Every day I kept telling myself, “This is the coolest place I’ve ever been in my life…” Then the next day happened, proving better than the last. During my trip to China, we traveled all over the Shangri-La region, adventuring through mountains, festivals, markets, monasteries, and more. These cultural enrichment activities proved to be some of the most unique and memorable moments of my life alongside my fellow ACE members. Each day was a new adventure. At the same time, we were busy planning and running camp for the kids, which turned out to be a fun and valuable experience for both us and the campers. We also spent time at night listening to lectures from various members of the CERS staff about Tibetan culture and the area that surrounded us. The balance between cultural enrichment activities, education, and camp was exceptional.
For me, what made the ACE experience especially unique is the fact that we were always around an extremely knowledgeable CERS staff-member who could answer all our questions and expose us to the best parts of the area. We explored places that, as a tourist, I would have never thought about going to. For example, we drove through the massive mountains for two hours before arriving at a beautiful nunnery overlooking a sacred mountain. Here we learned so much and got to appreciate this part of the culture. We also ate at some of the best restaurants that served local traditional dishes—a difficult find for a vacationer on his or her own.
The camp reminded me how much I love working with kids. Despite feeling a little exhausted when I got up in the morning, the kids’ energy would always rub off on me and allow me to give 100%. Now, I will prioritize making time to do similar service work in the future and share the message with my teammates about how important and fulfilling service can be. I woke up excited every day at the start of camp and ended the day with a smile on my face.
What I think I got most out of this experience, however, was an opportunity for personal growth. Spending three weeks halfway around the globe gave me a chance to reflect and think about who I am as a person. I came into this program not knowing any of the other student-athletes and also knowing that I would be around this entirely new group of people almost 24/7. This made me focus a lot more on my impact on others. From the moment we all met at the airport, everyone was eager to hit it off with one another and have a great ACE experience. We quickly bonded over our love of service and adventure. All of us carried our own unique perspective, and I loved hearing about each one.
A favorite component of the experience for me was reflection each night after dinner. This was the time I felt like we connected the most. We opened up about our goals, our backgrounds, and our values which brought us all closer. It was also interesting comparing student-athlete life at Duke and Stanford and picking apart the similarities and differences. It was comforting to know we were going through similar things and could be there for one another. Overall, I feel like I am a better person because of this experience and have a better understanding of who I am. My hope is to use what I learned from this program to help me propel all my relationships forward in the future. I can’t thank ACE enough for the opportunity.