Now that our ACE in China program has reached its close, I have had the chance to reflect on my time in Shangri-la. Going into the program I tried hard not to have too many expectations about how the experience would go; however, I couldn’t shake the idea that the language barrier would be a big obstacle for me during the sports camp. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to bond as well with the kids or be able to lead activities while trying to teach English. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The kids were eager to learn, play, and engage with us despite the language barrier. It was refreshing to be reminded of the true joy in learning, as the kids were eager to learn simply for the knowledge. No other extra reinforcement or engagement seemed necessary. Other than a few fun stickers, they were simply having fun. When we reached a communication barrier I would take turns with the kids acting out and gesturing with expressions to demonstrate what we were trying to say. It was amazing how easy it was to communicate and engage without words.
My favorite part of camp, though, was when we introduced an arts and crafts session to the children. I grew up attending summer camp, where I learned how to make friendship bracelets, and where I had plenty of time for sculpting and drawing. Given my love for crafting and art, I was overjoyed when the kids showed interest. Soon a small group of kids would come running to me each morning smiling and gesturing enthusiastically toward the supplies. I worked in some English vocabulary into our sessions by teaching the children the different colors of the materials – each child had to tell me the color of the bead in English before the bead could be added to their bracelet. It was so wonderful to watch their excitement when they were able to rattle off in English all of the colors without prompting. And, it was satisfying to see their excitement when they finished their pieces and proudly showed them off. It reminded me of the same youthful joy that I had lost for a while. During the school year it is easy to fall into patterns of constantly grinding on schoolwork while forgetting to take a little bit of time to do something just for the fun of it. By the end of camp I had a few crafty “side-kicks,” and a newfound energy in myself to enjoy learning and to enjoy the present.
I am so thankful for my time with ACE and China. It opened up my world as I was able to experience and learn about the many facets of different Tibetan cultures. Also, the experience reminded me of the little joys in learning and the intellectual curiosity that is too easily forgotten as a student. And lastly, it was a blast creating community and bonds with the kids, my peers, the CERS staff, and our group leaders.