Senior defender taught in Tanzania this past summer.
Sept. 23, 2010
by David Rutz
Katie Dean didn’t think she would ever have an opportunity like she did this summer, and the experiences gained through her trip went beyond teaching nearly halfway around the world.
About 8,000 miles east of her home town of Boca Raton, Fla., Dean, a senior defender on the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, spent six weeks this summer teaching at the Bridge Nursery School in the East African country of Tanzania.
Dean’s trip was paid for by Vanderbilt’s Nichols Humanitarian Fund. Established in 2006 by the E.C. and Lucile Hamby Nichols Trust, the fund paves the way for Vanderbilt students to participate in service opportunities both domestically, and as in Dean’s case, internationally. Students must document their trip through words and photographs and submit a report upon their return detailing their experiences.
Dean heard about the opportunity through Vanderbilt teammate Catherine Wearn, who had learned about it while she was abroad last year. Dean had to convince the organization that her service opportunity was worthy of funding, and she was successful. After her application was accepted, she flew to Tanzania and found herself in a tight spot almost right away at Bridge.
Dean’s a veteran member of the Vanderbilt defense, having seen action in 40 games over the past three seasons, so she’s used to facing attacking forwards and midfielders.
The same doesn’t necessarily go for an army of toddlers.
“I’d never taught before, and I literally got there the first day and the teacher was like ‘Okay, you teach’ and left the classroom. So I was standing in front of 25 three-year-old Tanzanian kids,” Dean said. “English is their first language, that’s what they’re trying to get them to become fluent (in), so they’re taught in all English. American volunteers can go over there without knowing Swahili.”
Dean rose to the occasion. For the next six weeks, she taught the youngsters subjects such as English, math, letters, colors and numbers. She had traveled abroad before, having spent the previous summer doing volunteer work in Brazil, but this was her first time in Africa. The experience working with young children was eye-opening.
“Just seeing how the little things that you do can really affect the kids, especially there, since they don’t have that much,” Dean said. “Paying attention to them and helping them individually. They’d never had that.”
The trip also made the rising senior, who’s double majoring in medicine, health and society and child studies, realize what she wants to do after her college career ends next spring.
She met a native Tanzanian who, while he goes to school in London, plans to open a school of his own in his home country. Dean helped him—outside of her volunteer work with Bridge—and hopes to return to Tanzania next summer to take on a greater role in the development of this new school.
One of the differences next summer, of course, is that there won’t be a World Cup capturing the attention of the planet like it did during Dean’s service trip. The quadrennial international soccer championship took place in South Africa June 11-July 11, and while Spain took home the title, the entire continent of just over one billion people was gripped by plenty of World Cup fever while Dean taught there.
“A ton,” Dean said. “It was a lot of fun to be over there.”
Dean was able to play a little soccer herself while in Tanzania, although it was unorganized and did not involve her Commodore teammates. Now back in Nashville, soccer has again taken center stage.
Before her trip, Dean could scarcely have imagined she would be able to visit Africa, so the goals that she and her large class of fellow seniors—totalling nine fourth- and fifth-year players—have for themselves don’t seem too far out of the question.
“I never thought I’d be in Africa teaching for that long,” Dean said. “It was a dream of mine, and if you set your mind to something, you can make it happen, you’ll find a way somehow.”
Last year’s up-and-down season saw Vanderbilt shut out its final four SEC opponents to clinch a spot in the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala.—the squad’s first postseason appearance in three years.
This year, Dean and her fellow classmates hope to increase their win total for the third consecutive season, positioning the Commodores to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
“I think if we set our goals at the beginning, work towards them and really all stay focused, we can definitely achieve what we set out to.
“I think we’re all ready,” Dean continued. “We feel like we’ve had our time to grow up, and we’ve grown a lot together as a class but also with the younger players, as well. We’re all very in sync and on the same page right now to try to go farther than we have in the past.”
Editor's note: The women's soccer team opens conference play tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 24) when South Carolina visits the VU Soccer Complex.