Sept. 30, 2015
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By JORDAN BUCHER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa cross country runner Michael Hart is used to pushing forward for miles and miles, but prior to the summer of 2015, the junior backed himself into an opportunity of a lifetime.
With a little encouragement from a friend, Hart attended an academic services meeting and was introduced to the Coach for College program, a civic engagement opportunity funded by the UI Athletics Department that sends student-athletes abroad to teach children valuable life skills centered on sports.
“One of my friends on the swimming and diving team told me to come to a meeting last year with an open mind,” Hart said. “I didn’t know what it was about, but I found out it involved teaching in Vietnam.”
Hart liked what he had heard, so he applied and was accepted.
“Community service and social involvement is tremendously important to student-athletes at Iowa,” said Liz Tovar, associate athletic director of student-athlete academic services. “We are encouraging students to deepen their understanding of cultural differences and advocate for social change on issues surrounding education and sport.”
Although Hart didn’t know what he was getting himself into, he was all about the experience from the beginning.
“How many opportunities do you get to go half way around the world to teach kids?” he said. “My major is elementary education, and it seemed like a great opportunity for the summer.”
To satisfy his curiosity, Hart took to Google.
“When I searched the country, it showed beautiful beaches with mountains running into them,” Hart said. “I thought there’s no way that’s where I’ll be, but we did take weekend trips to those types of beaches; it was the most beautiful thing ever.”
Daily life for those three weeks wasn’t all that picture-perfect. Hart spent five days a week in rural Vietnam where he stayed in a guest house with a local Vietnamese family. He taught school-aged children Monday through Thursday and participated in athletic competitions on Friday.
“We had early mornings and the days were long,” Hart said. “We would rotate one class of teaching and one class of sports to mix it up. We also had a lesson plan at night before going to bed. You’re exhausted by that point.”
In the past, the program has included student-athletes across 21 different sports and three NCAA Division I conferences.
“It was a good mix of universities and sports,” Hart said. “I taught physics with a water polo player from Princeton and coached volleyball with a girl who played for Harvard. There were Vietnamese coaches who translated for us, which was how we communicated with the kids.”
In addition to the gifts and letters Hart received from the children on his final day, the summer had much more in store for him than he had anticipated.
“The kids don’t know if you are an athlete or not,” Hart said. “They just looked up to us because we were over there helping them. I took something out of it, but the kids took even more out of it. I think we made a very big impact in a short amount of time.”
The university completed its second year of partnership with the Coach for College program in 2015, and looks to continue it well into the future.
“We’ve had significant interest amongst students based on our past participants’ experiences,” Tovar said. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Coach for College program in the years to come.”