While many college students enjoy a lot of rest and relaxation during their summer break, South Carolina junior track & field student-athlete Bryce Simpson went out of his comfort zone by spending nearly a month in Vietnam serving as a teacher and instructor for middle school youths in the Coach for College program. This is the fourth year in a row that Gamecock student-athletes have participated in the program, and former Gamecocks Kierstin Williams (track & field) and Kaylea Snaer (softball) also participated this summer.
“The relationships we built with the kids; that was probably the best part,” Simpson said. “I honestly don’t have a favorite part. The American coaches I traveled with were exceptional. I enjoyed every single one of them.
“We all grew very close, very quickly, just because we were together every day for three weeks. Being together and the language barrier made us find other ways of communication; facial expressions and hand gestures.”
With the help of Vietnamese translators, the daily classes had him teaching English, basketball and life skills from sunrise to early evening. Simpson also learned a lot about himself.
“I definitely have a new perspective,” Simpson said. “It’s a humbling experience just to see the appreciation and the gratitude they have for the little that they do have. It’s definitely an eye-opening experience to appreciate what we do have and to complain a lot less about the little things that we see in our lives.
The toughest part was saying goodbye to everyone.Bryce Simpson
“We did a house tour one of the last days. We went to one of the student’s houses to see what kind of conditions they’re living in. It’s definitely a lot different than what you’d seen in an American home. There’s no a-c (air conditioning). Most people sleep on a wooden frame with a thin layer of cloth on it. Most of the kids sleep on a pad next to their parents’ bed.”
Initially, the American student-athletes often seem larger than life to the young Vietnamese children. Many of the life lessons that are taught in the program are aimed at getting the youngsters to believe that anything is possible through education and hard work.
“An American athlete is a dream in some people’s eyes,” Simpson said. “For them to see that any goal is attainable was a really cool experience.”
Simpson and his colleagues adapted to the less complicated lifestyle, and he didn’t have time to miss the comforts of home as the weeks flew by.
“The toughest part was saying goodbye to everyone,” Simpson said. “We went to the school on the last day to just hang out with them for a couple of hours or so. It was a really emotional time for everyone because we had grown so close to the kids. It was a sad departure.”
The youths also made it a point to let their American teachers know that they would be missed.
“I probably have up to 15 little key chains and necklaces from the kids, which was really awesome because they don’t really have a lot to offer in the first place,” Simpson said. “[The children] had gratitude and appreciation for everything that’s in their lives. We have a lot of privileges. Just seeing the simple appreciation for the little things was something that was very eye-opening and humbling.
“It was definitely one of the better parts of my experience here at USC.”