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Mackenzie Kerr, Duke Women’s Track and Field, encapsulated the sentiment echoed by many of the student-athletes who participated in the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program (ACE) program in India: “The best memories, the most profound moments, happen just beyond your comfort zone. I took a leap of faith and India was there to catch me.”

This past summer, Kerr, alongside nine fellow student-athletes from Duke and Stanford, spent three weeks serving at the VIDYA School in Gurgaon, a community just outside of New Delhi. The student-athletes coached sports and taught English at VIDYA, an NGO-funded school that seeks to empower low-resourced K-12 students from the Gurgaon community. Several afternoons a week the student-athletes also partnered with the Earth Saviors Foundation, an organization that advocates and provides services for vulnerable and disabled senior citizens in the area.

The student-athletes had the joy of celebrating Rakhi, a Hindu holiday, with many of these senior citizens. The student-athletes formed connections with the youth of VIDYA, despite the Hindi language barrier. “The language barrier, in its peculiarity, has the potential to be both a dividing factor as well as a uniting factor,” said Kerr, “The determination in both myself and the students at VIDYA unites us amidst the frustration and struggle.”

Verity Abel, Duke Women’s Swimming and Diving, also cherished these moments of connection with the VIDYA students. In a reflection on an impromptu Mukunda dance lesson led by the students at VIDYA, Abel wrote, “Not only did they make us feel like we had a place in their dance, but they truly wanted us to take a piece of their culture home with us.”

This moment of inclusivity, coupled with cultural immersion outings to a Sikh temple, a mosque, the Taj Mahal and more, captivated the student-athletes and left a lasting, transformative impression that continues to speak to the student-athletes. Kristina Inouye, Stanford Women’s Softball, now incorporates elements of Indian art into her graphic design pieces. ACE in India served as one of two experiential learning requirements for Judd Howard, Duke Men’s Swimming and Diving, who is pursuing the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate at Duke. Howard often looks to models of problem-solving he observed in India to inform his innovation research. And in an effort to hold on to the peace she felt while visiting Hindu religious sites, Celia Macrae, Duke Women’s Rowing, has begun to practice Kundalini yoga. She admits, “I am not sure I would have been open to such a practice prior to my trip but I have been enjoying the ongoing learning process.”

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