Margaret Hartman ’17 | Basketball

Hua Giang, Vietnam

When I set off to Hau Giang, I felt prepared for the experience of working with the Coach for College organization. Having worked for another organization abroad, I thought that I would experience similar challenges as I experienced last summer. However, I found that every nation and every community comes with its own specific set of challenges and difficulties that must be overcome when working as part of an American organization. In the case of Coach for College, these manifested themselves in the care that had to be taken when working with the Vietnamese school system. In a communist country, there are many things that an outsider (especially an American) has to be aware of, including the way in which the Vietnamese approach the history of their nation. We had to work within a government-approved curriculum, which meant that as Americans we simply were not allowed to teach history to the youth. I have always been interested in global health and health policy, so this experience helped me to understand that international groups really do have to work with and comply with the government under whose jurisdiction they are located.

One of the best experiences of my trip was the chance to visit the home of one of the Vietnamese students. We rode by bicycle to the home of a student who lived with his grandmother, a somewhat scandalous situation because his parents had divorced. The trip took over 30 minutes, which was incredibly humbling to see the distance these children travel daily to school. We were greeted with traditional tea, followed by a meal of rice stew and freshly-slaughtered duck. This trip to his house helped us to understand the rice farming culture from which all of the children we were teaching came, and it really made me appreciate the disadvantages these kids overcome daily to continue their education. This particular child slept on a concrete block as a bed, and he collected drinking water by gutter into a collection basin. In addition to this unique experience, we had a “culture show and tell” day with our kids, when we asked them to bring something that they thought represented the Vietnamese culture to school and we brought something that represented American culture to school. The items brought ranged from traditional rice hats, to scarves and paper fans. It was great to see how these items are utilized in the average household and to see the meaning these children place in each of the objects.

I used to take the coaching that I received in basketball for granted, knowing that my elementary basketball league would always be there or that my middle school team was simply one of many across the United States. However, even such a simple level of instruction is not available to so many kids worldwide, so I hope to bring a greater appreciation for the coaching and resources we have received back to my teammates. I also learned a lot about tenacity and what it means to overcome some serious handicaps in life, so I hope to bring that fight and fire to whatever I choose to pursue later in life. Something that also became concrete for me after this trip was the fact that there are extremely large disparities in both health care and education globally. While this may seem obvious at first, seeing the difference firsthand led me to have a greater interest in global health than before I had this experience. This has led me to look into taking classes such as Societies of the World 25 (Case Studies in Global Health), and it has also led me to have a more serious interest in pursuing some kind of global health opportunity or teaching fellowship (such as the Fulbright) after graduation.

This trip would have not been financially possible for me without the generosity of the Weissman family, so I thank you deeply for the funding that was provided for this experience.  Not only did I have the trip of a lifetime, but I also know that I was able to have an impact on over 100 Vietnamese students by my presence and the presence of the team of other coaches. Many of these children will continue on to high school now, especially after hearing from the Vietnamese coaches about the opportunities awarded to those who continue their education. Besides being role models, we were able to act as friends to these students, and this was an incredibly special experience that is all thanks to you both.