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If you grew up a sports fan like me, waking up each morning to SportsCenter and ESPN, you may be familiar with the phrase “What If Told You…?” Coming from their famous documentary series, ESPN 30 for 30, each of their films start with this question. Although during my experience with ACE we did not produce a documentary on some historic sports moment, this question, “What If Told You…?’, is rightfully fitting. What if I told you, that you would gain new friends and a new perspective from a 3-week online experience? Well, I would have simply said, “Um, I don’t think so.” However, after a 3-week online experience participating in ACEinPlace Vietnam, I can confidently say that I gained new friends and a completely new perspective.

After a school year dominated by Zoom, the last thing I wanted to spend my summer doing was being on more Zoom calls. Near the end of the spring semester, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw some of my teammates post about applying for ACEinPlace. I gazed over it and continued to scroll. A couple more weeks pass by, and I saw on Instagram that ACEinPlace reopened their application window. This time, my gaze turned into a stare. When ACE gave me a second opportunity to apply, I knew that I could not ignore it any longer. I quickly put my application together and texted my coach for a recommendation. Upon looking back on this moment now, I am so thankful. What if I told you that an Instagram post would give you the opportunity of a lifetime?

Fast-forwarding a few weeks, I opened my laptop in my hometown of Denver, Colorado, about to meet my fellow coaches with the Coach for College program with ACEinPlace Vietnam. Unlike my teammates who got to experience their respective ACE locations in-person, we all experienced this year of ACE through our screens. No new locations, adventures, or tourism. What if I told you, that doing ACE through Zoom made your contributions feel more genuine? There was no distractions or culture shock.

“I will carry those kids’ voices, shouting the mantra I live by, as I go onto other adventures in my life, dreaming big. What if I told you, doing ACEinPlace Vietnam was my best decision since coming to Duke? Well, it truly was.”

– Chris Theodore, Duke Men’s Cross Country and Track and Field

Instead, we got to effectively work alongside our Vietnamese and American coaches to provide 3-weeks of fun academic and life-skill lessons for rural Vietnamese kids. Alongside our lesson planning, we engaged in cultural exchange activities. From cooking lessons, to childhood photos, to making TikToks, everything we did together was done intentionally. I didn’t need to be in Vietnam to experience the country and its people. Instead, I was blessed with amazing Vietnamese university students who, with their extreme kindness, brought Vietnam to my own home in Colorado. What if I told you that I became friends who live over 8000 miles away from me? Without my experience with ACEinPlace Vietnam, I wouldn’t have the same heartfelt appreciation for Vietnam and its people that I now have.

What if I told you that I would also get a new nickname from my 3-weeks of ACE? Yeah, that one surprised me too. I was named the “Next Top Model and Dancer” from my coaching team… not sure what they saw in me, but I graciously accepted that. As well, the Vietnamese kids who I made videos for called me “Brother Chris.” That one almost brought me to tears. After hearing those words from them my heart was full. I had no idea the impact that making simple videos of me talking would make me feel like family to the rural Vietnamese children without them seeing me in person! Their love for learning and passion towards their dreams reignited my own.

During my whole life, I have taken my access to learning and education for granted. However, after seeing the SOS Village kids (an orphanage for Vietnamese kids) light up when they did activities or learned new material, I appreciate the gift of education that is simply given to many of us. What if I told you that my kids now are dreaming big? I told the kids my favorite phrase that my own dad taught me, “Dream Big!” The next day Hằng and Ngân (the Vietnamese coaches on the Red Team) showed me a video of the kids shouting out, “Dream BIG!!!” None of this would have happened without ACE giving me the opportunity that I am so thankful to have had. I will carry those kids’ voices, shouting the mantra I live by, as I go onto other adventures in my life, dreaming big. What if I told you, doing ACEinPlace Vietnam was my best decision since coming to Duke? Well, it truly was.

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