May 24, 2017
A trio of South Carolina student-athletes are headed back to the classroom this summer, but in different roles and a much different setting. Track and Field’s Kierstin Williams and Bryce Simpson, and softball’s Kaylea Snaer will spend four weeks in Vietnam, where they will serve as teachers and coaches for underprivileged middle school children as part of the Coach for College program.
“I’m really interested in youth development, leadership and goal-setting,” said Snaer, a senior from Rowland Heights, Calif. “I really like to learn about other cultures, too. This just seemed like a perfect opportunity to do all of that. I just want to influence their lives in a positive way.”
“I definitely think this will broaden my horizons on different cultures,” said Williams, a senior from Goose Creek, S.C. “I think in the U.S. we have this little box where we have our own ideas about different cultures and how they live their lives, even if we’ve never been there. I want to have a broader perspective so I can teach my kids and my peers about how it really is.”
“It just sounded like a great opportunity and a good cause,” added Simpson, a rising junior from Mechanicsville, Va. “It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around often, so I feel like I have to take advantage of it while I’m still in college.”
While South Carolina student-athletes have been regular participants in the program over the last several years, this is the first time that three Gamecocks will make the trip. Williams, an education major, will leave on May 24 and return on June 19. Simpson, an international studies major, and Snaer, an experimental psychology major, will be taking part in a different session beginning July 19 and returning in mid-August.
“We’ll spend half of our time teaching the students, who are middle school aged, and then half the time coaching them in a sport,” Simpson said. “We’ll do that from about 6 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and then do some different trips around there on the weekends.”
“I’ve been trying to get into this for the last three years that I’ve been here,” Williams said. “It really intrigued me since I’m an education major. I’ve always thought about teaching abroad. I thought this would be a great way to open the door and experience a different culture and see if teaching abroad as part of my life plan was something I really wanted to do.
“I know I’m going to be teaching biology to middle schoolers. I’ll be mentoring a child, coaching whiffle ball, and teaching my group of kids life skills throughout the week.”
They told me to keep an open mind and to enjoy experiencing the culture instead of getting stuck in our own ways.Bryce Simpson
The student-athletes will be working with translators to help them in their daily communications with the Vietnamese students. While each of the three Gamecocks has enjoyed some travel outside the U.S. for vacations or internships, they know this trip will be very different.
“I wasn’t nervous at all until I learned about some of the things I have to pack,” Williams said. “I knew when I signed up that I’m going to be walking into a huge culture shock, but now I think it might be a little bigger than I expected. I’m looking forward to it, though.”
“I’ve read a lot of testimonials about it from other student-athletes,” Snaer said. “I know it will be very eye opening since the people there don’t have a lot of the resources that we have here. I may be slightly nervous about the living conditions. They want us to bring pictures and articles about us competing because we’re told that the kids think we’re big superstars because our games are covered in print and things like that.”
Despite not knowing any of the other student-athletes from other schools, the Gamecocks are excited about creating new relationships with the others on the trip, in addition to the youngsters they will be teaching.
“I’m pretty good about adapting to situations, but I’m slightly nervous,” Williams said. “I’m a type A personality, so I’m going to make friends with somebody.”
Simpson had spoken to other South Carolina student-athletes who had gone on the trip previously, including former track and field teammate Erika Rucker and beach volleyball’s Erin Neuenfeldt.
“It made me feel better in talking to them and getting their first-hand experience,” Simpson said. “It sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity. They told me to keep an open mind and to enjoy experiencing the culture instead of getting stuck in our own ways. They told me to enjoy the moment while it’s happening.”
While they will be teaching and coaching, the student-athletes are eager to get an understanding of how their life might be changed afterwards.
“I’m sure this will be a very humbling experience, and it will make me appreciate all that I have,” Snaer said. “I’m definitely excited, but I’m not scared. I’ve been told that the kids will impact you more than you impact them. I just want to do the best that I can for them.”
“I think I will come back home and be more grateful for the things that I have and not take things so much for granted,” Williams said.
“I think we’ll get an understanding about making the best of any opportunity,” Simpson said. “We’ll be exposed to kids who may be underprivileged or impoverished, and I’m sure it will be very eye-opening.”