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As a sophomore in high school scrolling through the Duke Athletics website in awe, the ACE Program was an experience that immediately caught my eye. Travel abroad, live with fellow student-athletes, connect with people at Stanford, and serve an international community partner? It seemed too good to be true. I knew that if I were to somehow miraculously end up at Duke, the ACE Program was the first thing I would sign up for.

Jump to March 2020, during my senior year of high school, my spring break got extended one week longer, then two weeks longer. Before I knew it, I was hopping on a plane by myself with two masks and an absurd amount of hand sanitizer. From the immediate quarantine to Zoom classes to dining tables lined with hazard tape, this abnormal freshman year forced me to search for the silver linings in everything.  Because if I didn’t find the silver linings, the constant feeling of disappointment would prevent me from realizing that the amazing opportunities that Duke normally offered were all still there, and it was up to us to look past that initial disappointment and make the best of it.

When the first email about ACE in Place was sent, I immediately thought to myself, “This is just one more thing that we’re missing out on, just one more thing the pandemic ruined.” Then, I read more about the virtual program and was drawn to the clear commitment to make this experience meaningful. I felt like this was an opportunity to really put “my money where my mouth was” so to say after spending a lot of 2020 in contempt toward injustices in the US, global health disparities around the world, and the big bummer that was the pandemic. This opportunity felt like a chance to stop whining about everything I thought was wrong or unfair about the world and instead take impactful action where I could.

“I was blown away by the attention to detail given to assuring that my teammates and I felt engaged with the Peruvian community.”

– Sydney Yap, Duke Volleyball

The support and kindness I felt throughout these last three weeks was unbelievable. I assumed the focus would be solely on how we could assist the community partner. Therefore, I was blown away by the attention to detail given to assuring that my teammates and I felt engaged with the Peruvian community. From the beginning, our supervisors, Nicole and Ricardo, arrived on Zoom with positive attitudes and guaranteed us that they would always be there for us throughout the 3 weeks and beyond. They truly cared. Each day, we Zoomed into all types of events and got to listen to people from Peru who each graciously offered their time and energy to welcome us into their lives for an hour.

From experiencing a live Pachamama Incan Ritual to meeting the founder of Mujer Peruana (our community partner), I always left each meeting with a new understanding of the way of life in Peru and a heightened perspective on how issues in Peru compare to those in the U.S. These shared experiences bonded me and my teammates in a surprisingly strong way, and we all felt personally connected to Peru despite the thousands of miles of distance.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have supported Mujer Peruana in their women empowerment efforts. I am ending the program with renewed disbelief in how incredible it is that technology enabled us to connect from around the world. I am incredibly grateful for the ACE in Place Program for opening my eyes to all the ways that we can take action and make a meaningful impact with just a laptop, internet connection, and an open mind.

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