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“Wait you’re doing that online?” is something that I heard a lot when explaining the ACE program that I had signed up for this summer to people. I also wasn’t sure how it was going to work out or compare to my previous service experiences that had been in-person. However, I found it to be both more rewarding and more engaging than I expected it to be despite the online format. The idea of virtual service is actually a very good one when you think about it. It allows more people to be able to participate in things that they might not be able to in-person because of the cost of travel or other expenses. Also, you can have jobs or take classes (in my case) at the same time instead of just putting your entire life on pause for a few weeks out of the summer.

However, the question on my mind when considering doing an online program was “Will it be as rewarding, and will I still be able to connect with the people I am serving?” At the end of the three weeks my answer is an adamant “Yes!” Through the format of small groups and daily sharing activities, I formed meaningful connections to the Vietnamese college students that we worked with each day. I learned more about their lives and culture than I had imagined possible through Zoom. And, by the last meeting, we had a long list of memories to look back on.

I think the Vietnam program specifically was unique because it is a culture that we don’t always learn about in the US, and it is not typically one of the countries you would think of as a service project location. Also, the basis of the program is built on making relationships with both younger children and students my age. This type of service founded on personal connections can lead to extremely rewarding experiences. This proved to be true for me this summer and I am proud to be able to say I have friends all the way across the world now.

“Through the format of small groups and daily sharing activities, I formed meaningful connections to the Vietnamese college students that we worked with each day. I learned more about their lives and culture than I had imagined possible through Zoom.”

– Julia Boyet, Duke Softball

I would say we bonded most when we were doing less work and more talking normally about whatever came to mind. These conversations often included one side or the other being shocked at what the other person was saying. Many of the most fun conversations included food, and I received many recommendations for new snacks and desserts to try.

Another reason the program was so special was because the experience included working with kids, and it was the goal of our program to support and encourage their personal and academic growth. I connected early with one of the Vietnamese coaches over our passion for empowering young women. I hope that we were able to succeed in that aspect in addition to teaching the kids the normal lessons in physics and life skills.

“Another reason the program was so special was because the experience included working with kids, and it was the goal of our program to support and encourage their personal and academic growth.”

– Julia Boyet, Duke Softball

Being able to see the impact I had on the kids was the most fun part of the experience. We would meet them twice a week and although they were shy at first, I was able to tell we had connected by the end of the camp. One of the girls in my group even drew a portrait of me after the camp ended.

Despite the challenges of an online format, I would say ACE in Place Vietnam was a meaningful experience and one that I will cherish in my life forever

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