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It is bittersweet coming home from China, and hard to say goodbye to everyone. I never thought that I would become so engaged in a culture that I knew little about and so excited to immerse myself. What I will take away from this trip will last a lifetime.

I am excited to have gone on this trip with a great group. I knew after meeting my fellow Duke student-athletes before coming to China that we would have a great time together, but I wouldn’t know the extent. Upon meeting those from Stanford, I instantly knew it was going to be easy to share a great experience with them. In China, we’d spend most free moments together as a group. At CERS, we got to know each other when staying up at night playing cards in a gazebo outside and doing our daily workouts are together. In Old-Town, we’d shop together at night and hike up to the monastery and view the city from above.

“The last three weeks have been amazing,
and I have learned so much about China and about myself.”

There were two sections of our trip: learning about culture and running a kids sports and English camp at CERS, and exploring and working on the Compass farm in Old-Town. They were different experiences and I value having the opportunity to see two different parts of China.

The culture and activities were different in either place and each had their different appeals; the community at CERS was so welcoming, fun, and insightful. What we learned at CERS really helped us build a foundation for our knowledge of China and made us excited to learn more and engage ourselves in every opportunity. There are countless memorable times at CERS, one my favorites being the talent show at the end of camp. The campers performed dances and songs that wrapped up our time nicely. What was so great about the talent show was the student growth that was evident; the once shy and reserved kids were now confidently and happily performing not only in front of their friends but in front of us. They were so excited to show us their skills and it was very interesting to see some Chinese dances and songs.

In Old-Town, we had a different experience; Compass is a restaurant with an amazing community and inspiring story. We worked hard days on the farm to be rewarded with staff-cooked meals and insightful background stories. We saw so much growth on the farm and know that we left it in a good place for the volunteers to continue their work. We also spent a lot of time exploring Old-Town, which is rich with culture and history.

One of my favorite parts of the week actually happened by accident. Ryan and I walked into the hotel and there was a Chinese birthday party going on. After saying “happy birthday” in passing, they asked us to join them and we happily accepted. We sang happy birthday to our new friend, Cici, and spent time with her family and friends. I appreciated this moment because it reminded me how welcoming the Chinese culture is and how easily language can be transcended. Both CERS and Old-Town sparked a large interest in Chinese culture and immersive learning for me.

ACE Student-Athletes at Chinese Birthday Party

The last three weeks have been amazing, and I have learned so much about China and about myself. I am eager to learn more about the Chinese culture, as I know I am entranced with only a small portion of a culture that took hundreds of years to grow. I am so thankful for this experience and excited for the ACE group that will go to China next year and experience more of the amazing parts of Shangri-La.

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