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As I reflect on my experience with ACE, I feel nothing but gratitude and pride. This experience has been a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am blessed to have been a part of. While we were only in Panama for a week, I feel that we accomplished a lot. We created memories that we student-athletes will never forget and memories the communities we partnered with will hopefully not forget as well. We set a foundation for these communities to build off with the game of volleyball and give the kids more options for sports they could explore and practice.

AMIGOS was an amazing organization that connected us student-athletes with two rural communities in Panama to teach volleyball. The program took us out of our norm, out of our cities, out of everything we are used to, and allowed us to truly experience something new. It was amazing and eye-opening to see how excited the communities were to learn something new together with us. They [the schools, kids, and teachers] welcomed us with open arms and took us into their community. While we only spent five days with these communities the sad goodbyes at the end truly showed how close we had all become. We left as a part of their family, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Going into this experience I was anxious and nervous. I was being thrown into the deep end culture-wise, and I barely knew the language [Spanish]. But within the first five minutes of arriving in my community, all the fear and anxiety dissipated. The children at the school were hesitant for about a minute, then immediately started playing. They grabbed the volleyballs and began hitting to each other, and we just hopped in. No names were said yet, but we began to bond through volleyball and games. The kids were excited to play and learn, and I became just as eager to teach them. Both sides were excited about something new. There was a language barrier, but we communicated through gestures.

My Spanish going into the trip was not bad, but not good. I could speak the basics, but understanding what people said was my downfall. I went in with the attitude to learn because I didn’t want to rely on our leader to translate. I wanted to be able to talk to the kids myself, and I felt like I made leaps and bounds in my Spanish skills because of that mentality. Going back to the lodging every night, I looked up words and made sure sentences in my notebook were correct. At the community, however, I never spoke about anything I had planned. I freestyled everything and the kids would correct me if needed.

I think my biggest takeaway from this trip is to try and avoid the easy way out. I could have relied on our leader, Marvin, to translate and talk for me, but I wanted to talk to the kids myself. Being thrown into the deep end I was forced to learn, and I feel like I bonded with the community a lot more because of it. I was trying and they could see that. In turn, they would talk to me more which gave me more practice.

I am grateful for this experience, to have interacted with these communities, to have made friends with my fellow student-athletes, and to have learned more than I ever could have in school.

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