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Published 10/03/2012
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Coach For College

By Camron Ghorbi

Eryn Croft will never forget that moment. After three flights spanning 24 hours and nearly 10,000 miles, she finally arrived at her hotel in Ho Chi Minh City at about 2 a.m. The front entrance to the hotel was locked.

"Someone was sleeping on a couch in the lobby, so we had to knock on the bars outside the door," Croft said with a laugh. "We had to wake him up to check us in. We couldn't wear shoes in the hotel, and there was no elevator either."

Finally, after carrying a month's worth of luggage barefoot up five flights of stairs, Croft set out on a journey that would change her life. As one of seven student-athletes from the Atlantic Coast Conference chosen for the "Coach for College" initiative, Croft spent her summer teaching English and the basic rules of sports to Vietnamese children from the city of Hội An.

As a pre-med major and aspiring pediatrician, "Coach for College" was a natural fit for Croft.

 "I really wanted to teach the kids. And a lot of the excitement was just the thought of experiencing another country," she said. "It was an incredible month."

After a tedious application process that ended in January, Croft began to have weekly Skype sessions with her fellow instructors in preparation for a May departure. It was during these online meetings when she was first introduced to Kellie Barnum and Brittany Burns, two of the staff members she now regards as "lifelong friends."

"We still text each other all the time," Croft said. "Kellie's a setter at Boston College, so it's pretty cool that I get to compete against her. Brittany just graduated from Clemson."

But even after hours spent discussing the summer ahead, nothing could prepare her for sleeping under bug nets in cramped guest houses with no hot water.

"Everyone drives mopeds, and even though it's really hot, everyone wears long pants," she added. "People were staring at us and taking pictures with us - I don't think they've ever seen someone as pale or as blonde as me."

Many of the 80 or so local youth from Hội An drove bikes over 45 minutes just to partake in the camp. Daily classes alternating between English and life skills were sandwiched around time spent outdoors, where the instructors helped teach the rules of volleyball, soccer, basketball and tennis. Nights were spent as a team planning lessons for the next day.

"That's really where we bonded the most," Croft said. "And it was all in preparation for Friday, which was the day of competition each week."

Back in Coral Gables, the redshirt freshman now has game days of her own to worry about. Still, she can't help but smile when she thinks about her month-long voyage overseas.

"It really made me appreciate my life here," Croft said. "Working with the kids was the best part of it all."