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As an introvert, I often found myself struggling to build many new meaningful connections for myself during an overwhelming freshman year. I was hesitant to join a virtual program in which I was fearful of my abilities to connect to others who were so different from me in such a short amount of time. I was right about one thing: the people I met had very different lifestyles. But I was wrong about the other. I felt more connected with this community through a virtual program in 3 weeks than most of the communities I have encountered throughout my freshman year at Duke.

Though in a virtual setting, I felt as though I was able to experience parts of the Vietnamese culture through the exchange activities and some felt close to home. My parents grew up in Vietnam, so they always brought some bits and pieces of traditions, holidays and foods into my life. My year away from home removed me from these traditions but that all felt restored through this program.

“I felt more connected with this community through a virtual program in 3 weeks than most of the communities I have encountered throughout my freshman year at Duke.”

– KyAnh Truong, Duke Women’s Swimming & Diving

Something I noticed through everyone’s shared experience was that there was a common ground of passion, relationships, and love. I loved seeing the light in everyone’s eyes when they would share about their hometown, an old memory that was meaningful to them or a food or tradition that they love. This showed me that while being in a virtual setting limited certain interactions, it didn’t put a boundary on how everyone expressed passion and love which is why the virtual ACE experience was still so meaningful.

A couple important things I learned from the Vietnamese coaches and kids were to be present and always open. I am often a listener in big groups but the Vietnamese coaches were always encouraging me to share my ideas or experiences. Initially, it was difficult, but after just one week, I noticed myself opening up naturally. Every time I would share, the Vietnamese coaches were always present and truly taking in what I had to say. They didn’t seem to focus on what lessons we were supposed to be planning the next day or on getting ahead of anything, they just wanted to enjoy the present moment.

There was one specific day where one of my videos didn’t send due to WIFI issues and I felt upset with myself because I didn’t double check before heading to bed that day. My fellow coach, Van Anh, told me not to worry at all and to just move on and start making a video for the lesson that day. It amazed me how the Vietnamese coaches were able to move on from the past, not look too far in the future but stay in the present moment. That is something I hope to adopt in my everyday life, especially when times get stressful, busy or heavy.

“I am often a listener in big groups but the Vietnamese coaches were always encouraging me to share my ideas or experiences. Initially, it was difficult, but after just one week, I noticed myself opening up naturally. ”

– KyAnh Truong, Duke Women’s Swimming & Diving

Some of my favorite memories were bonding with my fellow color team coaches, Brenna and Van Anh as well as my fellow Biology team coach, Vy. When we had extra time, we would enjoy conversations about personality types, music, injuries, foods and about any conversation topic you can think of. I hope to get the chance to meet them in person someday. My favorite meeting was when we stayed past the allotted meeting time for half an hour getting to know two of the kids and sharing our stories with them as well.

Although our teams were small, I preferred them that way because I enjoyed being able to become closer with everyone in the Green Team. I especially bonded with a Green Team student named Minh Anh. Though shy at first, once he opened up, I would always seeBrenna and Van Anh laughing on the screen, and I realized I would be laughing out loud as well. It was contagious! Looking back, there wasn’t a single meeting where I didn’t laugh, especially when the kids were there. This truly was an experience I’ll never forget, and I really hope to be able to go in-person someday.

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