South Carolina's Erika Rucker and Maddie Frome were in a much different classroom setting than they were accustomed to this summer. Rucker, a fifth year senior on the track and field team, and Frome, a junior on the beach volleyball team, went to Vietnam to teach underprivileged children as part of the Coach for College program, which is a non-profit organization that offers student-athletes the chance to teach youths in rural parts of developing countries.
"It was a much greater experience than I ever could have imagined it to be," Frome said. "I was completely changed when I left."
Both Frome and Rucker had some experience travelling internationally, but this wasn't anything like what they had done before.
"I was just really looking forward to studying abroad, and I was sort of stuck in the bubble here of being in a routine," Rucker said. "It was nice to get out of that and immerse myself in a different culture."
"I thought it was a great opportunity for me because I had never been to Asia, and I was excited to experience a different culture," Frome said. "I wanted to spend time with kids and understand what everyday life was like for them."
Both Frome and Rucker admit to being a little apprehensive about not only teaching subjects such as physics and math to the children, but also about unfamiliar living conditions. Those nervous feelings would soon disappear.
"I taught Math to seventh and eighth graders," Frome said. "It was extremely fun. We had two Vietnamese translators who translated the lessons for us. So we taught math, and then I coached volleyball in the afternoon."
"I taught physics," Rucker said. "I also taught baseball. I wouldn't say I'm the best baseball player, but it was fun. I was learning while the kids were learning too.
Despite having to work through translators because of the language barrier, the two Gamecocks said they had no trouble developing a connection with the children.
"A lot of us brought pictures of competitions and of our teammates," Frome explained. "They thought we were celebrities. They had us signing their t-shirts and everything."
"We had one life skills lesson where we showed them our life in America," Rucker added. "The kids were very engaged during that lesson."
Frome and Rucker shared a room with another American coach in the program in what could best be described as a hostile, and while the living conditions for the local families weren't exactly what they were used to in America, they all found ways to be happy with what they had.
"On one of the days we went out with the kids into the rice fields, and they showed us around their community." Rucker said. "The whole scenery was beautiful."
"The best part for me was the day it poured down rain," Frome recalled. "We all just went outside and got drenched. We played basketball. We kicked puddles at each other. That was just the best day. The worst part was getting accustomed to the food. Finding chicken feet in your soup can sometimes be a shock."
Rucker and Frome went on the trip expecting to be teachers, but they found out they learned a lot in a short time as well.
"Every day we'd see the kids as we rolled up on our bus, and they just looked so happy," Rucker said. "They were so full of joy. A lot of them wore the same shirt, the same shoes, and the same pants every day to school, but they came and had smiles on their faces. They're so eager to learn."
"I learned to just be grateful for everything that happens, even the little things," Frome said. "They would get so excited over anything you gave them."
The two consider it a life changing and humbling experience, and created a lasting bond with the kids they spent so much time with, making it tough to say goodbye.
"I remember one girl who got the best academic award out of the entire camp," Frome said. "She wrote me a note and made me this little bag, and in her note she said I was her favorite coach and that I made such an impact on her life. She wrote 'I know this bag isn't much, but I put all of my heart and love into it.' As we were getting on to the bus, and she comes up to the window, put her hand on the window, and just started bawling. I lost it. It was the most amazing experience."
"It was everything I thought it would be plus more," Rucker said. "Even without speaking the same language, we still formed a bond and that was really special."