The China Exploration and Research Society is an organization founded by Wong How Man, with the mission to “enrich the understanding of our cultural and natural heritage.” The group creates projects that interact with the local people in many different areas of China in order to protect the environment as well as the customs and traditions of minority groups. The 2018 ACE in China group is made up of nine student-athletes from both Duke and Stanford. This is an awesome group who have the chance to learn both first-hand from our environment and from the incredible people here at the Center. After just one week, we have been exposed to so much, and it has really brought me out of my comfort zone and allowed for a deeper understanding of a culture of which I had no prior experience.
Just a few days ago, Dr. Eric Mortensen, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies from Guilford College came to speak to us about the history of the people of Tibet and its intertwined past with China. He posed a question that made me think: He was explaining how the Chinese government sent officials to define and group people into minority groups in the Tibetan area, and asked the group how they might have defined these groups. He wanted to know what information we would need from the people in order to split them into different groups. While our responses tended to be those of the community, such as, language, I started thinking about just how I defined “culture.” My first thought, of course, is to my team’s never-ending desire to create the best team culture we possibly can, both for competing and for the comfort and enjoyment of all of our teammates. We spend so much time thinking about what we want the team to be like, how to get there, and living in the culture that we work together to create. So much time, actually, that the ways I think are impacted by my team’s culture, and my team’s culture certainly reflects aspects of my own. That made me think, how exactly do I identify? I have thought before of how I might define myself and what groups I most identify with but never had I quite pictured it as a personal culture. This is exactly how I have decided to define my culture; it’s much more about how to identify myself, than how others might see me.
Just yesterday, I walked outside the dorm-like building that we call our home here, and found two of my ACE teammates, Jacie and Mikaela, doing drill work with their lacrosse sticks. I sat down off to the side, and just found myself thinking about just how much they were committed to bettering themselves in their sport. It became pretty clear to me that my identity as a student-athlete, and the entire culture that goes along with it, was shared with not only my ACE teammates, but likely thousands of student-athletes across the country. This is all because of sport, and our dedication to it.
“These thoughts are furthered everyday here in China, all because of the people I’m surrounded by. If I’m being entirely honest, coming to China was incredibly out of my comfort zone, and my vulnerability is very visible to my teammates. I have been able to have conversations this week that would usually take me months to be comfortable with.”
The Duke Athletic community is so cool for so many reasons. We have all the resources and opportunities we could ask for, and we’re surrounded by a lot of supporters that care for our well-being as well as our success. One struggle I have found from time to time, however, is the opportunity to really meet and understand athletes from other teams. This gives the idea that they are all so different from my team, and it can give a certain mindset of an inability to connect with anyone because they’re just too different. After watching Jacie and Mikaela motivate each other, I started asking a lot of questions about team culture. Somehow, I realized, there were an incredible amount of similarities between my East Coast rowing team and their West Coast lacrosse team.
These thoughts are furthered everyday here in China, all because of the people I’m surrounded by. If I’m being entirely honest, coming to China was incredibly out of my comfort zone, and my vulnerability is very visible to my teammates. 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. I have been able to review what my personal culture is like, how it might affect other people in ways I might want to change, as well as what has positively affected my relationships. I really do believe this is a pretty incredible group of people. I think they are already helping me learn about everything around me, as well as myself.
It’s pretty awesome that we now get to connect with an entirely different group of people, the kids at our camp, through the same thing that connects us to each other. This experience is already proving eye-opening, and I don’t expect the next two weeks to be any different.