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When I applied to ACE this year I knew I would gain some sort of meaningful experience out of it but I was honestly very skeptical. I thought: How would I help make any real change virtually? Would I be able to connect with the Vietnamese coaches or even the other student coaches not having met any of them in person before? I had no idea that by the very first meeting my life skills group and I would become fast friends and already be using crazy zoom filters that our orange team became known for.

While I would have loved to meet all of my group members, and the students I was lucky enough to meet, in person, I feel as though it being virtual made my experience even more impactful. The service we got to do was truly that. No self-importance. No focus on traveling or finding the best spot for an Instagram picture. And while I did originally desire the in-person aspects of the usual ACE program, participating in this program virtually put me on an amazing journey that showed me just how similar and different our coaches and cultures are, and how you don’t have to travel somewhere else to experience that.

I was lucky enough to have great Vietnamese coaches, but one that I really connected with was Seven. Seven, Sarah (Duke Women’s Swimming & Diving), and I were in a group together and every night–well, for him it was 7 am in the morning–he would show up on my zoom screen with the biggest smile and energy. Seven was always so interested in hearing about our stories and telling us about his. He really inspired me to give everything I could in the three weeks we had together. Whether we were making TikToks, playing games, or managing to create zoom group pictures, he was so determined to make everything meaningful but also fun for the students. He showed me how true service requires giving the very best of yourself unselfishly and when you do that you gain so much and learn more about yourself in the process.

While there were definitely challenges along the way because we were virtual, even the challenges made for more laughter, joy and learning. When learning how to make a traditional Vietnamese dish, I learned that I was not the best cook but that my academic group coach was great at directions and was so willing to walk me through the process. I am going to remember this experience for the rest of my life. I am so grateful to everyone that made ACE possible this summer! Interacting with different cultures or people, or participating in different service activities doesn’t require a plane ticket, it can be at your kitchen table on a laptop, and it can be equally, if not more rewarding, than in-person service.

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