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1. History is important.  In the first week of this program, much of our schedule has been centered around learning the history and culture of Shangri-La. I won’t pretend that I am now an expert in the past and present of this area, but I have learned that understanding the physical, cultural, and political landscape of a place makes every interaction in that place much more tangible and meaningful.

2. Music is powerful.  Every day, we start camp with music. I highly doubt any of the kids we’re teaching can understand most of the lyrics to “ABC” by Jackson 5, or “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas, but the energy and spirit of the music is not lost in translation. Dancing, jumping, throwing a beach ball, and simply feeling the mood of the melody always puts me in a good mood to start the day.

3. Some things transcend language. The language barrier has been frustrating for me at times. I can say, “hi” and “thank you” in Mandarin, but that is about it. Trying to cheer up a kid that has fallen down, or trying to express how proud I am when the group can count to 10 in English on their own has been challenging. But conversely, there’s something about the unwritten, the unspoken, the universal language we all share. Smiling, for example. A high five after a nice shot in a basketball game. Dancing because there’s music playing and excitement in the air. I wish I could speak every language and communicate with every person I meet. But my experience during the first week in Shangri-La has taught me that just because there’s a mismatch in language doesn’t mean you can’t communicate.

4. Prayer flags are more than colorful cloth on a string. Prayer flags, roughly translated to “Wind Horses” in Tibetan, are put in sacred places such as monasteries and the tops of mountains to send prayers to heaven. They are seen all over the Yunnan province, fluttering in the wind, and add a gorgeous splash of color to the mountainous backdrop of the area.

colorful prayer flags waving in the wind in front of trees
Prayer flags hanging near a local monastery we visited as a group.

5.  Reflection is important. Coming from someone who is always trying to move on to the next “thing,” the past week has taught me a lot about the importance of reflection. “Reflection” is a purposely-ambiguous term, because I think it is a different process for everyone. For one person, reflection might mean journaling with a cup of coffee on the front porch. For another, it might be meditating religiously. For me, going on long runs, especially in naturally scenic places such as Shangri-La, is a form of reflection. As a group, the nine of us meet with Sam (our fearless leader) each night to reflect on the day. Having a built-in time to think about various aspects of the trip and ourselves has been a really beneficial experience for me and moving forward I hope to include more reflection in my daily life.

6. Legs, core, arms. Arms, core, legs. Erging is NOT easy.  In just one week I have learned how long distance runners train in the off season, what suits are allowed and not allowed at swim meets, the rules surrounding wrestling, and how rowers row. It is incredibly unique to be living so closely with so many incredible student-athletes from various backgrounds and sports, and I am overwhelmingly thankful to be learning so much (sometimes firsthand) from these people.

7. Open minds and open conversations can make days spent with someone feel like years. This group has already had so many conversations and discussions, both informal and formal, and the pure sincerity and openness of the group has created relationships that are impossibly strong given the time frame. In the future, I hope I can emulate the open spirit of our community here, and I can’t wait to continue learning both about and from the incredible people surrounding me.

nine duke and stanford student-athletes sitting in front of a lake and mountains

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