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ACE in India 2016 group standing in front of Taj Mahal
Flashback to ACE in India 2016

Before I even filled out an application or attended an info session for ACE I approached one of my former high school and college teammates, Jake Faust, about his 2016 ACE in India experience. Right from the start, Jake told me that I needed to apply. He then went on about his experience in India and the people he met. He was excited to answer my questions and was happy another wrestler was exploring the opportunity to help others while learning about a new, different culture.

“After I was accepted into the ACE in China program, Jake told me to try to soak up as much as I could about the culture by stepping out of my comfort zone and that I’d be surprised how much the kids would actually teach me when I was all over with.”

Most of my concerns and questions about ACE surrounded teaching and how they were able to create lesson plans and communicate with the kids when they didn’t know the local languages. Jake told me about how the kids knew a lot more English than he expected but part of the fun with not knowing the native language was trying to find creative ways to communicate words they didn’t understand. He also told me that creating lesson plans become easy once you started to talk to the kids. He said that he and the other ACE athletes caught on quickly that the kids struggled with word tenses and they came together that night to brainstorm. He told me that making lessons for their English class was a lot simpler than you’d think because, what they did and his advice for me if I was to be accepted into the program, was to combine games with your lessons. They mixed their games with their plans that involved the tenses and it got the kids excited and it allowed them to work on their English speaking skills in a natural environment without the boring traditional lecture and repeated style of teaching that they have been accustom to in the past. After I was accepted into the ACE in China program, Jake told me to try to soak up as much as I could about the culture by stepping out of my comfort zone and that I’d be surprised how much the kids would actually teach me when I was all over with.
Playing Basketball with Kids in China
During the first few days of our camp in China, I quickly got a hold of how much English the kids spoke.  What might have been different from Jake’s trip to mine was the vast range of ages that we had throughout the few weeks. Our youngest were around 5 or 6 years old and they knew basically “hello” and “bye”. Our oldest were around 15, and by that age have gone through a few years of English in school so they knew some of the basics. As a group, we ended up splitting the kids into three groups based on how much English they knew or how well they picked it up. Like Jake said, making lesson plans was a lot easier than I expected and I took his advice and tried to incorporate as many games as I could into them. One of those games we played that worked out very well was combining basketball with lessons where we first would introduce words or concepts. Basketball was huge among the kids and every day they would ask me if I knew Kyrie Irving and I would join them when they would boo at Kevin Durant’s name. So they loved it when we incorporated it into learning numbers, jobs, sports, and ways of travel.

“Every ACE trip comes with their own unique experiences that challenge their participants and that’s why this program is so important and helpful in growing each student-athlete.”

I also took Jake’s other advice of stepping out of my comfort zone and being willing to learn from the kids. I tried to involve myself in as many experiences as I could, and one of those experiences occurred when one of the campers, Corey, invited us to his house. Only five of us went and when we got there his mom was waiting for us and welcomed us into the dining room area, that was traditionally only used for special occasions like weddings, where she had butter tea and different traditional foods waiting for us. This was an incredible first-hand experience of the local culture and a little insight into Corey’s family. That was just one example where I tried to immerse myself into the local culture and it was one of my most memorable.

In this next year of the ACE program, I hope that the Duke wrestling team continues to grow their number of participants. I’m going to make it one of my personal responsibilities to get as many of my teammates to fill out applications as possible. This program has changed me, and I couldn’t imagine not having taken advantage of this great opportunity. As I’ve already been sharing my experiences with my teammates, I hope to add on to some of Jake’s advice he gave me. Whether it be to any future ACE participants on the wrestling team or any other sports team, don’t be afraid when something doesn’t go your way on the trip and treat every obstacle or challenge as a learning experience. For example, on the second day of our camp, we had the village head tell all of the parents to not let their kids come because he didn’t see the importance in what we were doing for the kids despite how much fun the kids were having. Our team used this roadblock as a way to learn more about the culture of the village and to ask questions to find out why he thought that about the camp.

So going into your trip with and keeping an open mind and positive attitude are keys to maximizing your learning experience. Every ACE trip comes with their own unique experiences that challenge their participants and that’s why this program is so important and helpful in growing each student-athlete. I enjoyed every high and low on my trip and the only complaint I had was that it went by too fast and that is why I’m excited for next years’ participants and hearing about their experiences.

ACE in China 2017 Group at an Overlook

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