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#TGW: Found In Translation

July 31, 2014

By Jon Cooper

The Good Word

If there’s anything senior outside hitter Courtney Felinski has shown in her three years on the Georgia Tech volleyball team it’s that she has a lot of heart.

Fans of have seen her display that heart time and again on the floor of O’Keefe Gym.

Over the summer, she opened her heart and dedicated a block of time in a place she probably never thought she’d go, doing something she probably never thought she’d do.

“I spent three weeks in Vietnam in a rural village,” said the Magnolia, Texas, native. “I went with a program called Coach for College. They take college athletes over there to coach and teach for a summer program. I was with six other American student-athletes and we worked with a group of Vietnamese college students who were translating to the kids for us. So I taught math and I coached volleyball to eighth- and ninth-graders in Vietnam.”

Coach for College was founded in 2008, the brainchild of Duke University student-athlete Parker Goyer, with the purpose of sending student-athletes to Southeast Asia to provide educational opportunities to children from low-income families. Almost 65 percent of the families in this rural mostly farming area earn in the range of $200-to-$300 ANNUALLY, and the parents of 94 percent of the children had a high school-or-lower education.

Felinski taught math to the kids four days a week — a four-hour session in the morning, another in the afternoon Monday through Thursday — with Friday dedicated to competitive games that the Americans and Vietnamese tutors, who served as their translators/liaisons, made up. 

It turns out that in addition to being very good at teaching and playing volleyball, she’s pretty good at teaching math.

‘I remembered all of it,” she said. “It was nothing that I hadn’t learned before and I was really strong at math when I took those classes, so it was good. Ninth grade was a lot of geometry. Eighth grade was a little more algebra. It was pretty simple.”

What wasn’t so simple was overcoming the communication barrier, even with their Vietnamese liaisons. But it was nothing that a little patience and understanding couldn’t work out.

“The language barrier was difficult because most of our translators were there to work on their English,” Felinski said. “But they were so great and they worked so hard and whenever things got a little frustrating or the translation was messed up we just took it easy and we’d laugh at mistakes and keep in mind that they were thinking in two different languages for us. So whenever they would mess up the English translation I would just keep in mind that they were working really, really hard and doing something I could never do.”

The volleyball portion was even more difficult, as often the terms Felinski and her teammates so calmly throw around didn’t translate to Vietnamese.  That made the nightly lesson-planning sessions with the translators putting together the next day’s agenda rather tricky.

“The girl that I was coaching volleyball with probably didn’t even consider that,” Felinski said, with a laugh. “We would say, ‘Okay so we’re going to teach them an approach.’ They would say, ‘A what?’ We would say, ‘An approach, like to hit the ball.’ There were words like ‘setting,’ ‘approach,’ ‘serving,’ they just didn’t have a Vietnamese word for and they didn’t even know what to tell them to say to call ‘Mine.’ They ended up saying the Vietnamese word for ‘I’ to call the ball, which is kind of funny.”

Teaching skills, volleyball or mathematical, often meant literally showing the students what they needed to do.

“Definitely. I was miming a lot, very big gestures in volleyball and in the classroom,” she said. “In the classroom, if kids are having trouble understanding something there are only two Vietnamese people to help 15 kids. So we would try and walk around and there was a lot of drawing things out, pointing. It was definitely easier in volleyball to show them things because they could mimic things exactly how I did it.”

The three-weeks went by so quickly and were so rewarding. It made for an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, one of those unforgettable images was the sorrow in leaving to go back to the States.

“Over those three weeks we got really close with our Vietnamese staff and the kids became very attached,” she said. “The day that we left camp was a very emotional day. The kids were all crying and whenever we drove away on the bus they’d actually hop on their bikes and follow us down the road for a few minutes or as long as they could until they couldn’t keep up. That was heart-wrenching seeing that.”

That last image notwithstanding, Felinski is eager to go back and work with the program again.

“Definitely. I thought about doing that next summer,” she said. ”You can only be a coach once but after you coach you’re eligible to be a director and work with American coaches that come.”

 For more information on Coach for College visit

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