Keri Fulp would like to visit all seven continents in her lifetime.
So when her college adviser presented a summer opportunity to go overseas, the East Surry graduate did not hesitate to jump at the chance.
The rising sophomore forward at Wake Forest recently returned from a school trip to Vietnam, where she spent three weeks teaching academics, basketball and life skills to children.
“I was expecting to learn a lot and experience a lot of cool things,” Fulp said. “I was not expecting to fall in love with it so much that I didn’t want to leave. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people.”
Fulp and athletes from North Carolina, Virginia, Boston College, Minnesota, Florida State and Dartmouth joined Coach for College, a service learning program designed by former Duke tennis player Parker Goyer in 2007.
While in country, the US student-athletes partnered with Vietnamese university students to work with the kids at a summer camp.
For Fulp, who has a heart for serving others, saying ‘yes’ was a no-brainer.
“I’m always open to any kind of outreach program, anything we have going on campus,” Fulp said. “It’s just a passion of mine to help others. It’s part of the reason I want to be a missionary when I graduate.”
After a full day of travel that included an eight-hour tour in Narita, Japan, and an extended layover in Tokyo, the athletes arrived in Ho Chi Minh City the first week in June. Fulp said the group got a tour of the city the next day that included a visit to the War Remnants Museum.
The following day, they made the five-hour bus ride to their camp in Long My, located in the Hau Giang province. Fulp was able to coach basketball and teach physics. Baseball, soccer and volleyball were also taught in the camp, held at a middle school in the rice farming community.
Academic classes offered during the week included math, chemistry, biology, English and literature.
According to Coach for College’s website, youths targeted are rising sixth- to ninth-graders from partner middle schools in low-income, rural communities in developing countries where very few people have obtained a higher education.
Fulp was a great fit for the trip. Not only was she a Northwest Conference player of the year in two sports (volleyball and basketball), but she was valedictorian of her 2013 graduating class. She also previously took a goodwill basketball trip to Russia in 2011.
Fulp coached the yellow team for the three weeks, and the kids got especially excited on competition day.
“Our team cheer was ‘Yellow Dragon,’” Fulp said. “Just being able to experience teaching in their classroom setting and coaching kids that hadn’t been exposed to basketball was really rewarding. The kids were so excited to see us. That kind of excitement is contagious.”
On the weekends, the US student-athletes were able to go sightseeing.
Driving around in Ho Chi Minh City was madness — as Fulp recalled the countless number of close calls in the heavy traffic on the taxi ride to the hotel the first day. Before long she got used to it, zipping around on the back of a motorbike driven by “TH,” one of her translators in Can Tho.
“There were very few stoplights, so if you saw one you knew it was at a major intersection,” Fulp said. “There was a storm and the lights were out. “TH” does this thing where she says ‘Uh oh, uh oh!’ and we were pinned in between three motor bikes and a taxi. There were lots of horns honking. I’m eating a Vietnamese dumpling, managing a GoPro (video camera) and riding a motorbike.”
Fulp visited the port town of Rach Gia, and tried a lot of local food while she was in country. She said a family style meal might be rice, soup flavored with meat (often pork), and vegetables with fruit for dessert. Fulp said she loved the Vietnamese coffee and brought several bags home for souvenirs. Fulp also had a not-so-fun experience when she tried a spring roll with hot chilis.
During the trip, Fulp said she became very close to the Vietnamese college students, particularly “TH.”
“I got to meet her family,” Fulp said. “We’ve been Facebook messaging, and we hope to Skype soon.”
Fulp said she has held an interest in pursuing a career in environmental engineering for several years. The recent trip revealed a perfect way for her to utilize those skills on the mission field, particularly in developing countries with little or no clean drinking water.
In the days since the trip to Vietnam, Fulp said she’s had time to reflect on her future.
“I talked with my pastor about a man who raised his own support for missions as an eye doctor,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that as an engineer?’ Water quality is a huge issue around the world.
“I want to be able to help with drinking water while sharing the love of Christ. This trip was a big step in that direction.”
Fulp, who also took a goodwill trip to Russia three years ago, said she has always wanted to visit all seven continents, including Antarctica. This was her first trip to Asia, and Vietnam now holds a special place in her heart. She said she already plans to return next year as a US college student director.
“Vietnam has a very high dropout rate, especially in the rural communities. A lot of kids have to work with their families,” Fulp said. “It was good to have students know there’s other people who believe in them and are pulling for them.”
Fulp has worked a number of camps here at home; from volleyball and basketball camps to a skills and drills basketball camp for 50 girls as her high school senior project.
“Vietnamese students are much more reserved,” Fulp said. “In the classroom, the structure is much more rigid. They’ll take notes on everything the teacher says. There’s not as much interaction.”
“The final day with the kids, we were able to go to the rice field and experience how they lived,” she said. “The kids don’t have shoes, they have flip flops. We biked a 10K on these little bitty bikes with no brakes, and no tires. I also rode a water buffalo, which is not recommended by most people.”
Back home, Fulp hasn’t had much down time. She is taking summer classes now, as she gears up for her sophomore season at Wake Forest. Fulp was a four-year letter winner in basketball and volleyball at East Surry, averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots on the hardwood her senior year.
Fulp, who finished her prep career with more than 1,000 points and more than 1,000 rebounds, was named Ms. Basketball in North Carolina by the Charlotte Observer and an Associated Press All-State selection.
As a freshman at Wake, the 6-foot-3 forward played 25 games and averaged 9.8 minutes per game for the Deacons basketball team.
Wake Forest took care of the in-country cost of the trip to Vietnam, and a scholarship covered the $1,600 round-trip airfare. Fulp, whose Twitter page features a nearly 20-minute long presentation with photos and video from the trip, noted that she is so appreciative of the opportunities at Wake Forest and her family’s support along the way.
“Without my family I wouldn’t be here,” Fulp said. “They had to sit through so many travel basketball games. God has blessed me immensely through my family and basketball.”