Touring a monastery in the Chinese countryside, a group of Duke student-athletes crossed paths with a young monk. With only a few Mandarin phrases and a conversational Chinese dictionary at their disposal, they struggled to converse with the monk—until he tugged at the side of his robe to reveal the LeBron James jersey he wore underneath.
Their worlds connected. Grinning, they shared short phrases in each other’s languages about their favorite basketball teams and professional athletes.
The students would use sports as a way to engage with many more locals during their three weeks in China with the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program (ACE) this summer. A collaboration between Duke and Stanford Universities, the program allows student-athletes to fit international service experiences into their academic and athletic schedules.
In China, ten student-athletes from Duke and Stanford Universities joined forces to lead a five-day sports camp for kids, teaching everything from dance to basketball to jump rope, helping the students develop English language skills all the while.
“Even though we differ in culture, language and often religion… through sports we can share our similar traits and connect in a deeper way.” – Colt Sessions, Duke Men’s Track and Field
“Even though we differ in culture, language and often religion,” wrote Colt Sessions of the Duke Men’s Tack and Field team, “through sports we can share our similar traits and connect in a deeper way.”
To host the sports camp, the students partnered with the China Exploration and Research Society (CERS), a local organization that preserves the unique ecology of the Tibetan plateau by working to conserve the habitats of endangered species and enrich understanding of traditional cultures.
One of their CERS mentors and on-site director, Tsering Drolma, is herself a graduate of Duke University (’12). “My work is based in a very small town in southwest China, so being part of the ACE program reminded me that education really does have no boundary,” Drolma said. “This program, most of all, made me feel like I am still part of the Duke community.”
“My work is based in a very small town in southwest China, so being part of the ACE program reminded me that education really does have no boundary…This program, most of all, made me feel like I am still part of the Duke community.” – Tsering Drolma Duke ’12, CERS On-Site Director
Finding a sense of community was a key takeaway for students, as well. Duke and Stanford students agreed that one of the most valuable lessons came from CERS founder Wong How Man, who encouraged them not to be afraid of getting lost—in conversation, in culture and in new lands. “In fact, getting lost has been the best way to understand new people and surroundings,” said Tanner Johnson of the Duke Men’s Track and Field team, “and to ultimately find more of myself within it all.”