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“You may know ACE is a collaboration between Duke and Stanford, and that it was created particularly for student-athletes. You may know about our generous donors, our awesome leaders, our focus on service, and our four locations across the world…But, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to quite understand the full experience without living it.” – Lelia Boley, ACE in China ‘18 and Duke Women’s Rowing

In her final reflection blog post, Lelia Boley illustrates how difficult it is to sum up the ACE experience. As part of the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program (ACE), Boley and eight Duke and Stanford student-athletes spent three weeks serving ethnic minority youth in a small community outside Shangri-La in the Yunnan Province of China. In partnership with a local NGO – the China Exploration and Research Society (CERS) – and VIA, the ACE in China group had the opportunity to coach a sports camp and teach English lessons, support CERS’ environmental protection strategies, and engage in a small independent research project of their choosing.

From running arts and crafts sessions to building a makeshift wrestling mat and going on impromptu group runs, coaching, teaching, and interacting with the local youth during the camp stood out among ACE participants’ favorite aspects of their ACE experience. Jacie Lemos, Stanford Women’s Lacrosse, cites developing relationships with the other student-athletes as means of encouragement and perseverance during this three-week camp. She writes, “Working together in a new place with a different language and unknown peers can be pretty intimidating, but by feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm and energy, Lelia and I have been able to come out of our comfort zones and make real strides with the kids at camp.”

Boley shares Lemos’s gratitude for reflection time with on-site program director Samantha White, writing, “I have been able to have conversations this week that would usually take me months to be comfortable with. The comfort that is provided by a group like this makes reflection feel almost natural.” Brandon Kier, Stanford Wrestling, agreed that these nightly reflections served as the hallmark of his transformative ACE in China experience, writing, “What I think I got most out of this experience…was an opportunity for personal growth. Spending three weeks halfway around the globe gave me a chance to reflect and think about who I am as a person.”

“What I think I got most out of this experience…was an opportunity for personal growth. Spending three weeks halfway around the globe gave me a chance to reflect and think about who I am as a person.” – Brandon Kier, Stanford Wrestling

Of course, Kier acknowledges, none of these personal growth, service, or cultural enrichment opportunities would have been possible without support from the CERS team. He explains, “What made the ACE experience especially unique is the fact that we were always around an extremely knowledgeable CERS staff-member who could answer all our questions and expose us to the best parts of the area.”

Fellow coach and ACE in China participant Riley Hickman of Duke Men’s Swimming and Diving saw that the cultural enrichment activities, such as monastery visits and mountain hikes, shifted his own perspective on the importance of studying culture and history. He writes, “I told myself I didn’t enjoy history because textbooks of old wars and the acts of influential people are dull and provide little fodder for conversation. After my experiences in China, and particularly my conversations with Sam White – our on-site program director – I have gained a new understanding of how broad a topic like history can be.”

The gratitude that Lemos, Kier, and Hickman have shared all echo Lelia’s final reflection sentiment: that ACE is not simply a three-week program, but a lasting and transformative experience.