Month in Vietnam a life lesson for Pitt's Brianna Kiesel
January 22, 2015 12:00 AM
Brianna Kiesel goes for a layup during the City Game between Pitt and Duquesne at the Petersen Events Center last month.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As a point guard, communication is an essential part of Brianna Kiesel’s job. She has to call plays, direct teammates and run the show for Pitt on the basketball court.
This summer her communication skills met a stiffer test.
Kiesel spent a month in Vietnam, from the middle of July to the middle of August, teaching middle-schoolers math and basketball as part of the “Coach for College” program.
She had the help of a Vietnamese college student, serving as a translator, but she also was able to form relationships with her students through non-verbal communication.
“I swear to you, I didn’t know I could love kids so much without having a conversation with them,” Kiesel said. “A high-five and a thumbs-up goes so far.”
Kiesel, a senior, discovered the program through Pitt’s life skills department and decided it was something she wanted to do. “Coach For College” started at Duke in 2007, and its goal is to help promote higher education through athletics.
Coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said Kiesel is always the first player to volunteer for community service, so she was a natural fit. She already earned a degree from Pitt in administration of justice and is pursuing a second in communications.
For her, going to Vietnam was a chance to emphasize education to children who might otherwise consider dropping out of school to start working. “You basically get a chance to go and give them the extra boost,” Kiesel said.
Still, flying halfway around the world to a place with a different culture and language takes guts.
“I’m very proud of her, with having that initiative to do that,” McConnell-Serio said. “I give her a lot of credit. I’ve traveled, and it’s not easy going to another country. She didn’t know anyone before she went. She didn’t know what she was getting into going on that trip.”
Kiesel worked in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, starting at about 6:30 a.m. daily. Working with Louisville diver Emily Stalmack, Kiesel taught for four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon, mixing in some basketball as well.
While she liked the teaching part, Kiesel enjoyed introducing the students to basketball, a sport many had never played.
“Basketball skills were null and void,” Kiesel said. “A lot of them didn’t even know what it was.”
Seeing the children have fun and make progress reaffirmed Kiesel’s plan to go into coaching when her basketball career is done.
“Just seeing how much they improved was phenomenal and how much fun they had,” Kiesel said. “It was great because I was able to give the passion that I have and pass it on to these kids.”
The hardest part, she said, was leaving. She saw the sadness on their faces, and one of them made her a model cardboard house that she has kept to this day.
“Seeing how sad they were because of how much of an impression that you made, that’s something that I’ll never forget,” Kiesel said. “Even though I was never able to have a conversation with them, I made an impression on them. That’s something I’ll always remember.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.
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