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As I start to write this letter, I can’t help but feel excited and curious about where life has taken me in the past five years. Reflecting on my ACE program this summer, I’m reminded of the profound cross-cultural learning experiences that have shaped not only my worldview but also my understanding of service and community. Engaging in volunteering abroad has been an impactful journey that was filled with unexpected challenges, eye-opening moments, and invaluable lessons. The reality of this experience has often differed from my initial expectations, as it exceeded anything I was expecting. As I look back on these experiences, I am taken back by how much I learned and how much my perspective on lots of things has changed.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from this experience as well as something I will take with me for the rest of my life is the relationships and friendships I formed during the trip. I became really close with my team members and the kids we coached at the school. I enjoyed the activities that we all did together. From eating meals to playing sports to having game nights, it was always a great time with lots of laughs. During this trip, I also experienced a lot of cross-cultural learning. This trip opened my eyes to how different other places around the world are compared to America. It made me realize how grateful I should be for everything I have and all the opportunities I am presented with. While with the kids at the sports camp every day, it was easy to see how they found joy in the smallest of things. Even though we were at the camp to teach the kids they taught me to be grateful and to enjoy the little things in life.

Volunteering abroad differed from what I initially expected. I never expected to make such great bonds with the people on my team as well as the kids. The memories and laughs from that trip will be something I remember forever. One challenge I faced initially but eventually overcame was the language barrier. All the kids spoke Spanish so it was an adjustment to learn how to pronounce and communicate certain words. But as the week went on, I think my team members and I did a good job of finding effective communication methods even outside of speech. This challenge showed me how you can still make a positive impact on others even if you speak a different language.

One thing I learned on this trip that I would want to share with others is that we should be grateful for everything we have. Most of us are fortunate to have been brought up in a good situation but not everybody in this world has that same opportunity. Going to Panama really showed me to be grateful for everything I have and to make the most of every opportunity I am presented with. This was a trip and experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life and I am extremely grateful to Duke and the ACE program for presenting student-athletes like me with this opportunity.

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