HARTSVILLE, S.C. - During the spring semester, Coker women's volleyball member Madison Bingle spent a semester abroad in Đà Nẵng, Vietnam. Đà Nẵng is the largest city in Central Vietnam, while also being the commercial and educational hub of the country. The name translates to "opening of a large river" which comes from its location and its use as a well-known port.
With this service-learning program facilitated by SUNY Brockport, she took courses in Vietnamese culture, language, history, and politics. Bingle also volunteered with many local organizations as a part of the curriculum: Thanh Tam School (a school for disabled children), Đà Nẵng Welfare Center, Red Cross Orphanage, Đà Nẵng Friendship English Speaking Club, and weekly home visits to those who have been affected by Agent Orange. Last but not least, she taught English to the Department of Social Work at the University of Education and Friendship Union (DAFO).
In regards to her expectations and preparations for the semester, Bingle commented, "In the months before I left, I really tried to prepare myself, by engaging in literature and films about Vietnam and its people, but no amount of preparation can really display what you will see in a country so foreign. Don't get me wrong, Good Morning, Vietnam and Full Metal Jacket give you some insight into the people and culture, but being there is a lot different".
When remarking about what impacted her the most during her time in Vietnam, Bingle said the forgiveness and kindness of the people. According to her account, they place no blame for the effects of Agent Orange. "I'll never forget their kindness even in the face of adversity", she says. The Vietnamese are simply happy to be living in an era of peace and are content with what little they have. Bingle tries to be more conscious of her surroundings due to what she experienced in her time abroad. She summarizes it with this thought, "In Vietnam, to live means to give, and to forgive means to live and move forward. This philosophy of living is consequently what made my experience in Vietnam so unforgettably amazing".
The sociology and history major has goals to some day attend law school, but through this experience, her plans have changed slightly.
"I've always wanted to attend law school to become an attorney. But now, I want to practice law for a different purpose", says Bingle. "I want to advocate for the voiceless, and give back to a country that has unselfishly welcomed me. Ideally, I would like to work in Foreign Service, or for an NGO helping the people of Vietnam. My goal is to help grow the Đà Nẵng Quang Nam Fund, and to continually be an active volunteer with the organization. They provide direct assistance to victims of Agent Orange, by giving them money for medication, scholarships for attending school and so much more."
As an outside hitter, rising senior Bingle has played in every match in her three-year career as a Cobra. The past two seasons, she has led the team in kills with 254 and 217, respectively. Her freshman and sophomore years, Bingle finished second (217) and tied for first (275) in digs. In addition, Bingle was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team last season for excelling on and off the court.
The Cobra women's volleyball team starts their season on August 31st at the Newberry Volleyball Invitational against Lander. The home opener is scheduled for September 15th versus South Atlantic Conference foe, Lincoln Memorial, with the match starting at 7:00 p.m.
For more details on her personal account of the trip, visit her blog at https://madisonbingle.wordpress.com/.
Below is the full interview with Madison Bingle on her trip to Vietnam:
1. Coker Athletics Media Relations Department: What did you expect coming into this experience?
Madison Bingle: I knew it was going to be a rewarding experience, especially the programs work with victims of Agent Orange, but seeing any amount of human suffering takes an enormous emotional toll on a person. I knew it wasn't going to be easy. In the months before I left, I really tried to prepare myself, by engaging in literature and films about Vietnam and its people, but no amount of preparation can really display what you will see in a country so foreign. Don't get me wrong, Good Morning, Vietnam and Full Metal Jacket give you some insight into the people and culture, but being there is a lot different.
2. Coker Athletics Media Relations Department: In what ways have you changed from this experience?
Madison Bingle: The experience has humbled me in so many ways. I have gained a new perspective on war, culture, language, and life. I am a lot more conscious of my surroundings simply because that's the way the Vietnamese people live their life. They have a Vietnamese proverb that I think embodies this consciousness. "When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree." That being said, every time I buy something, I look at the label to see where it was made. Whenever I see a foreign developing country I think of the person who made it and their life story. When it says Vietnam, I wonder if someone I know made it. The people in Vietnam are hard working and genuinely happy to live in an era of peace. I think there is a lot to be learned from a textile worker living in a shack like home with a child suffering from a debilitating disease linked to Agent Orange exposure. They have nothing, yet they are the happiest, most giving people I have ever met. It has put my life into perspective to say the least.
3. Coker Athletics Media Relations Department: What do you miss most about Vietnam?
Madison Bingle: Where do I even begin with this one... Well, I miss the people. I loved people watching from steps of my program house. A typical street scene would include little red stools on the sidewalks where people would eat, food vendors everywhere, motorbikes buzzing through the streets, elderly people grinning ear to ear as they stroll. Their wrinkled faced bare age old wisdom, and their iconic rice hats are a symbol of culture. There was never a dull moment. Secondly, I miss the beautiful landscape. Every corner of Vietnam from the Chinese border to the most Southern tip is full of jungle encrusted mountains, caves, vibrant ocean views, intricate Buddhist temples and the traces of ancient colonizers. Vietnam is truly a hidden gem. Lastly, but most definitely not least, I miss the food. Vietnam has had thousands of years to perfect their cuisine and they've have most certainly done so. Every ingredient is fresh (they hardly use fridges) and every dish is booming with flavor.
4. Coker Athletics Media Relations Department: What are some lessons that you have learned and will never forget?
Madison Bingle: Forgiveness. The Vietnamese people are easily the most forgiving people anyone could ever meet. There were several times that I expected to be shown resentment for my nationality, but every time I was shown love. I will never forget when my three peers, our program translator and I went into the home of a family living in the outskirts of Da Nang. We were immediately greeted with an incense to burn at the alter of their recently passed away son. When I lit the incense for their son, chills went down my spine. The father of the family of four served for the Vietnamese army in the invasion of Cambodia in 1975. He was stationed in the jungles of Quang Nam, which were heavily sprayed with Agent Orange. He unknowingly became exposed to the chemical compound. Consequently, he suffers from strange health issues, and his two children were born with perplexing diseases that causes their skin to peel while also limiting their mobility and cognitive functioning. Their son who was just 20, died a week ago from the time of our visit. We talked to the mother about their families troubles and she just sobbed, while the father was picking us fresh fruit, and the daughter attempted to bring us water. The mother remarked that she wished her children didn't have to suffer such a horrible fate. She understands that their diseases are linked to her husband's exposure, yet she placed no blame. The father earns a wage by selling fruit trees, while the mother attends to their small rice field. Their daughter requires constant attention because of her disease. When we left, she grabbed our hands and bowed her head. The father gave us 2 pounds of fruit to bring home. He displayed one of the kindest offerings in Vietnam. I have countless stories that are parallel to this experience. I'll never forget their kindness even in the face of adversity.
5. Coker Athletics Media Relations Department: What were the most important things that you've taken away from your study abroad experience that you would want to share with family, friends, classmates, teachers?
Madison Bingle: Never make assumptions about a culture that is different from your own, and always be inquisitive to learn from others. You might learn you have more in common than you think. It's cliche, but I went into this experience with an open mind, and I think I've learned a lot because of it. I've realized the common narrative of the Vietnam War was that it was fight for democracy over communism. After learning about the people of Vietnam, I have realized it was so much more. I simply want people to become aware of social issues, domestically and abroad, and to act upon them. I've realized that making a difference starts small, therefore, it's easier than one might think to start.
6. Coker Athletics Media Relations Department: What do you want to do with the experiences you've had?
Madison Bingle: I've always wanted to attend law school to become an attorney. But now, I want to practice law for a different purpose. I want to advocate for the voiceless, and give back to a country that has unselfishly welcomed me. Ideally, I would like to work foreign service, or for an NGO helping the people of Vietnam. My goal is to help grow the Da Nang Quang Nam Fund, and to continually be an active volunteer with the organization. They provide direct assistance to victims of Agent Orange, by giving them money for medication, scholarships for attending school and so much more. A Vietnam Vet once told me "once you go to Vietnam, a part of you never leaves." So, I will always find reasons to return.