Savannah Bradley ’17 | Softball

Da Nang, Vietnam

This summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to volunteer in Vietnam through the Coach for College Program. I worked with other American student-athletes and Vietnamese college students to teach middle school students various subjects and coach them in sports. Athletics are not valued in Vietnam as much as they are in America and as a result, kids do not have many opportunities to reap the many benefits of team sports. It was wonderful to watch the kids have so much energy when practicing their new skills; their excited faces when learning about the different sports are now a memory that I will always cherish. In the classroom, teaching biology and math, I was impressed with the diligence of the students and the respect they granted to me and my fellow teachers. Before the program began, my main expectations were to volunteer with children and immerse myself in a new culture. However, Vietnam surpassed my wildest dreams and I left with a new potential career goal: teaching. This program allowed me to go out of my comfort zone and realize strengths I never knew I had.

One thing that made my experience even more fruitful was that I was able to stay longer than most volunteers. The CFC Program runs three-week camp sessions, bringing in a new set of volunteers for each term. However, I was lucky to be able to stay for two camps! After the first three-week session in the Hau Giang Province (southern Vietnam), I flew up to the central region for the second camp in the Da Nang Province. I learned that Vietnam is quite a varied country- the central part is much more developed than the southern region. Having the opportunity to see different areas of Vietnam opened my eyes to the impacts of urban planning and development in third world countries. Volunteering in two different areas in Vietnam also allowed me to deeply explore Vietnamese culture. For every meal, we sat around circular tables and ate typical Vietnamese cuisine- rice, soup, vegetables and usually pork or chicken. Mealtime with our fellow Vietnamese coaches allowed us to have deep conversations and realize our cultural differences, while still appreciating them.

After six weeks had passed and the second camp came to a somber close with sad goodbyes to the kids, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to subsequently travel with my mom. We spent a few days in Vietnam while my new Vietnamese friends from camp showed us around Hoi An and Hanoi, and then we left to spend 10 days in Thailand. After an action-packed CFC experience, it was quite enjoyable to relax on the beaches in southern Thailand, visit elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, and finish off the trip retail therapy in Bangkok. I’ve been back for about two weeks now at home in Tampa, Florida but all I want to do is go back! When I told others that I would be spending my summer in Vietnam, I received a wide range of responses- everything from “Oh, how wonderful!” to “Vietnam? That’s different…”. In hindsight, I am so thankful that I participated in this program and had the opportunity to do something off the beaten path. My CFC experience has changed my life and I have returned with fresh perspectives, an adventurous soul, and a humbled mind. Upon returning to Harvard, I plan to volunteer with an after-school program for middle school students in Boston so that I can continue my new passion for motivating and teaching young people. I am also considering enrolling in the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program and through this means, acquiring an educator license in Massachusetts that can be put to use after graduating.

Although I continue to miss the kids dearly and will never forget my experience in Vietnam, I will cherish my adventure and I hope to continue to grow during the coming school year. With that being said, I never would have had the opportunity to pursue such a life-changing endeavor if it was not for the generosity of Paul and Harriet Weissman. I would like to sincerely thank Mr. and Mrs. Weissman for granting me this opportunity that has changed my life forever.