By Rachel Hobert ’16
As you’ve probably heard, studying abroad is an incredible opportunity that every college student should experience. It’s unlike any experience you’ve had or will ever have. I mean when else do you have the time and opportunity to prance around a foreign country for six months, immersing yourself completely in a new culture and environment? Over 50% of students at Wesleyan study abroad and regardless of your financial situation, major or sport, Wesleyan really does want to help you study abroad!
Now one of the biggest excuses for not studying abroad is the involvement in varsity athletics. Many of my friends play a sport here at Wesleyan and believe that going abroad is off the table of options. They claim that they need to be here to train in the off-season or that their coach won’t approve of them traveling abroad. As for spring and fall athletes, I would argue that studying abroad benefits them as student athletes. You gain experiences, confidence, new life skills and many other attractive traits that will help you grow as a competitive athlete. Now for winter sport athletes, studying abroad can be tricky as you need to be on campus for both semesters. But I highly encourage winter athletes to explore summer options, such as studying abroad for a summer month, internships or even playing their sport in a foreign country.
I could go on and on about how great studying abroad is, but I am going to keep it short. Here are three reasons why athletes should consider study abroad from my first-hand experience as an athlete.
You learn how to adapt and lead in adverse environments
Adversity happens while living in a foreign culture. A language barrier makes successful everyday interactions like grocery shopping a victory. I have to say, about a month into my study abroad experience in Turkey, I broke down a cried because I accidently ordered (in Turkish) cow liver for lunch instead of chicken. It’s times like these that only a positive attitude helps (I know it sounds cliché but its true). My time abroad has taught me that there is only so much that you have control over so you might as well control how you react.
One of the hardest challenges I faced while abroad was the 24 hours prior to finishing the Istanbul Half Marathon. A friend and I had been training avidly for the race for five weeks prior. However, Duke in Istanbul planned a weeklong spring break trip for our study abroad group that was scheduled to return the Saturday night before the half marathon. After a series of events, our flight returning to Istanbul was canceled, and it looked like we weren’t going to run the race. After a few hours of waiting around and pestering the Turkish Airline representative, we found a way back to Istanbul in time. We ended up taking a six-hour bus ride from Eastern Turkey to a different, centrally located airport. That night, we ate corn nuts for dinner and slept three hours before taking a 6:00 am flight back to Istanbul. We handed our bags off to fellow friends when we landed and took a cab directly to the race. We arrived at the starting line stepping out of the cab as the starting gun fired. We then proceeded to quickly eat a roll of Mentos for breakfast and immediately started running. We finished 13.1 miles in just under 2 hours and exhausted. After training so hard and so long for this race, a feeling of relief and success rushed over me as we limped across the finish line.
It’s circumstances like these that build character and prove to yourself that you can do so much more than you thought. It also provides an amusing story you can tell friends and family when returning. I came back to campus that the following Fall knowing that whatever soccer season threw my way; I could only control the controllable like my time in Istanbul.
There are opportunities for you to play abroad.
What many athletes fail to realize is that there are a plethora of sports teams at universities abroad that you can join. Going abroad doesn’t meant you have to stop playing or working out for six months. At my college in Turkey, they had a men’s American football team, rugby, tennis, volleyball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee, you name it! I joined the women’s football team that met three times a week and practiced. While the team wasn’t of Wesleyan caliber, I met amazing friends and was able to continue training for the next season. At the end of my term abroad, we competed against Serbian, Dutch and Lebanese teams in a tournament. It was incredible to see the skills of these girls and how I matched up.
Throughout the world, there are multiple universities with sports teams that you can join while studying abroad. It just takes a little research and interest, but I assure you, the opportunities are there, and it is 100% worth it.
Sports bridges cultural gaps and helps you connect with locals
I met two of my best friends while playing soccer at my university in Turkey. Not only did we go to practice together but they brought me out and around Istanbul. They also loved teaching me Turkish and would introduce me to cool new local coffee shops,restaurants and clubs that I would never have discovered if I had only remained friend with exchange students. We were able first to connect with sports but then found that we had other mutual interests such as dancing, food, and music. Even when meeting other students and locals in Istanbul, mention a Turkish football (soccer) team, and you would be able to talk for hours. Every culture has a love of sports, and it provides a bridge of common interest with interesting people from all around the world.