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Stanford Field Hockey member Cara Sambeth, who had previously traveled to South Africa for vacation, wondered if a virtual program could truly enhance her knowledge of and experience in South Africa. Finding out that each ACE in South Africa participant would be Zooming into sessions from a different time zone made meaningful connection seem even more difficult to achieve in this setting.

However, Sambeth surprisingly found that “this program and all the people I met definitely went above and beyond, meeting and exceeding my highest expectations. I experienced South Africa through a unique perspective and rediscovered the country with a different meaning.”

The five ACE in Place South Africa participants worked closely with Ocean Pledge to help launch their Voice of the Oceans Ambassador Program. Ocean Pledge is an NGO that seeks to decrease marine plastic pollution on the South African coast and is in the midst of launching this ambassador program to educate South African youth about plastic pollution. Sambeth and the rest of the ACE in Place South Africa team worked together with Ocean Pledge founder Diony Lalieu to launch the campaign by researching other youth leadership programs focused on conservation and helping design the framework of the ambassador program.

“This program and all the people I met definitely went above and beyond, meeting and exceeding my highest expectations.”

– Cara Sambeth, Stanford Field Hockey

Participants like Stanford Women’s Lacrosse member Caitlin Chicoski, who will begin a Master’s program in Sustainability Science and Practice at Stanford this fall, appreciated this ability to apply curriculum lessons in a real-world setting. She recalls learning in class that “social capital,” or the practice of incorporating “the culture of the people and place you are striving for impact in” is regularly neglected and causes sustainable solutions to fail.

Chicoski, alongside the other four ACE in Place South Africa participants, learned that successful solutions can’t be developed without considering the perspective of all stakeholders. “ACE is so much more than merely working towards a deliverable,” Duke Men’s Golf member John Peters writes, “It is a journey to gain insight into different cultures and form connections with other communities.”

“ACE is so much more than merely working towards a deliverable.”

– John Peters, Duke Men’s Golf

The ACE in Place South Africa student-athletes became immersed in South African culture by participating in cultural enrichment activities such as learning how to cook Cape Malay Curry and taking lessons in IsiXhosa and Zulu. The group also appreciated lessons with Minenhle Msane, a South African citizen who regularly Zoomed with the group and taught lessons on topics ranging from politics to history.

Finally, the group regularly unpacked these discussions in peer groups. Duke Women’s Swimming and Diving member Aleyna Ozkan shares that this reflection practice will stay with her beyond the ACE program, encouraging her to regularly reflect on her most important personal values.