Two months ago, I received an e-mail calling for volunteers to join the Asian Corporate (ACEL) Dragon Boat Team. A race was being held at Tempe Town Lake for the Arizona Dragon Boat Festival and twenty people were needed to paddle the boat. I thought, “Wow! This sounds really cool. What makes me qualified to join a group of people I have never met, paddle a dragon boat, which I have never seen, with a paddle that I have never held?” And I thought – I can swim! So with that whopping qualification, I registered to join the ACEL Dragon Boat Team. As the first day of practice neared, I worried “What if they all speak Chinese or another Asian language that I don’t understand? What if I mispronounce someone’s name, which translates in their language to something terribly offensive?”

These are the fears I brought with me to my first dragon boat practice…and I’m 100% Chinese! When ACEL asked me to write about what I learned through this event, I wondered if I should write something lighthearted, such as “I learned how to paddle a dragon boat.” Which I did, but what struck me the most was, for the first time in my memory, I was accepted and even welcomed by a large group of Asians. As an Arizona native who speaks Spanish but doesn’t understand Chinese, favors Pete’s Fish and Chips over a steamed pork bun – yet plays the obligatory violin, piano and tennis and occasionally helps out with the family restaurant – I have often found myself in uncomfortable and awkward situations when with a group of Asians similar to my age. I’m too loud, too noisy and too spontaneous to be accepted by people of my own ethnicity; I am the ugly duckling who annoys and drives away the other ducklings.

With ACEL I found acceptance and good cheer. I was repeatedly forgiven for mispronouncing and forgetting names, and we laughed about it as we waited for our turn on race day. We talked about night clubs, music, 5K races, food, our families…and it was this ordinary conversation that was extraordinary to me. ACEL members promote cultural acceptance through all kinds of events and activities, but most importantly, in every day life. Through this steady and unassuming way, I believe the National Association for Asian American Professionals sets an example which adds value to our community.

If you are reading this, I encourage you step out onto a path less traveled. Don’t wait for retirement, don’t wait for someday – avail yourself to a new adventure in the foreseeable future. Experience the magic of new people and new experiences. ACEL is not only offering you a wide variety of personal and professional growth opportunities; you have your experiences, your stories and your laughter to share with ACEL. Try something new. You just might find a group of people who interact with you as if you were a beautiful swan.

Cheryl Griemsmann is in the solid waste industry and is currently pursuing her Masters of Public Policy at Arizona State University. She looks forward to crossing off “bake a loaf of bread from scratch” from her bucket list before the end of 2012.