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This summer I was given the opportunity to travel to Shangri-La, China with the ACE program and participate in three weeks of summer camp fun and cultural enrichment. Prior to leaving for the trip, all my mom told me was, “be mindful.” Being surrounded by a culture that is nothing but foreign to you, a country you have never stepped foot in, and 9 other brilliant student-athletes, there is an overwhelming amount of “unknown” to be experienced. Knowing so little about the culture and community initially, I found that the most important thing when learning was to be mindful. When learning about the traditional nomadic lifestyle, visiting New Town for the first time, or entering a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, I was overwhelmed with curiosity, and a lot of times was shocked at how different life in China is to that in America. After this initial shock, I would remind myself: “be mindful.” By trying to learn through the lens of mindfulness, rather than take each experience as something “different from America,” but as a feature unique and valuable to Tibetan culture and way of life, I feel that I was able to gain a better understanding of what life in Shangri-La is rooted in.

“Going back to school, I hope to take the mindfulness, consideration and empathy I’ve learned with ACE to better and deepen my relationships with teammates, classmates, and friends. ”

This idea of being mindful of others’ backgrounds, values, and culture, is one I will definitely take with me back to campus and remember throughout life. Being aware of these things in a place so different from one’s own can seem like a pretty upfront task; however, being mindful when people or places aren’t obviously different from yours is something I found I’ve neglected. My friends and teammates at school and I dress similarly, and have similar hobbies, habits, and interests – but I never stop to consider how or where they grew up or what kind of family they came from, and how that affects our daily interactions. Going back to school, I hope to take the mindfulness, consideration and empathy I’ve learned with ACE to better and deepen my relationships with teammates, classmates, and friends.

group photo outside of restaurant
Many genuine smiles after a team dinner in Old Town!

As for challenges I encountered throughout this trip, dealing with uncertainty was one of the biggest. Historically, I am very uncomfortable with the unknown, the unplanned, and the unprepared. This trip challenged me in a way that taught me how to handle the unknown, and discover ways to adapt, learn and grow. I remember the first day of camp before the kids showed up. We had no idea how old they would be, what dialect they would be speaking, or even how many of them would be there.

We had a rough plan for the day with the main topic of “numbers,” but were pretty unclear about how the day would go. When they arrived, I desperately was trying to understand everything they were saying in Chinese with the year of classes I had under my belt at Stanford, but I quickly realized I couldn’t understand all of it, and I did not know a word of Tibetan. Despite the language barrier being tougher to transcend than I had anticipated, I learned to connect with the kids in other ways – through sports, games, demonstrations, drawings, jokes and laughs.

young adults teaching in classroom at a whiteboard
Nate and I teaching the body parts in English!

One of my favorite lessons was the day Nate and I worked together to teach the body parts. We started by drawing a really goofy looking guy on the white board and naming all of his main body parts, then transitioning into sing-alongs of “The Hokey Pokey,” and “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.” We finished off the lesson with a game of Simon Says that really turned into “Nate Says,” and the kids were able to practice saying all the new body parts they learned without even realizing it was an English lesson.

By the last day of camp, after learning and playing together each day, despite the difficulties and bumps in communication, I’d made deeper connections with the campers and I felt sad to go. I was so nervous about having the camp planned down to the minute and speaking with the kids, but in actuality, the value of the experience was in learning and growing, overcoming hardship and miscommunications, and adapting and having fun with the kids and the other athletes.

 “This trip challenged me in a way that taught me how to handle the unknown, and discover ways to adapt, learn and grow.”

Unfortunately, there’s no way to sum up this experience in its entirety and everything it has given me. I wish I could go into depth about my incredible roommate who doubled as my Chinese speaking buddy, or about how a deck of cards and the song “Your Man” brought me closer to 9 people than I am with some people I’ve known my whole life. About how we bonded over new foods like the century egg, about the countless basketball rivalries, ping pong tournaments, and late-night talks. The ACE program opened up my view of the world, humbled me, and left me with the most unforgettable journey of my life thus far. Thank you, ACE.

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