The farmer and the cowman should be friends
Oh farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plow the other one likes to chase a cow
But that’s no reason why they can’t be friends
-From Rodger & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
So begins the classic number out of Rodger & Hammerstein. In the same vein of the musical conciliation that plays out in the lyrics of Oklahoma! (but perhaps less violently) at first glance the differences that divide us as Duke and Stanford student athletes may seem incredibly significant. We all play different sports, we are all involved in different organizations on campus, pursuing different academics, not to mention the fact that half of us attend completely different universities from the other half of our ACE cohort. Nonetheless, after having spent two and a half weeks together, working, teaching, coaching and socializing, the awkward introductions and interactions that characterized our first few days in Vietnam have dissolved into a true camaraderie and collective friendship despite our differences as Duke and Stanford student athletes.
Take us two for instance. Tara Shannon – a junior Canadian Stanford squash player majoring in bioengineering from Calgary – and Alan Ko – a junior Korean American Duke fencer from New Jersey majoring in history. At first glance it may seem that we are worlds apart in terms of our interests and backgrounds. Yet differences can sometimes only run so deep. Despite our dissimilarities, we actually have found common ground on a whole host of topics during our time together.
On a surface level, we both have two older siblings and our sports have similar physical demands (both fencing and squash are high intensity cardio based sports) but we have also delved deeper to discover that we have many personal interests. Both of us for instance are obsessive foodies who are not afraid to try new foods, like avocado smoothies or stir fried rats (both of which are delicious!) Additionally, we can empathize with each other as we both know the rigors of balancing top tier academics and athletics on a daily basis. Whether it be rushing from class on East Campus to Card gym for fencing practice at Duke, or from lab to squash practice at Stanford, both of us know all too well the somewhat hectic schedule of a student athlete.
“At the end of the day, when our students leave English class with a smile on their faces and their verbs properly conjugated, it’s enough for both of us to realize that beyond just the squash court or the fencing piste we have the ability to make a difference through ACE.”
But most of all, teaching English in Vietnam has been an incredibly enriching experience for both of us. Teaching English, a language that most of us take for granted, to rural Vietnamese schoolchildren has definitely been a challenge. Despite the linguistic obstacles between us and our students, however, the best part of English class for us is when the kids are finally able to pronounce words they struggle with such as the “puh” in play or the “brr” in “brush.” At the end of the day, when our students leave English class with a smile on their faces and their verbs properly conjugated, it’s enough for both of us to realize that beyond just the squash court or the fencing piste we have the ability to make a difference through ACE.
Duke and Stanford represent two premier universities characterized both by high level academics and athletics (a combination that especially in recent years has become difficult to maintain). Yet, as student athletes at our respective universities, we can sometimes forget that there exists entire cohorts of other student athletes on campuses all across the country – whether they are playing for Duke, Stanford, or Notre Dame – with similar experiences to our own, but also unique in our diverse set of talents and interests. Though we may seem different at first glance, the similarities run much deeper than what sport we play for our school or which athletic conference we belong to. Getting to know each one of our fellow student athletes peers, whether they play lacrosse, squash, football or fence, has definitely become one of the highlights of our ACE program. Echoing the words of Rodger & Hammerstein, the Blue Devil and the Cardinal should definitely be friends.