Vietnam

When I submitted my application to travel to rural Vietnam for Coach for College, I did not imagine that I would be embarking on an experience that would live with me forever. I had heard what Coach for College entailed from past participants but the descriptions were never enough in depth for me to understand the magnitude of what we were doing. All I knew upon applying was that I had a strong desire to work with kids in a mentorship role, and that this experience would indicate whether or not I should pursue it as a career. Aside from a part-time role working PBHA’s Summer Urban Program and mentoring a senior from a local high school last year, I hadn’t had much exposure to kids in a professional setting. Coach for College gave me this window to explore, as we were with the kids 8 hours a day for three weeks straight. Although it was short, I can honestly say that working with the kids in Vietnam sparked my passion for education. The thrill of seeing a student’s face light up whenever he or she got an answer correct was something that I quickly and unexpectedly became addicted to. I had never fully considered being a teacher despite my interest in youth and mentorship until participating in this program. After Coach for College, I don’t know about the specific timeline, but I do know that in some way I want to be involved with children’s education. Whether it is ideally hands-on and working with the kids as in Vietnam or changing policy behind the scenes, it is something that I enjoy and would love to pursue professionally.

Upon arrival in Saigon, all of the American coaches got to explore the city. We ate pho and went into a museum that was solely about the Vietnamese War. It was shocking to see the concentration camps, weapons, and graphic photos in every inch of the 4-story building. There were articles from numerous countries discussing their disapproval of America’s involvement in the war, and an entire room dedicated to the deformities that resulted from Agent Orange. Seeing everything from the Vietnamese perspective started conversations among the American coaches that people would normally avoid, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty walking around the country as an American after spending an hour in the museum. However, it is important to take in these different perspectives from the places you go, and I was really happy I had the opportunity to do this.

After Saigon we made two more weekend trips to local cities—Can Tho City and Tinh Kien Giang—to see a bit more of Vietnam. The first trip to Can Tho was definitely my favorite. We sang karaoke, bought matching outfits, picked fruit off the trees while boating in the river, and saw the floating market. At this market, if you wanted to buy pineapples, you would have to pull up next to the pineapple boat and purchase it, watching the vendor cut it open immediately on the spot. It was a really cool experience to see how trade happened in the city and we had the added bonus of watching the beautiful 6am sunrise while doing it. The second trip was more of a relaxing one. There wasn’t really much to do, but it was okay because we had hit the end of our second week and needed the rest. However, though we had these trips to see more of Vietnam, I learned the most about the Vietnamese culture by spending time with my kids and the local University students. The Americans could see how different the education system was in the country simply by observing how the students worked when we assigned them tasks, and the Vietnamese coaches filled in the rest.

Since I am a senior, there isn’t much that I will change entering my final year. I have always known that service is important to me but wasn’t sure whether it would be in the area of homelessness or children. However, this experience has really pushed me in the direction of working with children, specifically children’s education. Knowing this, I am hoping to speak with some advisors about career opportunities pertaining to jobs in this field. I am also considering joining Strong Women, Strong Girls, a program that mentors young girls, once I finish my soccer season, as well as a teaching role in the Summer Urban Program after I graduate. There are a lot of options that I am excited about exploring and it is all because of the generosity from Mrs. and Mr. Weissman. Without their contribution, I would not have been able to afford this amazing experience. I wish there was another way to express my gratitude, but I really want to thank you both in the most sincere way that I can. I honestly could not stop talking about Vietnam or my kids for 6 weeks straight, and even now I still smile for hours whenever I’m reminded of them on Facebook. I have learned an incredible amount in such a short time and I couldn’t picture my summer without this experience. I am hoping to go back and visit everyone in the near future, but for now I am content with my thousands of pictures and memories from one of the best experiences of my life. Thank you so much for allowing me to embark on this journey.