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Student-Athletes Take Service Trip to Vietnam

Lombard with one of her students.

Lombard with one of her students.

Oct. 16, 2013

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Trudging through wet fields of green rice paddies; finding an entire fish head in your soup at breakfast; becoming family with children you've never actually exchanged a word with. The typical Boston College study abroad experience doesn't normally include these types of adventures. For BC student-athletes Zoe Lombard (soccer), Nina Baumberger Altirriba (field hockey) and Shannon Healey (rowing), spending three weeks in Vietnam over the summer was anything but typical.

Coach for College, founded by Duke University, is a service program that allows student-athletes from colleges around the country to travel internationally while giving back to underprivileged children. Lombard, Altirriba and Healey had the opportunity to travel to the city of Danang in Southeast Asia, teaching seventh and eighth graders in the classroom and on the field for three weeks.

During their three weeks, they taught with other American student-athletes and college-aged Vietnamese translators. The kids learned math, English, physics and biology in the classroom. Lombard, Altirriba and Healey made their own lesson plans to teach the kids every day. Outside of the classroom, they learned how to play basketball, baseball, soccer and volleyball. Senior Lombard, who taught physics and coached soccer, explained what objectives the American student-athletes had in mind during their trip.

"The goal is to promote higher education to these kids through sports and to get them thinking about their future and going to universities over there," said Lombard.

Healey echoed Lombard's thoughts, "We wanted to communicate if you study hard and stay motivated, then you can do this. We were really focused on teaching them the values and morals behind higher education."

Altirriba celebrating with students

Healey, a senior who taught math and coached basketball in Danang, never thought she would go to Vietnam. At BC, she participates in Food for Families, volunteers in special needs classes and makes visits to children's hospitals. It was the combination of her desire to do more community service and love of traveling that sparked her interest in Coach for College.

"It was the best decision I could have made. Being in Vietnam was entirely my own experience," Healey said. "It was awesome to be in another country across the world. Everything was very in the moment and there weren't a lot of stresses. It was great way to live for three weeks."

"I had never been out of the country before this," Lombard said. "I knew I wanted to go abroad, so I was trying to figure out a way that I could go and also do something service-related. I found the best of both worlds."

Although Lombard, Healey and Altirriba couldn't speak a word of Vietnamese, the language barrier hardly posed an obstacle to forming a special bond with the kids. Saying goodbye led to hugs, tears and colorful notes scribbled with Vietnamese messages of adoration. As the bus full of American students pulled away from the school for the last time, the entire group of Vietnamese kids rode their bikes or ran behind it, reluctant to let their new friends leave.

"I'm not a crier and I bawled," Healey said, laughing as she talked about her uncontrollable tears when she had to say goodbye. "They become like little siblings. You really realize you left a mark on someone."

Before teaching in Vietnam, Healey wanted to pursue a career in sports marketing after Boston College. Now, she plans on coupling education and athletics in her post-graduate job search.

"I reevaluated and want to go more of an education route with it, like a high school athletic director. I feel like that job has the same kind of principle [as Coach for College]: Education through athletics. I want to help people take a sport and achieve something greater than that beyond high school," Healey explained.

One thing Lombard plans on taking with her from her time in Vietnam to her final season of soccer at BC is the passion and positive attitude the children had while they competed in their sports.

"They would have so much fun with it and it would just remind me, `This is what it's supposed to be like!'" Lombard said.

Healey with the children she coached

"They also reminded me that in a team there are people with different roles, but everyone is just as important," Altirriba - a junior - said "You can make an impact and not even know it so you have to try hard all the time."

While Altirriba, Healey and Lombard all went to Vietnam with the objective of making an impact on the Vietnamese children, they reaped even greater rewards in the process.

"After this trip, I realized how lucky I am now, blessed really," Lombard said.

"Seeing how those kids lived made me realize, you don't need all this stuff. I learned to be more appreciative," Healey said. "I really underestimated the impact it would have in just three weeks. It was incredible really. You cover a lot of ground."

The BC student-athletes covered 8,401 miles of ground in their trip to Danang. They also covered the most fundamental essence of what being an athlete and a student is truly about. Without the well-groomed Boston College facilities and the Under Armour athletic gear, Altirriba, Lombard and Healey were reminded of the core values that sports embody: Passion, hard work, and most importantly, happiness.

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