Having arrived and settled in at the Chinese Exploration and Research Society (CERS) Center around midnight on Saturday, Sunday was our first full day in Shangri-La. After a tour of the center, integrated with snippets of Tibetan culture and history as well as working out and a quick trip to town, we were dismissed for the rest of the day.
Sam was giving us the evening to acclimate to our new environment rather than having us participate in another constructive activity. Upon hearing this news, I felt less delighted than one probably would’ve expected to feel. It was honestly likely because I didn’t feel entirely comfortable interacting with all the other members of our ACE team yet. The nine of us had previously spent a couple hours together en route during which we were all terribly sleep deprived. This forced us to reveal the rawest and probably grouchiest versions of ourselves to each other which probably allowed us to get to know each other comparatively quickly. However, I still felt disconnected from the group, especially having come into this program as the only rising sophomore from Stanford. I didn’t think that we had a lot in common, of course, besides the fact that we are all athletes. I didn’t think this would help us transition from acquaintances to friends.
“In this short half hour experience, I came to realize that being a Division-I student-athlete does not imply that we must dominate in any sport that we pick up. It does mean though, that for the most part, we are healthy, active, young people who enjoy challenging our bodies and minds. This common identity, which I had earlier passively dismissed, was monumental, as I was flooded with a new sense of eagerness and confidence.”
As we sauntered outside, slowly heading towards the ‘Cheese House,’ the building in which the majority of us were staying, someone proposed that we play basketball. Immediately, I silently counted myself out. Growing up, I had received minimal exposure to basketball, as watching or playing it was not a popular pastime amongst my family and friends. I felt awkward engaging in something I was unfamiliar with. I believed that everyone else would be wickedly good at basketball. I thought that playing with them would only result in feelings of deficiency.
Quickly, two basketballs were produced and a game of Knock Out was started. After watching for a few minutes, I suddenly remembered that none of these guys were actual basketball players. Instead, they were swimmers, wrestlers, runners, rowers and lacrosse, tennis, and field hockey players. They were all just a bunch of people coming together for a good time. With this in mind, I told myself to at least try one round, which I didn’t find to be too bad! I finished that game, and then played in another, and yet another, all the while keeping myself from taking the game or each other too seriously.
In this short half hour experience, I came to realize that being a Division-I student-athlete does not imply that we must dominate in any sport that we pick up. It does mean though, that for the most part, we are healthy, active, young people who enjoy challenging our bodies and minds. This common identity, which I had earlier passively dismissed, was monumental, as I was flooded with a new sense of eagerness and confidence. This identity would mesh us together, laying the foundations to develop friendships, learn, and teach for the next three weeks.